Smart Makeup Primer Tricks To Ensure Your Foundation Stays Put All Day

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,

I feel foolish asking this, because it's like everybody apart from me knows the answer, but should I be using primer? What is it? All the beauty influencers I follow have raced ahead to talk about cut creases and contouring and I still don’t know if I should bother with primer, or what it even does. Help!

Molly, 29
Don’t feel foolish! With beauty, I very much subscribe to Kanō Jigorō’s school of thought that we are all forever students. (For anyone who doesn’t browse the Today I Learned subreddit, Jigorō invented judo but asked to be buried in a white belt, to demonstrate that he always wanted to learn.) Primer led the wave of professional beauty products crossing over to the consumer realm – followed by the contouring and baking you referenced – but plenty of people didn’t grasp it the first time around. Now that so many primers are launching which have skincare benefits, rather than functioning purely as an adhesive, they’re back in the spotlight.
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"Primers have come a long way from being just in a pro makeup artist’s kit," concurred By Terry executive and makeup artist, Chynara Kojoeva. "To me, it’s a must-have product either on its own, before or mixed in with my foundation. It creates a protective barrier over the skin, helping foundation last longer." Usually a lightweight gel cream or light lotion texture, a primer’s primary purpose is to provide an even canvas for makeup. This can be achieved in many ways; if you’re concerned about large pores, you might choose a 'blurring' primer that helps to smooth the surface of the skin, whereas if you want to revive a dull complexion, you might choose one with light-reflecting particles. Besides the prepping stage, the right primer should help increase the longevity of your makeup by creating a slightly tacky base for it to grip onto.
"You should always wear primer if you’ve got a special occasion and need your makeup to stay put all day – especially if you are going to be photographed with flash, as primer can help reduce this," suggested Kojoeva. And there's no fine art to how you apply it: "Less is definitely more. A pea-sized amount will work just fine. Just gently apply and massage on your skin, concentrating on your forehead, nose, cheeks and chin." The logic to the T-zone trick? Most of us are oiliest there, so makeup often melts away there the fastest.
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Kojoeva’s top pick was the By Terry Hyaluronic Hydra Primer, adding: "I have combination skin, which means an oily T-zone and then dry everywhere else. It’s always difficult to find one product that can control the shine but also not dry out the rest of the skin. This is full of the superpower ingredient hyaluronic acid, which helps to boost and maintain the moisture level and control shine at the same time. To me, it’s pretty unique. And it is a big bonus that it also firms, plumps and minimises pores."
Aside from Hyaluronic Hydra Primer, I really like Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer, which I discovered during last summer’s heatwave. This stuff works, especially if you let it dry for a minute or so before applying your base, and a little truly goes a long way. I also love Bobbi Brown Extra Illuminating Moisture Balm to bring radiance to my skin but oilier complexions might find it’s too greasy.
The main directive of a primer is to ready your skin for makeup, and you absolutely can achieve that readiness through skincare alone. Kardashian makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic has often said he eschews primer in favour of just a sweep of Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, and I’ve watched makeup artist Nam Vo prep the skin with Marc Jacobs Youthquake Moisturiser, too. Likewise, primer can’t be used in lieu of good skincare. If your skin is dry and dehydrated, you’ll do better trying to tweak your skincare before splashing out on primer.

Good luck!

Daniela
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email deardaniela@refinery29.uk, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.
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