Your No-BS Guide To Primers

Decoding primers is tricky business. There are formulas for our hair, faces, lashes, lips, and eyelids — plus, options that illuminate, condition, hydrate, and more. They promise to provide smoother canvases for pretty much anything you put on your face. But, do they actually help create more finished looks or are they a gimmicky extra dreamed up by marketers?
Admittedly, we had our suspicions. But, according to the professionals who create red carpet and editorial perfection, this beauty pre-game step can do everything from make eyeshadow stay put to help engineer that elusive #WokeUpLikeThis visage.
Once we learned that primers passed our experts' litmus test, we had a lot more questions: What type is best for each skin problem? Should we layer lashes with white primer or glossy black? We enlisted the pros to unlock these secrets and help pave the way for flawless DIY looks.
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Read on to get the full lowdown on primers, and find out which one is right for you.
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Pore-Reducing Primers
The first rule of primer application: Using too much can backfire, causing foundation to clump, or skin to appear chalky or overly shiny. Using a dime-sized amount, start in the middle of the face and blend out. “That way, the primer will work with any foundation,” notes makeup artist Sarah Tanno, who works with celebs like Lady Gaga. “Sometimes, makeup can oxidize and start to look orange after hours of wear. Setting the skin with a primer can help maintain your makeup's true shade throughout the day.”

If your T-zone resembles an orange peel, apply a dime-sized amount of this product to damp, moisturized skin. Be sure to pick a formula with a matte finish, since adding shine will only magnify pores. This one dispenses as a cream, but feels like a powder when applied, thanks to micro-fine minerals that diffuse light to make your pores look smaller.
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Illuminating Primers
“Whenever I am trying to achieve a flawless finish, I always use a radiant primer and follow with finishing spray for longevity,” Tanno says. Primers spiked with pearlescent ingredients help blur imperfections and create the illusion of radiance from the inside out. This formula contains pearl powders, SPF 30 protection, and skin-firming peptides for a velvety finish.

To get the most out of illuminating primers, Emily Kate Warren, a bicoastal makeup artist who preps models to walk for Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Michael Kors, suggests exfoliating the night before and applying moisturizer before use. “This will prevent the primer from clinging to flaky skin,” she says.
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Soft-Focus Primers
If you want to look like a Kardashian in one of their famous black & white photo booth shots, it's time to invest in a blurring primer that delivers an insane glow and an HD finish while keeping your makeup in place.

Urban Decay Optical Illusion, $34, available at Urban Decay.
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Color-Correcting Primers
If you're looking to dial down redness, a color-correcting primer can help even out your tone while smoothing skin and extending makeup's wear. “Using a primer with green undertones before foundation will help adjust tone and achieve a flawless finish,” Tanno says. To balance hyperpigmentation, look for a peach primer. Try a lavender hue to help out yellowish skin.
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Mattifying Primers
Those with normal or oily skin looking for a basic primer to create an even canvas should reach for a mattifying gel. These formulas work best on skin during summertime months, when weather can raise the shine factor to unbearably greasy proportions. When we applied an ultra-thin veil of this gel, it smoothed our skin and cut the amount of foundation we needed to achieve full coverage.
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Lash Primers
We know we're doing something right when people ask whether our lashes are real. According to Tanno and Misha Shahzada, a makeup artist who creates editorial looks for Vogue and Elle, a surefire way to create full, are-they-or-aren’t-they lashes is to use a primer under mascara. “A primer helps magnify lashes by helping to lengthen each hair and making them look more full,” Tanno says. “It also helps adhere the mascara to the lash, to minimize flaking and running.”

Though instinct may trigger a more-is-more theory when gunning for major lashes, Tanno warns against layering on thick coats of primer — it causes lashes to clump, creating a spidery look. (Although, if that's exactly what you're going for, layer away.) To apply lightly, gently wipe away any excess product from the wand before applying to top lashes. Immediately follow application with thin coats of your favorite mascara. “Try to apply mascara right away, because once the primer dries, adding mascara can make your lashes look clumpy,” Tanno says.

Not sure whether to pick a black or white formula? Shahzada suggests black primers under black mascara only. White primers are more versatile and work with black, brown, and louder-colored mascaras. Some primer wands feature spindly brushes, but we like this one’s lush, full-sized brush, which helps grab every lash.
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Lip Primers
Unlike lash primers, which our experts consider absolute must-haves, lip primers aren't always at the top of their priority list. That's because lip exfoliators and balms can generally achieve the same conditioning, moisturizing, or flake-eradicating results.

But, if you're seeking to create stay-all-day statement lips, these primers get major play. They not only smooth lips, but help keep pigment in place while you're doing the good stuff in life — eating, drinking, and kissing.

Warren saves lip primers to use under bright, matte lipstick shades in order to keep color from feathering and fading. Shahzada exfoliates first. “It will not only make your lips smoother, but it will also allow your primer to better adhere to the lips — and lock color in place,” she says.
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Eyelid Primers
Whether preparing celebs for TV shoots, runways, or red carpet appearances, all three makeup artists we interviewed agree: Eyeshadow primers are a must. These clear, neutral-toned creams and pencils help prevent smoky eyes from sliding into raccoon territory, and help liners stay near the lashline. “It helps adhere the shadow to the lid and get brighter pigment and color payoff,” says Tanno.

The pros prefer matte formulas, since you can add shine with makeup itself. A light hand is key: When using cream formulas, Warren insists a speck is all you need to cover the lid from lashline to brow. Use a brush to ensure a thin and even coat, and then wait for it to dry before applying shadow.

Shahzada reaches for this multitasking pencil to prime lids. The long-lasting formula is easy to apply (thanks to its stick form), holds shadow well, helps correct any grayness, and is designed to work as a lipliner and concealer, to boot.
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