Could This Makeup Product Be Messing Up Your Skin?

Primer is divisive. There are those who swear by it — and have the Instagram-skin to prove it — and those who think the stuff is a pore-clogging, breakout-causing nightmare. To be honest, we're not entirely sure where we stand. As with all products, there are some amazing priming bases out there, but we've also fallen victim to heavy, sticky, flaky formulas, too. So we asked the skin pros: Could this makeup step be doing more harm than good? Below, we break down four of the most common rumors we hear about primers — and whether or not they're true.

Rumor: Oily skin types should avoid primers.

True (kind of): Because not all primers contain ingredients that are inherently comedogenic, explains beauty chemist Ni’kita Wilson, this isn't necessarily true. Comedogenic means pore-clogging, and not every ingredient will do that. She says if you have acne-prone or oily skin, then you should be more aware of what your skin type can handle, but the primer in itself isn’t entirely responsible for clogged pores. A lot of things can get into pores, like powders, and, “If you have oily skin, it is easier for them to get caught in the excess sebum, making them harder to remove,” says Wilson. But if you are a primer devotee and hate hearing this, consider investing in a deep cleaning tool, like a cleansing brush or a konjac sponge, to reset your skin each night.

Rumor: Primers have silicones, and silicones are bad.

False: Silicones tend to get a bad rep because the name itself implies synthetic and unnatural, but we’ve got news for you: Most things you put on your skin, hair, and nails are mostly likely "unnatural." But they’re not to blame for your primer problems. Primers containing silicone actually do make your makeup look better and last longer. “Those benefits are possible,” Wilson tells us, “Silicone polymers can [deliver] them very well. The non-silicone based products could do the same thing, but the degree to how well they work depends on the ingredients being used.” So, smooth skin texture can be in your near future, but be aware of what you’re picking up from Sephora. RealSelf Contributor Eric Schweiger, MD, explains how silicones are like glue, and if they’re formulated with a comedogenic ingredient, they can lock it into the pore all day long, which can lead to clogging and breakouts. But, silicones aren’t as harsh as you think for your skin, says Derek Selby, Cover FX global ambassador, and they can be a necessary step in your routine: “They smooth lines and the appearance of pores. This facilitates ease of application and extends wear of foundation. Some can also nourish and hydrate the skin.”
Photographed by Erin Yamagata.

Primer is why you have acne.

If you break out, it’s most likely that issue was underneath the surface already. Dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, tells us that anything can cause your breakout, and while new products can be catalysts for irritation, odds are the addition of the primer just pushed your skin to its breaking point. Dr. Engelman says you most likely already have some underlying inflammation, excess sebum, and irritation bubbling beneath the surface, so those are the issues to target, rather than ditching the primer.

Rumor: Primer is a waste of a step in your routine — it just makes your makeup look heavy.

False: If your concern is to make your makeup last all day long, this step could be crucial. Dr. Engelman explains, “Most primers contain some sort of polymer and silicone that acts like a second skin to allow makeup to adhere to it better. They also fill in lines and creases to create a smoother, more even appearance.”

But if you’re really set on not using primer, there are alternatives. Dr. Engelman suggests hyaluronic acid to plump, caffeine to reduce dimpling, and retinoids for a collagen boost. Adding these products and ingredients into your daily skin-care routine can make the need for a primer obsolete. These options, however, won’t keep your makeup from melting off on a Saturday night. Setting sprays, "which destroy bacteria while keeping makeup in place,” can help, says Dr. Engelmen. We like Lumion Skin Oxygen Mist + HOCL.

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