Yes, Makeup Primer Actually Works: Here's the Right Way to Apply It

Unless you enjoy a 3 p.m. touchup in the bathroom (who has time for that?), primer should be an integral part of your makeup routine. However, just like any other skin-care or makeup product, not all primers work for everyone. Finding the right formula for your skin type and needs can be tricky. But we're here to help with a simple guide to make the shopping experience seamless…just like your makeup application. Here’s what you need to know.

Consider What Type of Primer You Need First

There are two kinds: ones with pigment and ones without. Colorless formulas are often called treatment-based primers, says Amanda Bell, Pixi's international makeup artist. Not only do they smooth everything out, but they also contain ingredients that can counteract dryness, de-shine the skin, control breakouts, and hydrate, depending on the formula.

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A tinted primer, on the other hand, can brighten your complexion or help even out your skin tone, says Bell. Depending on the strength of the pigment and how much you'd like to cover, it’s possible that it could also double as a foundation.

Pay Attention to the Ingredients

Unless you have normal skin (neither dry nor oily and no acne—essentially you hit the genetics lottery), you need to pay special attention to the ingredients. There is a primer for everyone, we promise!

If you have eczema or you’re easily allergic: Avoid anything with fragrances, silicones, oils, and parabens. Look for soothing ingredients instead, like soy, hyaluronic acid, allantoin, calendula, chamomile, aloe, and minerals such as mica or titanium dioxide, a sun protectant, says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist and clinical attending at the University of Southern California. Before using, she recommends doing a patch test on your inner arm for a few days to make sure there's no allergic reaction before you slather the product on your face.

Product pick: Lorac “I’m So Sensitive” Soothing Face Primer ($32, beauty.com)

Just keep this in mind: If you’re in the middle of an eczema flare (think itchy, red, dry, or inflamed skin that’s oozing) or an allergic reaction, it’s best to keep products at a minimum and not introduce a new primer at this time, says Gillian Palette, a board-certified nurse practitioner and medical director and cofounder of SKYNgenuity Medical Spa and Apothecary.

If you have acne: Look for a water-based formula that contains a green tint. "This neutralizes the redness in the skin," says Bell. Shainhouse recommends opting for a primer containing salicylic acid, safflower oil, or licorice extract because they decrease bacterial growth and reduce oil production. But because many of these ingredients can be drying, it’s important to opt for one that also has hyaluronic acid for non-greasy hydration.

Product pick: Cover FX Mattifying Primer with Anti-Acne Treatment ($16, sephora.com)

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If you have dry skin: Primer secure makeup and the skin-care products you've applied, as well. "It acts as a great smoothing 'in-between' layer to lock in underlying medications, serums, and moisturizers," says Shainhouse, making it a great bet for dry skin. To boost the effects of your moisturizing products, find a primer with a mix of the following ingredients: hyaluronic acid, shea butter, jojoba, avocado oil, and argan oil, says Shainhouse.

Product pick: Laura Mercier Foundation Primer – Hydrating ($34, sephora.com)

If you’re concerned with aging: Because primer smoothes fine lines and pores, it's a great idea to make it part of your makeup routine. Aside from plumping the skin with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, Shainhouse recommends skin-regenerating ingredients, such as retinols, peptides, and silicone to temporarily fill in shallow wrinkles and lines. Vitamin C can also help boost your glow.

Product pick: Jouer Anti-Aging Moisture Primer ($38, jouercosmetics.com)

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Apply the Right Amount of Product

“Primer ideally bridges skincare with makeup, so it should be the first step in a makeup routine,” says Bell. And a little goes a long way. After finishing up with your skin-care products, blend a coin-sized amount of primer from the center of the face outwards. If you’ve got puffiness under your eyes, keep your primer in the fridge, says Bell, since the cold temperature helps to calm and sooth inflammation. And if you’ve got sensitive skin, avoid applying primer with your fingers; use a clean foundation brush instead.

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