Makeup Primer: Worth the Extra Step?

Find out if they make a visible difference

Pro makeup artist Molly Stern says primers are meant to serve as a layer between skin and foundation to create a more even surface. But not everyone needs them. "The best candidate for them would be someone who is very oily or has a lot of scarring from acne," she says.

But do primers actually make a difference? We had two women of different ages each test a top foundation primer geared toward their skin type. Find out if their makeup looked better ... and if anyone noticed.

By Charli Schuler

LORAC AquaPrime Oil-Free Primer , $30 Tester 1: Anna, 31 Skin type: Combo/Oily Claims: "Hydrates and helps diminish the appearance of fine lines, creating an ultra smooth canvas for perfect, long-lasting, luminous makeup." Reality: "After applying the primer, my skin felt noticeably dried out, but it was less oily and didn't require blotting throughout the day. Makeup stayed in place longer and still looked great even 10 hours later. Overall, the primer provided a great canvas for makeup and created a smooth finish under normal daytime lighting. (Under glaring fluorescent subway lights, skin looked overly made up and slightly cakey.) Worth the extra step? Yes. "The smooth coverage resulted in compliments I directly attribute to the primer. Even a notoriously mean co-worker seemed to notice." Next: See what our second tester thought of the LORAC AquaPrime Oil-Free Primer LORAC AquaPrime Oil-Free Primer , $30 Tester 2: Whitney, 35 Skin type: Oily Claims: "Hydrates and helps diminish the appearance of fine lines, creating an ultra smooth canvas for perfect, long-lasting, luminous makeup." Reality: "If you have oily skin and wear a lot of makeup, this product might be for you. But under powder foundation, it made my greasy skin feel tighter and a little dry, as if I had been swimming in the ocean. One warning: Don't put this under your eyes. Mine looked like they had (gasp!) more wrinkles." Worth the extra step? No. "Four out of six people said my skin looked better but to me, slapping on another product in the morning isn't worth an improvement people will only notice if they squint." Laura Mercier Hydrating Foundation Primer , $30 Tester 1: Kerry, 29 Skin type: Dry Claim: "Nourishes skin with moisture-rich vitamin formula to soothe and refresh ... increases skin's brightness, luster and texture." Reality: "This creamy foundation primer felt velvety soft and hydrated my skin well in harsh, dry weather. My makeup stayed on pretty well with the exception of eye shadow, which ended up under my eyes." Worth the extra step? No. "My boyfriend noticed, but when I solicited comments, I felt as though I had to really force people to say they noticed a difference." Next: See what our second tester thought of the Laura Mercier Hydrating Foundation Primer Laura Mercier Hydrating Foundation Primer , $30 Tester 2: Jan, 51 Skin type: Dry Claim: "Nourishes skin with moisture-rich vitamin formula to soothe and refresh ... increases skin's brightness, luster and texture." Reality: "This gel primer seemed to have more of a moisturizing, creamy texture. I normally use primer over my moisturizer, but with this I found I didn't need to use both. It gave my complexion a nice, soft overall glow and helped my makeup stay fresh longer, but it didn't smooth small fine lines as well as my usual ( Benefit That Gal Brightening Face Primer )." Worth the extra step? Yes. "A friend said my face looked smoother and makeup seemed more finished with it on, and my daughter was able to tell I was wearing it. So it really does make a difference." Benefit That Gal Brightening Face Primer , $27 Tester 1: Susin, 34 Skin type: Normal/Combo Claim: "Makes skin appear smoother and brighter." Reality: "This pink cream went on matte and it didn't make my skin feel smoother at all. Rubbed on bare skin, it did create the illusion of brighter skin, but under full-coverage foundation, the effect was totally occluded. I also didn't see any improvement in how well my long-wear foundation ( Revlon ColorStay Makeup ) stayed on. Overall, I was unimpressed." Worth the extra step? No. "Even though the brightening effect was noticeable to me, the effect was temporary. I didn't get any comments on my skin other than that no one could see a major difference." Next: See what our second tester thought of the Benefit That Gal Brightening Face Primer Benefit That Gal Brightening Face Primer , $27 Tester 2: Kim, 45 Skin type: Normal/Combo Claim: "Makes skin appear smoother and brighter." Reality: "I was a little worried that this stick would make my skin feel oily but it had just the opposite effect. My skin felt very smooth, almost like there was silk in the product. I also noticed a brightening effect. It gave my skin an almost rosy tone -- not too pink -- and seemed to fill in wrinkles. I liked the results enough to wear it to the gym. And the applicator is great; the twist-up top was very easy to use." Worth the extra step? Depends. "I noticed that my skin felt a lot nicer with the primer on. But I work with a bunch of 20-something males, so they didn't seem to notice a difference in my appearance." Next: Rate your favorite primers Rate your favorite primers Makeup pros gush about the primers below, but what you do think of them? Click on the product title to write your review. Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer , $36 MAC Prep + Prime Skin , $22 Shu Uemura UV Under Base SPF 10 , $32 Clinique Pore Minimizer Instant Perfector , $16.50 How Old Is Your Skin? 16 Sneaky Beauty Myths Makeup Tricks that Erase 10 Years Subject Subject Subject Message Message Message http://www.google.com /content/package/c_primer/

Products Mentioned in This Story

Clinique Pore Minimizer Instant Perfector

Average Member Rating: 8.4

Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer

Average Member Rating: 8.2

MAC Prep + Prime Skin

Average Member Rating: 7.0

LORAC AquaPrime Oil-Free Makeup Primer

Average Member Rating: 7.1

Shu Uemura UV Under Base SPF 10

Average Member Rating: 6.0

Laura Mercier Foundation Primer

Average Member Rating: 6.6

Laura Mercier Foundation Primer - Hydrating

Average Member Rating: 7.8

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older comments

i prefer to just use a moisturizer as a primer. i feel primers make my skin more oily and just another way to spend money. I've tried many different ones(none including the ones listed above) i just dont find primer as a necessary step.

by 92jess11 Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 09:57PM Report as inappropriate

My favorite primer is SkinFare Apothecary Prime. It's all organic, smooth feeling and helps keep my skin clear. I have oily skin and my skin is finally balanced...and I'm using (gasp!) an oil based product. It works wonders! love love love SkinFare!

by christademayo Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 08:55AM Report as inappropriate

I love microderm as my primer before putting on makeup! I find makeup goes on so much smoother with a gentle exfoliation. Has anyone else tried home microderm before makip application. Anyone tried skinvac md by vacubrasion for home microderm?

by Polishmyskin Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 08:35PM Report as inappropriate

I've been looking into primers. My oily skin shedds makeup like you wouldnt believe. I'll have to give one of these a try.

by kimihavens Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 01:07PM Report as inappropriate

Primer isnt supposed to make your skin "look better." Its supposed to make your foundation last longer on your skin! I cant believe you devoted a whole article to talking about primer making your skin look better! It isnt supposed to do that!

by megsy509 Friday, August 10, 2012 at 01:45PM Report as inappropriate

Definitely worth the extra step! Helps to keep my oily skin at bay and my makeup lasts much longer.

by darkangel81 Monday, May 7, 2012 at 03:44PM Report as inappropriate

great article, lots of good information about each primer

by sportimonki13 Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 03:18PM Report as inappropriate

nice article!

by Bon_Bon Monday, August 15, 2011 at 09:12PM Report as inappropriate

I love using a primer. It definitely lengthens the life of my makeup.

by unfamiliargirl Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 03:16PM Report as inappropriate

I had never heard of primer until I got some in my Bare Minerals make-up kit. How much am I supposed to use? I felt if I had baby powder on my face. How do I know if I'm using it correctly?

by PauletteK Friday, May 27, 2011 at 06:33AM Report as inappropriate

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