Primers 101: A Tipping Point

The subject of primers always seems to be a good indicator of how much people know or care about cosmetics. Everyone will invariably have one of the following three responses: “Primers? Like for paint?” or “Yes, I heard about primers but I thought they were unnecessary.” or “Primers? I use about five daily, let us now have a long discussion about the pros and cons of all our favourites”.

The concept behind primers is very simple. Designed to be applied before makeup of any form, a primer will smooth the skin’s texture, sometimes protect the skin with sun protection or colour-correct the skin tone, and “grab” hold of the makeup so that it lasts longer. They also help the makeup to apply more smoothly, ensuring no streaks, and less redness around the nose. They can exist for many different areas: complexion/face makeup, eyes, or lips. And before you start raising one dubious eyebrow and asking why the makeup doesn’t do that for itself, just know that what primers do is work with many different makeups, and provide different benefits for different skin types.

For the face, which is where we shall start, there are several different types of primer:

  • Smoothing, or “texture-refining” primers will mostly consist of silicones, and have a very strange wet/dry texture when applied. On the ingredient list, you will most usually find Dimethicone as the first or second ingredient. The formula glides over the skin, filling out the skin’s surface, and disguising the contours of large pores, wrinkles etc. The makeup will then look smoother. A good example of this is the phenomenally successful Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer, but the Sisley Instant Perfect is good also, and this Trish McEvoy Even Skin Face Primer is not as silicone-y.
  • Colour-correcting primers attempt to address issues such as redness, sallowness, or dullness, using opposite colours. For example, green tinted primer will counter-act ruddiness (such as this Boots No.7 Colour Calming Primer), while a violet or peach primer will help to minimise darkness and shadows.
  • Mattifying primers help to, well, mattify. There are some with serious levels of alcohol for dry, sebum-less skin all day (which I wouldn’t recommend using every day), or milder versions, such as Givenchy Mister Mat Mattifying Foundation Primer.
  • Hydrating primers. Somewhat self-explanatory. Often have more of a serum-like texture. Laura Mercier’s one is good, and a best-seller.
  • Glow primers – with a low level of shimmer for a radiant look.
  • Anti-aging primers. These will either have a type of active in there, for more longterm improvement if you use it every day, or a more immediate lifting effect. They achieve this lifting but forming a saccharide film over the skin, which tightens as it dries. Sounds repulsive, but works sensationally. I highly highly recommend these Lifting Ampoules from Coup d’Eclat, which come in individual little bottles which you have to break open. Smooth or pat the liquid all over your face, then wait for it to dry. You will feel a tightening sensation, and your skin will look smoother. You can find these in almost all French pharmacies, or some New York pharmacies, or online.

These different categories of face primer, however, are merely descriptive factors. A primer product can be any combination of any of these.

My primer arsenal.
My primer arsenal (in part…)

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