How to Use Primer Like a Professional Makeup Artist (2023)

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Even though beauty brands have been putting out makeup primers for what feels like forever, it still remains one of the more mysterious and puzzling base products on the market. There's such a vast array of different primer options available — hydrating, mattifying, blurring, luminizing, and more — it can be very confusing to figure out which type of primer will work for you. Oh yeah, and then there's the application factor. Yes, apparently there is a wrong way to apply primer. If confusion and frustration are the main reasons you've been avoiding primer, we're here to change that. Ahead, find professional advice on how to properly use it, recommendations for every skin type, and what you should never do when it comes to this pre-base product.

1. What is primer and what does it do?

Put simply, primer is exactly what its name implies: It's a preparatory product that's applied after your skin care to create an ideal canvas to hold onto whatever makeup comes afterward — like foundation, tinted moisturizer, or concealer. Your primer might come in the form of a hyaluronic acid-spiked facial serum that boosts hydration, a sunscreen that protects and softens the appearance of pores, or a traditional silicone-based primer (looking at you, Smashbox) that smooths and blurs.

It's worth pointing out that the newest primers don't just smooth skin, keep makeup in place, and blur pores to near invisibility. They can also brighten, fade fine lines and wrinkles, target acne, and add tons of moisture. Some can even give skin a temporary face-lift, all without feeling heavy.

The bottom line: If you're wondering whether or not you need a primer in your life, just ask yourself how happy you are with the overall look, feel, and finish of your face makeup. If there's something off or missing — maybe you want to add more overall glow or trim shine from your T-zone — a primer could be precisely what you need.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: A model gets makeup done backstage during the Jenny Packham fashion show during new York Fashion Week September 2016 at Skylight at Moynihan Station in New York City on September 11, 2016. (Photo by Kris Connor/FilmMagic)Getty Images

2. What's the best way to apply them?

Unlike products that lock your makeup in, like setting powder or setting sprays, primers are almost always applied after your last skin-care step and before your makeup. In regard to application, makeup artists Allan Avendaño, Mary Phillips, and Robin Black all recommend using fingers to apply primer, as they say it's the best and easiest way to blend everything and get a seamless finish. "A makeup brush will just drag the primer around," says Phillips, who adds, "If you're a germophobe, you can always use a slightly damp Beautyblender sponge."


How do you apply primer effectively? ›

Wash your face, then apply moisturizer and SPF (unless you're using primer with sunscreen, or a moisturizer/primer hybrid). 2. Apply a small amount of primer with your fingers or a makeup sponge in a thin, even layer, avoiding the eye area (unless you're using eye primer!).

How much primer is enough makeup? ›

Therefore, primer should be used sparingly – opt for a pea-sized amount for each application.

How long should you let primer dry before foundation? ›

One of the main missteps people make when it comes to priming is applying makeup too soon afterwards. As Phillips mentioned, you want to wait a full minute or more to allow the primer to dry completely before going in with makeup, as this will help to curb pilling or patchiness.

Do you rub primer all over your face? ›

Not applying primer all over the face.

Greenberg says that if you don't put primer everywhere you're planning to put foundation, you're asking for trouble. Some of your makeup will go on more evenly than the rest, and some will probably wear off more quickly, creating a patchy, uneven mess.

How many coats of primer should I apply? ›

You will want to use 2-3 coats of primer to ensure there is a good bond between the new paint and the wall, and also to cover up any previous colors, especially if they are red, orange, or a strange outdated color. In short, you will typically need 2 coats of primer for most painting projects.

Do you put on concealer or primer first? ›

Primer should always be the first step in your makeup routine. Simply put, investing in a primer ensures your foundation and concealer look better for longer! After you apply your moisturiser, grab your primer. It'll gloss over any fine lines and visible pores.

What ingredients should I look for in a primer? ›

Most foundation primers have active ingredients like hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, and vitamins such as C & E to simultaneously treat underlying skin concerns. If it's a flawless finish you desire, then a silicone-based primer is your best choice.

Where do you apply primer before makeup? ›

Beginning at the center of your face, apply just a light layer of primer, dabbing it in with your fingers ​or a makeup sponge. Allow the primer to dry for a few minutes before applying your foundation. ​ The key is to make sure the primer you select complements your foundation.

How do I know if I used enough primer? ›

As long as the primer applies uniformly over the previous color, then one or two coats should be sufficient. Again, it is not necessary to apply several coats of primer to try to get a perfect white finish. That is the job of the topcoat (paint) which has to be applied on top of the primer.

What should 1 coat of primer look like? ›

The primer coat doesn't have to be perfect, but it should cover the surface (no bare spots) and it shouldn't be so blotchy that you get drips or visible unevenness.

How thick should primer be applied? ›

For a normally clean environment, a coat of up to 50 microns is considered adequate. For a dusty or humid location requiring constant servicing and cleaning, a thicker coat, say, up to 70–80 microns, is considered to be adequate. A thickness of up to 50 microns is possible through one coat of primer and paint.

Do you let primer dry first? ›

If you attempt to paint over a primer coat that is not completely dry, it will result in a goopy, sticky mess that doesn't adhere properly to the wall. Even if you can get the paint to stick, there is a good chance that it will peel, chip, or clump, leading to an unattractive finish.

What happens when you don't let primer dry? ›

The answer to this question may seem obvious, but it's essential to understand why primer needs time to cure before painting. A primer protects the surface from stains, dirt, and other contaminants while allowing the paint to adhere to it. If the wall is still wet from the primer, the coat of paint won't stick to it.

What primer and foundation go together? ›

“Always match an HD primer with an HD foundation. Otherwise, you don't get the full benefit of the technology.” For example, if you use Make Up For Ever HD Invisible Coverage Foundation, pair it with Make Up For Ever HD Microperfecting Primer.

Do you put primer under or over moisturizer? ›

The truth is, you should always apply moisturizer before reaching for primer (seriously, always). As we mentioned above, the purpose of a moisturizer is to lock in moisture to keep dryness at bay. If you apply primer first, you run the risk of sporting dry, lackluster skin.

Does primer have to be perfect before painting? ›

So even if the primer coat does not look like a fully painted wall, it will still perform the above functions. Then it is the paint's job to completely cover the surface, deliver the color and look great. Don't worry if you can see hints of a stain through your coat of primer.

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