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What Is Makeup Primer—And How to Use It

Dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD says primer helps makeup stay put longer by smoothing the surface of the skin and, sometimes, gripping onto your makeup so it stays put

Plus, primer picks based on your skin type.


Makeup primer is one of those beauty products that combines the benefits of both skin-care and cosmetics. It helps moisturize skin and create a smooth canvas for your makeup. But do you really need to use it? Sometimes it can feel like primer is another unnecessary thing in your Sephora shopping cart. To be honest, some makeup artists believe a good moisturizer is enough. Personally, I like to use a primer before (or even mixed into) my foundation for a radiant, natural finish.
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Dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD says primer helps makeup stay put longer by smoothing the surface of the skin and, sometimes, gripping onto your makeup so it stays put. "Primer creates a protective barrier over the skin, as well as seals in and protects any treatment products used during your daily skincare regimen," she says. So, primer actually seals in the stuff you layered on before it. I like to apply my primer right after sunscreen and before foundation. That way it’s sealing in the moisture from all my skin-care products. And all the professional makeup artists I’ve spoken to agree that moisturized skin is the best base for makeup.

Another good thing about primer is that you can cater it to your complexion. Ahead, we round up the best makeup primers based on skin type.

For dry skin, stock up on hydrating primers and moisturizing sprays. Try a product like Laura Mercier Hydrating Foundation Primer ($38). Celebrity makeup artist Gita Bass says a lightweight moisturizer like Simple Water Boost Hydrating Booster ($10) can also work on dry skin. You can even mix it directly into your foundation to get a more natural-looking finish. I also like to mist with a hydrating setting spray like Too Faced Hangover 3-in-1 Replenishing Primer & Setting Spray ($32) to get a dewy look.
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For dull skin, use an illuminating primer. If you want to get an all-over glow without using highlighting powder, a primer with reflective particles can really help. Try Sisley Paris Instant Éclat Luminizing Primer. And despite what many people think, primer isn’t just for before makeup. I use this product on days I’m not wearing foundation to give my skin a slight sheen.

For oily skin, find a mattifying primer and top with a setting spray. “Mattifying or smoothing primers are always your best bet, especially for those sweaty days,” says Jackie Gomez, head of the Make Up For Ever Academy. Apply something like the Make Up For Ever Step 1 Equalizing Primer in Matte. In addition to primer, use a mattifying spritz like Urban Decay De-slick Oil-Control Makeup Setting Spray after you apply makeup.
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For red skin, a color-correcting primer will help even out skin tone. Look for something with green undertones to help counteract the red flush. Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Cream helps soothe conditions like rosacea without irritating skin. You can also use a primer like NYX Color Correcting Liquid Primer in Green.

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Women's Magazine: What Is Makeup Primer—And How to Use It
What Is Makeup Primer—And How to Use It
Dermatologist Amy Forman Taub, MD says primer helps makeup stay put longer by smoothing the surface of the skin and, sometimes, gripping onto your makeup so it stays put
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