Do you really need a makeup primer?

I was first introduced to the wonder that is a makeup primer about nine years ago when getting my makeup done for a photo shoot in my former life as a journo. I was already writing about beauty at the time but was not as obsessed interested as I am now.

I was always curious though and when the makeup artist started the whole process with the application of a smooth gel, I was quick with the questions. What’s that? And what’s it going to do for me? Are you just re-moisturising my skin? Tell me more.

That smooth gel was Napoleon Perdis Auto Pilot Pre-Foundation Skin Primer. Back then it came in a white tube – a white tube I promptly bought and incorporated into my makeup routine. Now, it’s all flashy in a gold and black tube but it’s still the same fabulous product (one is sold every four minutes somewhere in the world). Last month marked 10 years since it was launched.

Napoleon’s catch cry “not to prime is a crime” became part of my makeup manifesto. I don’t use a primer everyday (mainly because now I work from home and don’t have a full-scale office “face” on when it’s just me, the computer and the school run) but I do always prime if I’m doing a full face that I know I need to go the makeup distance.

I’ve also tried and tested many primers since that first day and whenever I’m asked, “do you really need a makeup primer?”, my short answer is always yes.

With so many primers now available and each potentially offering something different (even Napoleon has expanded its range to now include six different priming products as well as a range of options in his diffusion range NP Set), it really is about trial and error and working out what works for you.

You’ll also find separate eye primers available (I do like Jane Iredale Lid Primer and Benefit Stay Don’t Stray) and I think these are highly beneficial if your eye makeup needs help staying put. I’m generally a little lazy-girl and just use the face primer around my eyes too. If you have any sensitivities in this area, only try this with care.

How a makeup primer works

1. It helps to keep your foundation in place. It’s the velcro that keeps your foundation attached to your face. The formulas of waxes and silicones create that bond – and a barrier – between your skin and makeup product.

2. It helps to create a smooth canvas for your makeup application. I find that this not only means that the overall finish of your foundation is better but that you do use slightly less product.

3. It can help to colour correct your skin. This is where primers have taken off in recent years. Want to correct redness? Look more radiant? Or look like you’ve been on holidays not just at your desk? There is a primer out there for you.

4. It helps to disguise and minimise pores and mattify oily skin. For some of us this isn’t an issue but for others after a more smooth canvas, a primer that works to fill in and smooth over your pores is worth seeking out. Try Becca Resurfacing Line + Pore Minimizing Primer or for mattifying, Australis Matte Out Mattifying Base.

5. It helps your skin look and feel more hydrated. You still wear a moisturiser (preferably with an SPF if it’s for daytime … see below for details on the Dermalogica primer with an SPF 30+) under your primer but most primers also contain hydrating properties to help keep you looking fresh all day.

10 primers I love

Do you really need to use a primer?

1. Napoleon Perdis Auto Pilot Radiance Boosting Primer $46.75:  Love this for its luminising tint. Goes on beautifully smooth and perfect for a little boost if going out at night and not feeling or looking so fresh after a long day.

2. NP Set Pre-Foundation Bronzing Primer $35.10: This is great for me to have in my kit for when I’ve had a spray tan. I do get a light spray tan on my face so this helps with blending that colour with the rest of me.

3. Jane Iredale Smooth Affair Facial Primer and Brightener $61.20: Love the cooling gel-like texture – it really does provide a smooth canvas for whatever I pop on top.

4. Maybelline NY Dream Smooth Face Primer $15.95: This is a power pot of goodness, giving fabulous smoothing qualities at a budget price. Makeup doesn’t budge either.

5. L’Oreal Paris Lumi Magique Pure Light Primer $29.95: Looks white on application but blends to create a radiant glow you never knew you had.

6. Smashbox Photo Finish Colour Correcting Foundation Primer $21.95:  The Smashbox range of primers is extensive – there is truly a primer for everyone’s skin concern. This one is great for me to use on any patches of redness.

7. Benefit Stay Flawless 15-Hour Primer $47:  Unlike the others featured, this is a primer “stick”. It looks tinted but goes on clear and really does do the job it claims to – keeps your face in place for a very long time.

8. Dermalogica AGE smart skinperfect primer SPF 30 $65:  Oh how I love the SPF 30 in this one. It gives me licence to skip the sunscreen step if I’ve got a day or afternoon out where I also want my makeup to stay put. Oh, and it addresses my skin’s mature-age needs. Love that.

9. Laura Mercier Foundation Primer $45: Now this primer has been around for 18 years so it’s the stuff of legends. You’ll also now find different variations of this product to suit your needs.

10. Bare Minerals Prime Time Foundation Primer $21.95: Love wearing mineral makeup? Then this is an ideal primer for popping on first to help keep loose mineral powder in place. You’ll also find different varieties to suit your skin type.

What about BB creams, you ask? Glad you did.

BB creams are not makeup primers – they can colour correct and hydrate but they don’t have the velcro properties I talk about above. I don’t generally wear a primer under my BB but you could if you wanted. When I’m wearing a BB cream I’m generally have a casual day and just wear it by itself or with a dusting of powder over the top.

Do you prime? Which primer works best for your skin? (When sharing your recommendation, can you please share your skin type, age bracket etc so it may help someone else with similar skin)

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  • Imogen

    I love Murad Skin Perfecting Primer with matte finish for my oily skin, it’s oil free and really minimises the shine my skin gets. I’m also trying out smashbox’s photo finish colopur correcting primer.

    • StylingYouTeam

      Thanks for your recommendation!

  • Kathryn

    Yes I wear primer. I like Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer. A little bit goes a very long way. Which is a good thing because it’s not a cheap product. I’ve changed foundation recently and am now using YSLs Le Teint Touche Eclat and have found that it wears well all day at work. Given this, I’m not always wearing primer, particularly if it’s just a short/regular day and my makeup doesn’t need to last into the evening/night. http://www.yslbeautyus.com/Le-Teint-Touche-Eclat/1025YSL,default,pd.html?dwvar_1025YSL_color=Beige%2010&start=2&cgid=makeup-foundation

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Great to hear Kathryn – and yes, by all means, if your foundation is sticking where it needs to stick all day then the primer isn’t going to make a difference.

  • Benison O’Reilly

    Thanks for this post. I got talked into buying NP primer by a sales girl but had no idea what it was meant to do!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh I that makes me cranky – so easy for them to explain the benefits of such a product, you’d think?! Glad you can put it to good use now.

  • Beauty Bee

    I’m actually using Lancomes Visionnaire serum as a primer as I received it in a prize and it contains silicone and mica so I figured it would work and it does! I’m assuming they add this is so the user gets an ‘instant’ result from it which is a little sneaky but hey it works well as a fancy primer ;) Otherwise I use sunscreen over my moisturiser as a ‘primer’ :) http://beautybeesadventures.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/review-lancome-visionnaire-advanced-skin-corrector/

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      With those ingredients it would work – they’re the bonding agents!

  • http://www.SalesToYou.com.au/ May

    I used to prime every day but I’ve stopped that now. I didn’t see my primers offering me any real benefit especially for creating that smooth canvas or prolonging wear. I skip this step now a days as I just don’t believe it does anything for me.
    Maybe this will change if I find a primer that does what it says it will.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I think that if something doesn’t work for you then yes, you ditch it May. Works for me so I’m holding on to this!

  • Aisling

    Hi nikki i have a real problem with primers. I used to use a revlon one which was great but they discontinued it. Since then i have tried to find another one that suits my skin but failed. I tried the np one but it had lots of silicone in it and i got spots and red patches. I have quite sensitive skin and seem to be allergic to silicone. Smashbox was similar and also about $70 in nz. Can you recommend any non silicone ones? Aisling

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I think they may not be for you Aisling, sorry. The reason they work as they do is because of the silicone. Some of the brands like Jane Iredale, Nude by Nature, and Bare Minerals may offer a more natural silicone formulation but ultimately if you’re sensitive to them then you’ll get the same reaction.

    • Leah_loves

      Becca Ever Matte is silicone free:) And Australian made which is always a plus! It’s awesome. I too hate silicone primers and this is by far the best I have tried.It’s got plenty of good write ups online too:)

  • Zoe @ BornOnline

    ABSOLUTELY love Dermalogicas Primer! It does wonders :)))

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I’m a new fan but agree!

  • http://champagnecartel.com/ Carolyn @ Champagne Cartel

    I’ve always been a bit dubious about these ‘extra’ products but I am now in love with Clarins Beauty Flash Balm. It’s like I’ve put Vaseline on everyone’s eyeballs and I appear all fresh and dewy. I am about to turn 40 and have quite dry skin. Now, on days when I don’t use it, I admit I look in the mirror and I’m a bit disappointed – everything looks a bit tireder and a bit more blah. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh I do love that Carolyn – it’s the equivalent of walking around with an instagram filter over your face!

  • Lisa

    I discovered the Dermalogica age smart skin perfect primer a while ago. It is just perfect for me. This primer sits happily on my face and the bonus of 30+ sunscreen is just great. I use it every day. I also have the Laura Mercier radiance primer for use at night if going out. Another wonderful product.

    I am 64 years young, have reddened, sensitive skin, and can react violently to the wrong skincare. For interests sake, I recently found a L’Erbolario moisturiser and treatment for a red complexion. This is working wonders for me. It can be bought from Ballingers on Buderim.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks so much for the tips Lisa … and I’m with you on the Dermalogica one.

  • Emilia Rossi

    i still have a white tube of Napoleon Perdis Auto Pilot somewhere, but too be honest felt it was just another product created to make us believe we actually need it. Who knows, we are no makeup experts and are always open to new things, but feel we do not see any real difference when wearing makeup with any sort of primer. Thank you for including those other primers though Nikki.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I do notice a big difference when I use a primer Emilia – especially in summer when makeup would otherwise slide off my face. As I said above it’s not an everyday thing for me as I don’t do the full face every day but others might.

      • Emilia Rossi

        Really? Okay, well when it warms up here in Melbourne I will try the primer again, maybe not all over the face but instead concentrate on the T zone area.

  • Lisa Mckenzie

    I am 49 and I have very dry skin with a bit of Rosacea and I agree It is a Crime not to Prime.I have tried a LOT of primers in my time from really expensive ones like Chanel to really budget ones but my 2 favourite ones are Dermalogica Age Smart primer and the NP Pre Foundation Primer Set,since using the NP one I have had comments on how flawless my makeup looks and I like the extra moisturizing and tone correcting that it does.I also like the Dermalogica one for the SPF factor.Thanks for this Post Nikki I have been waiting for this one!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh great … I’m only recent to the Dermalogica one but I can see it becoming a firm fixture in my summer makeup kit!

      • Lisa Mckenzie

        Yes I love anything Dermalogica Nikki:)

  • Cara

    I love Aum Beauty Brightening Face Balm… it’s not called a primer but it ticks all the primer boxes for me… my makeup stays put and it sooths and evens out my sensitive/combination skin. Most important for me is that it is organic and does not contain parabens.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks for the recommendation Cara

    • http://www.alliejwood.blogspot.com/ Ali Wood

      I use AUM cell renew facial exfoliant and it’s fantastic!

  • Maddy

    It’s well known that the Face of Australia primer (available for $10 in Priceline), is an exact dupe of the overpriced Napolean primers. More than $20 for a primer is totally unnecessary.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks for your input Maddy … not so well known to me. And I’ll happily pay more than $20 for a primer that addresses my particular needs.

  • http://www.zygomaticfiend.com/ Dustyn

    I am 24 and have combination oily skin.
    I adore applying the Chanel Mattifying fluid ($71) as a primer for an all day matte or satin (if I don’t powder too much after applying my liquid foundation) look. Another amazing non-primer priming product is the La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo serum which, when I and a friend both started using this, fights breakouts and existing imperfections to bring smoother and clearer skin to the forefront within 72 hours.
    I too started out using the Napoleon Perdis Auto Pilot Primer however last year bought my final tube from them after I read the ingredients list of Face of Australia’s Face Base primer and realised that I was paying $30+ more for some gold packaging.
    I do have some other primers that I like to use, including the new Benefit one which is gorgeous and a time saver in that you just applying it to the face and then blending foundation over the top, but the above are my top 3.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks Dustyn … great recommendations there!

    • Vange Asuncion Langford

      Thanks for the tip. I also have oily combination skin and prone to breakouts. I’m off to Priceline pronto!

      • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

        Excellent1