Do the Best Primers Even Make a Difference?

The jury is out.

two models smiling and glowing wearing makeup primer
(Image credit: Launchmetrics)

Ask a group of makeup artists what’s responsible for a flawless base, and you’re bound to spark a debate. Some believe that success lies in skincare; others will tell you that the foundation formula alone is all you need. There’s also a camp of pros that swear by the best primers. They tout the ability to blur pores, smooth fine lines, and grip foundation. The worthwhile ones do just that. But, do they make enough of a difference to warrant adding another product to a beauty routine?

“Primers are not a complete necessity,” says celebrity makeup artist Ehlie Luna. “But, if you have certain things you want to address, like texture, longevity, or finish, they can be worthwhile.” A high-quality primer for the right candidate can create a smoother canvas on acne-prone individuals, neutralize a red complexion, and even mattify oily skin.

Whether you’re a devout believer in the powers of primer or want to see if the hot-button item is worth your while, read ahead. Top makeup artists are sharing everything you need to know—and their favorite picks—ahead.

What Is a Primer?

By definition, primers were designed to prime your skin for makeup application. “The ultimate goal of all makeup primers is to prolong the longevity of your makeup look,” says celebrity makeup artist Natalie Dresher. I love to describe it as a double-sided tape for your skincare and makeup,” adds celebrity makeup artist Nydia Figueroa. “It locks in the skincare and then creates a barrier so that makeup does not settle into large pores and texture on the skin.”

model with glowing skin holding the ysl face primer

(Image credit: YSL)

Do I Really Need a Primer?

Primer isn’t really a need—it’s a want. Your makeup will be just fine without it, but the best primers can offer plenty of benefits. Their goals are hyper-specific to skin concerns and conditions. “For people who have larger pores, there are pore filling primers, there are primers that temporarily smooth fine lines, or primers that really grip makeup.” You’ll find color-correcting primers, hydrating primers, and mattifying primers—the options are seemingly endless.

That said, sometimes skincare alone does the trick. “While primers are great for making the makeup last all day and creating a smooth base for the skin, having great skincare prep will help your makeup look smooth on the skin,” says Luna. Some tinted sunscreens will have a silicone-like texture that creates a smooth base, certain moisturizers are color-correcting by design, or equipped with skin-blurring properties.

The Best Primers

Also Recommended

How to Pick the Best Primer for Your Skin Type

Skin type plays a major role in proper primer selection—unfortunately, there’s no universal product that works for everyone. “We always have to consider our particular needs and not get caught up in what our friends are using,” says Luna. Someone with dry skin may want a hydrating primer, someone with oily skin should seek out a mattifying primer, and someone with combination skin might decide to cocktail their primer products on different areas.

Sensitive and acne-prone skin types should also make a point to avoid dimethicone, as it can be an irritating ingredient. “It can clog the pores, which can trap dirt and cause breakouts,” adds Figueroa.

Should Primers Be Water-Based or Silicone-Based?

The best primer for you depends a lot on not only your skin type, but also what foundation you use. “A silicone-based primer doesn't work well with a water-based foundation because it can cause separation,” explains Figueroa. Silicone-based primers however are better for smoothing texture or mattifying the skin.

Meet the Experts

maekup artist
Ehlie Luna

Ehlie Luna is a pro makeup artist, content creator, and creative consultant with a focus on sharing expert tips, entertaining, and injecting her unique perspective into the beauty space. She has worked as the key makeup artist for the New York City Ballet and has collaborated with brands like MAC Cosmetics, Beautyblender, Uoma Beauty, Macys, and more.

maekup artist
Natalie Dresher

Natalie Dresher, @nataliedresher, is a celebrity + bridal makeup artist in Miami and New York. With many years of experience in her field, Natalie has become a trusted name in the beauty community. Working with brands like Saie Beauty, Revlon, Maybelline and Dibs she has a lot of experience working with our favorites under her wing.

maekup artist
Nydia Figueroa

With over 15 years of experience, Nydia has made a name for herself starting off at the age of 18 as an artist for MAC Cosmetics. She followed her dream, working for 5 time Emmy award winning makeup artist for "The Today show" and "The View."

​Nydia is also a Celebrity & Published makeup artist whose work has been featured on television, The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, NYFW, The Miss Universe Organization and more.​

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.