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Makeup application jargon can sometimes sound so technical that you end up confused whether it’s an actual makeup term or something that’s been made up to just sound intriguing. This Makeup Basics series focuses on defining these terms in the simplest of ways!

Priming isn’t just what you need to do before you paint your walls, but the concept is pretty much exactly the same. Primer is the underlay of your makeup; a barrier between skin and foundation and is a bit of a hybrid between a makeup and skincare product. You can get primers for different functions, ones with various formulas and consistencies, and ones that are more skincare than makeup. It would be impossible to explain each and every one, but here’s a rough guide.


In general, primer preps the skin for further makeup application, creating a smooth base for the foundation to stick to and preventing the makeup from sinking into your pores and causing breakouts. It can also help with longevity, especially if you have ‘problem’ skin. The majority of primers are either water-based or silicone-based, and different types will work better with different foundations, for example a water-based primer usually pairs well with a water-based foundation. There are a few main types of primer that most fit into.


Silicone-based (usually Dimethicone) primers are great for filling in pores and/or scars, as they’re generally thicker and sit on top of the skin in a layer. They can blur fine lines and skim over blemishes which is why a lot of older people enjoy blurring or pore-filling primers. But these primers aren’t for everyone – silicone is oily and is water-resistant, meaning hydration may be harder to come by as well as disrupting your favourite water-based foundations. It can also trap existing dirt into your pores as it acts as a barrier on the skin, so those who don’t cleanse thoroughly can expect breakouts. Silicones also impact on cell renewal, making the whole process slow down considerably and don’t give any sort of benefit to your skin despite it looking smoother or blurred.


A hydrating primer is often water-based (but can also be silicone-based, so make sure to read the label) and is meant to help dry skin get that extra moisture whilst still acting as a longwearing base for other makeup. Oil and water don’t mix, so make sure you’re using an oil-free foundation on top and a water-based moisturiser underneath. The same goes for any type of primer/foundation! Water-based primers will usually state ‘oil-free’ on the packaging. Water-based primers are definitely better for sensitive skin and if you find your makeup dries out your skin by the end of the day, the more hydration underneath the better.


These primers are mostly water-based as hydration creates the dewy look, but are mixed with a liquid highlight-effect liquid to create an illuminated finish to the skin. It can either be subtle or tinman-esque, but once you put foundation over the top, the dramatically highlighted look transforms into a dewy, lit-from-within base. This type of primer works best for those with dull skin to give back some life into your cheeks. You can use it all over the face for an all-over glow, or focus it on the high points, just like with normal highlight for a natural-looking highlighted finish.


For those with an all-over skin colour issue like Rosacea, a colour-correcting primer does the same as the above primers, but is tinted. You can get beige-tinted primers for more coverage, green for redness, orange for deeper skin tones and their blemishes and more which I won’t go into too much detail for – check out my guide to colour correcting for more information. You can always mix and match your colour-correcting primers if you only have certain areas which need it.


Priming oil is not necessarily just a primer, as oils can be used in a variety of ways, either in skincare or makeup. You can mix it into pomades to soften them, mix with silicone-based foundation for a dewy look, apply directly to the skin, and so on. Oils don’t sink into the skin easily, and will only provide hydration to the top layer of skin. A good way to use oil as a primer is to mix it with hyaluronic acid to help with moisture, as hyaluronic acid binds water to cells, whereas oils offer protection and a barrier around cell and therefore acts as the sealant. Oily skin types are obviously best to stay away from oil primers.

There are, of course, primers that state they do different things than the three categories stated above, but primers are always either silicone or water-based and will either create a barrier (oils/silicones), colour correct or provide hydration (hydrating/illuminating) as the main function. Read the ingredients list to look for -silicone, -cone, -siloxane, -conol and polymers if you aren’t sure if a primer contains silicones or not. Water-based primers won’t include any of those, but even silicone-based primers usually have Aqua as the main ingredient, so have a scan through the top few ingredients to make sure.

If you have any more questions about priming, leave me a comment! Watch the video below to hear more about primers and get suggestions of primers suitable for you!



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