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Cheat Sheet: Primers

Truth be told, I always thought primer seemed a bit superfluous. Really, another layer of makeup? But after years of complaining about splotchy foundation and creasing eyeshadow, I gave them a shot — and was instantly hooked. Foundation blended evenly instead of sinking into the creases of my face, eyeshadows stayed put, and lip color slipped right on. Still not sold? Read on.

What is it exactly?

You wouldn’t just apply paint to a wall without priming it – the color would go on all smudgy and gross. The same goes for your face, which has all sorts of bumps, pores, dry patches, and lines that are natural and normal but terrible for makeup application. Primer glosses over all those uneven areas to give you a smooth base for makeup; it’s also formulated to help makeup adhere to the skin longer. All you need to do is apply a pea-sized amount to your moisturized face with your fingertips before putting on BB cream or foundation.

Finding the right primer

There are hundreds of primers out there and finding the right one can be maddening (and breakout-inducing). In general, there are two types: lotions and silicone-based gels. Lotions, like Jouer Anti-Aging Moisture Primer and Laura Mercier Foundation Primer, are typically lighter and often come with bells and whistles like SPF, anti-aging actives, or redness-neutralizing ingredients. Silicone-based primers such as Benefit Stay Flawless 15-Hour Primer and Smashbox Cosmetics Photo Finish Foundation Primer have a slick feel and give your skin a velvety matte texture. These are great for drier complexions because they give you a glass-like surface; they also tend to be more heavy-duty (ideal for events). Be sure to test any primer for at least a week to see how it interacts with your skin.

Eyes, lips, and more

Your eyes and lips need primer as much as your face (and maybe even more). Eyelids tend to be oilier than other parts of the face, which is why eyeshadows migrate south during the day. Eye-specific primers are fairly dry formulas that keep shadows from sliding or fading. —we love this one from Smashbox. There are also the multitaskers like Vasanti’s All Star 2-in-1 Face & Eye Primer which, as its name implies, works for your lids, as well as the rest of your skin. Until recently I thought lip primers were simply a more expensive Chapstick — not true. Lip primers smooth out the natural lines and crevices in your mouth so when you apply color it looks uniform and glossy, not cracked and icky. If you’re not wearing bright lipstick (which you should be), you can skip primer.

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