When I started buying make-up, I didn’t ask a lot of questions. If the product was new or recommended by a YouTuber or sales associate, I assumed that I needed to own it. This has resulted in some regretful purchases over the years, which have, in turn, made me a more discerning consumer. If a product is recommended, I immediately start asking: what does it do? How does it work? Is it something I actually need? Does this fit my make-up routine? Or is this simply a trend based on radically different priorities when it comes to make-up?
One of the first products that really got me investigating not only make-up ingredients but posing serious questions about my own make-up needs was eye primer. I saw so many people using it online, and while I wanted to prevent my make-up from creasing, I was wary of putting something on my face that prevented my skin from doing what it was supposed to do.
Recently, I was asking those same questions anew, this time about lip and face primers. I see them in make-up tutorials; bloggers have them in their ride-or-die make-up kits; they’re recommended to me by too many sales associates to simply be a coincidence. True, my skin and lips could be setting off their spidey-senses. I could be posing questions that prompt them to consider that lip and face primers might be good for me. I still need to conduct a thorough inspection before I buy.
What the Heck is it?
Primer refers to a body of products that are used to create a more optimal canvas on which to apply product. They even out skin tone and texture, may provide some tackiness for make-up to adhere to, and help prevent your make-up from creasing, breaking down, or wiping off over the course of the day. Primers are designed and sold for your eye area, your face, and your lips.
I mentioned being skeptical about primer at first. The notion that a product prevented my skin from doing what my skin should be doing – that is, breaking down powders, creams, and pigments – seemed unhealthy. Primers are all made with some kind of hydrophobic (“water-scared”) base to form a barrier between it and the skin. Most commonly this is silicone, but there are oil-based primers, as well as silicone- and oil-free primers. Certain bases can exacerbate acne, oiliness, dryness, or other skin conditions and ultimately have the opposite effect than intended, but variety means there is likely a primer out there for (almost) everyone’s skin.
While there’s certainly a trial-and-error period that goes into finding any new make-up product, primer is safe for the skin (though you may have to shop around for the right base) and can be a helpful part of your make-up routine.
I’m going to start with eye primers, because they’re the ones I know the most about. Eye primer tends to be silicone or oil based. Urban Decay’s Primer Potion also contains synthetic wax in its formulation, and some formulas are completely wax-based and paraben-free.
Oil-based primers for the eyelid are more likely to lead to creasing if a person has oily eyelids. Silicone-based primers do come with risks as well, with some users reporting discolouration or discomfort during wear.
Eye primers are generally not designed to deal with texture; they’re more to provide a base to apply and blend eyeshadows, to even out the tone of the eyelid to make colours pop, and to provide long-lasting wear for eye make-up.
Do I Need It?
Unlike foundation, which still largely appears in liquid or gel formulas, eyeshadows are still largely available as powders and can be difficult to adhere to the eyelid without a base. No matter how well formulated they are, eyeshadows are simply not designed for hours of wear. This is especially true for anyone without oily lids or anyone applying multiple shadows, blending or smoking those shadows, or spending a lot of time on the application process and demanding long-wear from their cosmetics.
Applying eyeshadow to my lids without a base gets me 2-4 hours of wear before I’m pushing shadow out of my crease. The silicone-based primer I’ve used almost every day for the past seven years gives me over sixteen hours of flawless eyeshadow. It keeps my colours bright, my lines sharp, and my smoky eyes…well, smoky.
Obviously, if you don’t wear eyeshadow or stick to cream formulas, a primer may not fit into your routine, but even for the casual eyeshadow wearer, a little bit of eye primer goes a long way to protecting your look.
Designed to be worn under concealer, foundation, and powder, primer for the face can have a number of different effects. Some simply provide a barrier between the skin and cosmetics; other primers may supply greater coverage, minimizing the look of pores or wrinkles to give the skin a more flawless finish.
Silicone-based primers are the most commonly available. On the ingredients list, silicones can be identified as ending in -cone or -conol or -siloxane, and it usually makes up the majority of a primer formula because it fulfills so much of what primer is designed to do. Silicone not only forms a barrier with the skin to increase the longevity of your make-up, but it can also fill in fine lines and wrinkles as well as smooth out the texture of skin. Of course, being such an effective barrier means that silicone-based products can exacerbate acne.
There are oil-based primers available. These may work nicely for people with dry skin, but they also have the potential to cause breakouts, and I’m not just saying that because some of them use coconut oil. Excess oil can also lead to a build-up of bacteria in pores. Too much oil can also have a negative impact on the longevity of your make-up.
Silicone- and oil-free primers do exist, but they can be difficult to find. Sephora only carries one – Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector, which has a clay base. The other, Jouer’s Anti-Blemish Matte Primer – contains salicylic acid to help fight acne breakouts.
Do I Need It?
Many foundations contain silicone as part of their formula. It may not be in as high a quantity as a primer, but a foundation will likely last long enough for the average make-up wearer without the use of a primer. If your foundation already lasts as long as you need, there’s no reason to seek out additional protection. This is especially true given the risks associated with primers on the face. While they can help condition and protect skin, people with oily, dry, acne-prone, or sensitive skin my find a primer on their face to be irritating.
I have tried face primers as part of my regular make-up routine. With my skin tone being fairly even, the texture of my face being smooth, I find them unnecessary. The only time I have truly appreciated having a face primer is my wedding day, when I knew my make-up needed to stand up to excessive activity and wear. Ultimately, unless your a person working long hours in strenuous conditions or have texture or discoloration you’re looking to conceal, feel free to pass on skin primer.
I’m going to skip through the description on this one and just go straight into…
Do I Need It?
Maybe you’re one of those people who put on a cream lipstick and then don’t do anything with their mouth for the whole day. If you are, you keep doing you!
However, if you’re wearing cream lipstick that is any other colour than your natural lip, you need some kind of base. While there are silicone-free lip primers out there, there is very little that a lip primer can do that a lip liner can’t. I’ve read mixed reports on lip primers being hydrating or preventing lips from crinkling during wear. That seems to be a matter of hydrating the lips as much as possible when not wearing a lip product. Ultimately, a lip liner supplies every feature of a lip primer and runs for a fraction of the cost. Definitely don’t need this one.
Phew! That was a lot of information. If you’re looking for more resources, the internet is full of them! As always, I recommend healthy skepticism, especially when confronted with all-or-nothing principles surrounding certain ingredients, and while fear can be excellent motivator, facts are a better one.
What are you favourite primers or products that let you go without primers? Let me know in the comments below!