A Primer On Foundation Primers: What Do They Do, And Are They Worth Your While?

Let's get into it.

YouTube/Chloe Morello

It seems that every beauty brand now has a make-up primer or five, but their purpose still confounds many. What does a primer do? Do you really need one? Is it all just a scam by Big Beauty? That’s a personal decision every make-up geek has to make for themselves – but if your routine is missing a little something something, it might be worth looking into a good primer.

First things first: A primer is meant to prepare your skin for make-up, addressing whatever concerns you might have that would make your foundation look less than stunning, such as oiliness, dryness, or dullness. You’re meant to apply it after your moisturiser and/or SPF, before you go in with foundation. Which primer will work for you? Unfortunately, there’s no real way to tell before you try it, but we can demystify the different categories of primer so you know where to head first.


Suffer from skin drier than the Sahara? Find it hard to get your make-up looking flawless due to dry patches and flaky skin? A good hydrating primer can do two things for you: Create a moisturised, smooth canvas for make-up application, and keep your skin looking hydrated throughout the day.

You might wonder how a primer differs at all from your regular moisturiser. Well, the latter is concerned with softening and treating the skin, while the former is specifically designed to sit under make- up. But the difference isn’t that massive, especially when it comes to hydrating primers – some makeup artists like to use thicker, creamy moisturisers as primers, for example Weleda Skin Food, €15.99, or Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentrate, €16.99.

If your end goal is dewy, flake-free skin, a good, thick moisturiser or a hydrating primer (or indeed a combination of both – go wild) will get you there. Great primers for thirsty skin include the TooFaced Hangover Primer, €32, and NYX’s Honey Dew Me Up, €19.50.


Here’s where primers really start coming into their own. There’s no easier way to fake a glow than with an illuminating primer filled with light-reflecting particles, applied underneath or even added to your foundation.

While MAC Strobe Cream, €34, is a classic of the genre, Charlotte Tilbury’s Hollywood Flawless Filter, €40, is quickly catching up – though admittedly, it can be quite baffling at first glance. Is it a foundation? Is it a primer? Is it a liquid highlighter? It’s a bit of all three, and can be worn alone, underneath foundation, or on top of it. It took me a while to get my head around it, but now I enjoy using it pretty much every way I can, whether it’s all over the face with a touch of concealer or mixed in with a matte foundation. The glow it provides is just… *chef ’s kiss*

Obviously, illuminating primers will not appeal to people with oilier skin types (your moment is coming very soon), but the dull or dry-skinned among us will lap them up.


Okay, oily-skinned people, now it’s your time to shine. Or, well… not shine. If you’re constantly battling a glow that’s more greasy than glam, a mattifying primer may just be the friend you’re looking for. Most mattifying primers contain a form of silicone, which draws a veil over your skin, blurring pores and zapping any excess oil.

Most brands now do a mattifying/ blurring primer – and we’re going to be honest with you, the main ingredients don’t vary a ton from affordable to high- end brands, so it’s all about finding the one that works for you.

Benefit’s Porefessional, €34, is one of the OGs, smoothing out pores and fine lines to create a perfect base for make-up. For a cheaper option, try NYX’s (yep, we’re mentioning them again, because they make some of the best affordable primers) Shine Killer, €15.50.

Make-up gripping

Some days, you want something that will really weld your foundation to your face. The aim of all primers is to get your make- up looking fresh for longer, but some of them are a bit better at this task than others.

The Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer, approximately €30, has that ‘grippy’ texture that really feels like it’s clinging on to your make-up, and the gel formula is packed with hydrating, skin- loving ingredients. is unusual primer has been welcomed by people with drier skins who still find it hard to keep their faces on all day.

The Ordinary’s High-Adherence Silicone Primer, €4.90, does the same job but for combination/oily skinned folk, blurring pores and killing shine while hanging on to that make-up like there’s no tomorrow.

Good all rounders

So you might have read this and thought, “ at’s great, but I need a bit of everything.” No problem! Many brands have combined a few or all of the above concerns to create one all-encompassing Frankenprimer (trademarking that name now for my own beauty brand). The Sculpted by Aimee Connolly Beauty Base, €24.95, contains hyaluronic acid to keep you hydrated, peptides to plump the skin, SPF 30 for UVA/UVB protection, and light-reflecting pigments for a glow. Not to be outdone, Catrice recently launched the Ten!sational Dream Primer, €6.80, which boasts not one but TEN benefits including pore minimising and anti-pollution effects, SPF 15, and a slight golden glow.