January 2, 2013

Beauty Basics: All About Foundation Primer!

Hello, Beautiful!

In 2013 I'm bringing you a series of Beauty Basics posts, where I'll pack as much info into one blog post as I can about one specific type of product. I'll keep them simple, but well informed, and hope that it can help someone out there who may have questions. I did one Beauty Basics post back in February 2012 (giving tips on getting the most out of your skincare products), but I kind of dropped the ball for the rest of the year. No excuses this year!

Kicking off my Beauty Basics posts in 2013, I'm starting at the beginning: foundation primer; the start of any well put together makeup routine.

I have many primers in my personal makeup collection (42 shown in photos below, not including the sample packets I have), and I've tried even more over the years. My very first foundation primer I purchased back when I was 18 (in 2002) and that was the Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer (the original, when it was still in the square packaging). I fell in love with primers that very instant and have used them ever since. There are some I like, some I love, and some that really didn't work for me. Finding the perfect foundation primer for you can be a long journey, but hopefully this post will help you narrow down the selections and you can zoom in on a perfect match for you.


Primers Shown In the Photos Above:
I've noted if the primer is water-based or silicone-based. If you don't know why I did that please read on to find out why that can be helpful to know!
  1. Pixi Beauty - Flawless & Poreless Primer (water-based)
  2. Make Up For Ever - HD Micorperfecting Primer, Original (water-based)
  3. Illamasqua - Matt Primer (water-based)
  4. Tarina Tarantino - Pearl Glow Primer (water-based)
  5. LaROCCA Skincare - C-Gold Reparative Primer (silicone-based)
  6. Laura Mercier - Foundation Primer (water-based)
  7. Cover FX - Nourishing Foundation Primer & Anti-Aging Gel (silicone-based)
  8. Cover FX - Matte Foundation Primer & Anti-Aging Gel (silicone-based)
  9. NARS - Pro-Prime Pore Refining Primer Oil-Free (water-based)
  10. Sephora - Perfecting Ultra-Smoothing Primer (silicone-based)
  11. Sephora - Anti-Shine Foundation Primer (water-based)
  12. Smashbox - Photo Finish Primer, Luminizing (silicone-based)
  13. Smashbox - Photo Finish Primer, Hydrating (water-based)
  14. Smashbox - Photo Finish Primer, Light (water-based)
  15. Smashbox - Photo Finish Primer, Original (silicone-based)
  16. Smashbox - Photo Finish Primer, UVA/UVB SPF 15 (silicone-based)
  17. Benefit - That Gal (water-based)
  18. Benefit - The POREfessional (silicone-based)
  19. Too Faced - Primed & Poreless, Bronze Tint (silicone-based)
  20. Laura Geller - Spackle Under Makeup Primer, Tinted - Champagne (water-based)
  21. Laura Geller - Spackle Under Makeup Primer, Original (water-based)
  22. Laura Geller - Spackle Under Makeup Primer, Tinted - Bronze (water-based)
  23. Bodyography - Foundation Primer, Clear (silicone-based)
  24. Tarte - BB Tinted Treatment Primer, Medium (silicone-based)
  25. Anthony Logistics For Men - Instant Fix Oil Control (water-based)
  26. Miracle Skin Transformer - Original (silicone-based)
  27. Manna Kadar Cosmetics - Camera Ready Primer (silicone-based)
  28. Murad - Hybrids Skin Perfecting Primer, matte finish (water-based)
  29. Murad - Oil-Control Mattifier (water-based)
  30. Tarte - Clean Slate Poreless 12-Hr Perfecting Primer (silicone-based)
  31. Tarte - Clean Slate Flawless 12-Hr Brightening Primer (water-based)
  32. Urban Decay - De-Slick In A Tube (water-based)
  33. Urban Decay - Complexion Primer Potion, Pore Perfecting (silicone-based)
  34. Urban Decay - Complexion Primer Potion, Brightening (water-based)
  35. Too Faced - Primed & Poreless, Original (silicone-based)
  36. Becca - Resurfacing Primer (water-based)
  37. L'Oreal - Studio Secrets Professional Magic Perfecting Base (silicone-based)
  38. Colorescience - Skin Bronzing SPF 20 Primer, Wild to Mild (silicone-based)
  39. Mally Beauty - Perfect Prep Poreless Primer, Glow (silicone-based)
  40. Miracle Skin Transformer - Vanish (silicone-based)
  41. Serious Skincare - InstA-tox (water-based)
  42. Global Goddess Beauty - Upgrade Complexion Primer (silicone-based)


What is primer?
A foundation primer is like an insurance policy for your foundation (this is the first of two parts of what I call my makeup insurance policy; the other step is setting your makeup - but we'll get into setting products in another Beauty Basics post). Every primer is different with what they offer, but the basic purpose of a primer is to prep your skin so makeup applies better and also to help your makeup last longer. It's a barrier between your makeup and your skin; which helps prevent your skin from soaking in talc or pigments from makeup.

Primers can fill in fine lines & wrinkles, help with the appearance of pores, moisturize, even skintone, add radiance, tint skin, control oil, mattify, provide skincare benefits (like anti-aging antioxidants, help with blemishes, and dark spots), and so much more.

Primers have come a long way, so be sure to read each primer's description of what it can do for you.


Do you really need a primer?
In my opinion, yes, you need a foundation primer. Is it necessary? Of course not. However, not using a foundation primer is like not wearing a bra under a tight t-shirt or not wearing Spanx under a form fitting dress. It can make all the difference!

If you've tried primers and think they don't work, so you've eliminated them from your routine, then you may not have found the right primer for you - and more importantly, to match your foundation type. Believe it or not, your primer will work better if you're matching it with the same base as your foundation; meaning silicone-base or water-based. It can make a world of a difference with how your foundation primer and your foundation perform. You can get maximum results by matching the two up.

Since first using a foundation primer back in 2002, I haven't even considered not using one. Sure, I've tested not using one but then I'm sitting there touching up my makeup just a few hours later or complaining about how my foundation applied, or that my makeup has settled into my pores.

So do you really need a primer? Well, no you don't need a primer - but we also don't need to wear makeup (yet most of us do). It's a personal preference and one that I hope you will consider adding to your makeup routine. Don't give up on your first try either; ask for samples at the beauty counters, at Sephora, at Ulta, etc. and play around until you find a great match for you!


Types of Primer:
Almost all primers fall into one of three categories:
  • Liquid
  • Gel
  • Cream/mousse
Of course they can be any combination of those three types mixed together, like liquid-gels.

There are such things are powder primers, although they are typically setting powders marketed as primers. I've personally never tried a powder primer so I cannot comment on them. You can check out Too Faced Primed & Poreless Powder, which in the description says it can be used alone, or under or over foundation (again, I think it's more of a setting powder marketed as a priming powder that can also set makeup)

Primers are mostly silicone-based or water-based, but there are other base possibilities (like oil-based). If you're not sure what your primer base is just look up the ingredients. The first ingredient will let you know (the second ingredient can be helpful too). Ingredients are listed in order by the most added to least added, so if the first ingredient says "aqua" then you know it's water based; if the first ingredient is a long word, like "dimethicone" or "cyclopentasiloxane" then you know it's silicone based (not all long words means it's silicone based; I'm just saying most of the time it is).

Also, from my experience, primers that say they'll fill in lines/pores are usually silicone based, primers that say they'll brighten are usually water based, and primers that say they control oil are usually water-based. It's not always how it works, but most of the time that's the case.

If you need any help finding out what kind of primer base you have just email me and I'll let you know. Click on the "About Crystal" tab for my email address. Check my list above to see if your foundation primer is listed because I noted what their base is. 


How To Apply Primer:
There are a few methods for applying a foundation primer:
  • Fingers
  • Sponge
  • Brush
I personally prefer to use clean fingers to apply my primer because it's fast and easy, plus there is little to no waste of product - which can occur when using a sponge (it absorbs some product), as well as a brush (can leave some left over in the brush). I just find the finger method to waste the least and apply the fastest/easiest.

Apply your primer like you would your moisturizer, and pat it into/focus on areas of more concern; for me it's my smile lines.

You'll apply your primer after your skincare routine and before you apply any makeup. It's recommended to wait a few minutes after applying your moisturizer before applying your foundation - but I know life doesn't always allow you those extra minutes so don't worry if you can't wait very long (but try to wait at least until your moisturizer feels absorbed before you apply your primer).

However, for an important night out or another day where you want to get maximum results then I would recommend the following method:
  1. Apply your moisturizer, then wait 10 minutes.
  2. Take a tissue (divide it in half by pulling it apart so it's thinner) and lightly blot over your face to absorb any excess moisturizer/oil that your skin doesn't need. This step is especially important for those of us with oily skin. You could also use a blotting sheet, but tissues are cheaper; plus since you're pulling each one apart you're getting double the value.
  3. Apply your foundation primer all over face, patting it into areas of extra concern. For me, my smile lines are my trouble area.
  4. Then wait about 1 to 5 minutes before applying your foundation so your primer has enough time to set. Every primer is different though; some dry down really quickly and others take longer. You'll have to try what works best for you.

Find a primer for you...
Finding a primer best for you can be tricky, because what works for one person may not work for another. I highly recommend going to Sephora, Ulta, or your local department stores and asking for samples of primer. Try out different formulas and see what works best.

To help narrow down your search you should consider three of the following points:
  • What is your skin type? Some primers are formulated for dry skin, others for oily skin and so on. If you have oily skin, you may want to look for a mattifying primer, or oil-controlling primer. If you have dry skin, you may want to look for a hydrating primer.
  • What are you looking for in a primer? Most primers will prep your skin and make your makeup last longer, but if you want something more -- like adding a bronze tint to your skin, or maybe you want something to control oil -- then you'll need to limit down your primer choices to specifics.
  • What is your foundation base type? Knowing if your foundation is silicone-based or water-based is a great start to matching up with a perfect primer. If you're not sure what your foundation base is just look up the ingredients. The first ingredient will let you know (the second ingredient can be helpful too). Ingredients are listed in order by the most added to least added, so if the first ingredient says "aqua" then you know it's water based; if the first ingredient is a long word, like "dimethicone" or "cyclopentasiloxane" then you know it's silicone based (not all long words means it's silicone based; I'm just saying most of the time it is). If you need any help finding out what kind of foundation base you have just email me and I'll let you know. Click on the "About Crystal" tab for my email address.
Of course you could just have fun trying various primers and not even having a clue what you're looking for, but if you don't want to waste time or money, then those three points will really help you look in the right direction.

Also, if you're like me and use different foundations almost daily then you'll want to have different primers for your needs. I have a lot of primers in my collection, and use them according to the type of foundation I'm using or what I want. If I'm feeling pale I may use a tinted primer. If I'm feeling dull I may use a primer that will add a glow. If I'm really oily I'll use a mattifying primer. If I'm really dry I'll use a hydrating primer. I also mix primers - sometimes I want to fill in fine lines (my smile lines) so I'll use Miracle Skin Transformer's Vanish on those areas, Benefit's The POREfessional on my pores, and another primer everywhere else. You don't need to do that, but the point is you can customize your primer routine to your skin needs!


For reference, here is a list of all my blog posts (to date) where I've reviewed a foundation primer (in brand alphabetical order):

Now let me know what you think...
Was this Beauty Basics post helpful at all? If you have any questions feel free to email me or leave a comment below.


  1. Wow those are a lot of primers!!! I sadly own none but I really want to start getting into primers because I really think my foundation could be applied a lot better.

    This post was great! :) Please do more of this series.

  2. This post was super helpful, thank you so much! :)


  3. Great post! I have tried a tons of primers - stuck with a few of them and bailed due to lack of performance usually. But last month I was out of town on medical and was lamenting how my lower lid eye makeup always was running into my conceler. It had got so bad I gave up wearing any eye cream in the daytime which is bad as I need to use a light weight one I am so dry there. So the one side trip I made was to a large multi supplier kind of beauty product store...mentioned my issue to one sales person who said I needed a primer...I thought about it - made sense and I never had used a primer up by my eyes - guess I thought it was not safe maybe. The one I bought was Pop Beauty Magnetic primer. It's got some light diffusers in it too so it helps in the under eye area...I now use it over my entire face...and I am addicted - it's great! First primer I used was way back in the late 80's...a makeup private sales lady who did your colors and sold makeup got me into one - it was great - huge bottle for very little - it was before foundations made a huge jump to being tons better and that primer helped my makeup from transferring.

  4. @ Sheri: You really should try a primer out! It can make such a difference in your makeup routine :)

    @ It's Friday Somewhere: I'm glad you liked it! :)

    @ Francivusk: Glad it was helpful!

    @ beachgal: I haven't tried the POP Beauty Magnetic Primer, but sounds like a good one to try; maybe I'll grab a sample of it.

  5. I have big pores, oily skin and acne problem. Super-great skin -_- Which foundation do you think I should use?

  6. @ Cindy Clara: I will be doing a Beauty Basics post all about foundation coming soon that will help you greatly. In the mean time you can email me with your questions. Unless you meant which foundation primer would I recommend (since you commented on this post; not sure which you meant, lol). I have the same skin type as you and all those primers listed are in my personal collection and I've used nearly every single one at least once. Some of my favorites are Too Faced Primed & Poreless, Mally's Perfect Prep Poreless Primer, Laura Mercier Foundation Primer, LaROCCA C-Gold Repairative Primer, and Smashbox Photo Finish Light. Don't get me wrong, I like others, but those would be my top 5.

  7. I was so happy when I found this post, and so disappointed when I started to read it...! :( Only check the first ingredient? Unless the primer is solid, almost ALL OF THEM have aqua as the 1st ingredient! You shouldn´t be advising people on what to spend their money on when you clearly don´t know what you´re talking about! I´m sorry for the angry rant, I´m sure you meant well. But misleading information like this is really disappointing. Maybe you could do an updated post on the subject?

  8. @Anonymous: ACTUALLY, the first ingredient is not always water, because ingredients are listed in order based on the amount that actual ingredient is in a product. Hence why I said it's easiest to identify if a primer is water based or silicone based or oil based just by looking at the first ingredient. Yes, sometimes there is water AND a silicone in a primer... but what's important is how much of each of those ingredients is in a product. If water is first and it happens to have a silicone listed as a 2nd, 3rd, or 20th ingredient still makes it a water based primer because it contains the most water. Making it WATER BASED. No where does it say completely without silicone and vice versa. Sorry you had a rant without truly reading what I wrote.... I could say you don't clearly know what you're talking about but it's like talking to a wall, especially when posting as anonymous.


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