How Do Primers Work?

Whether it’s all over your face or just on your eyelids, I’m sure you’ve had someone suggest you use a primer to make your makeup last longer. But what exactly is a primer? And how does it work? Keep reading to find out!

Primer has a couple of different functions when it comes to makeup. It can lengthen the wear time of makeup and it can reduce the appearance of pores and fine lines. A big part of primers is just providing a better surface for makeup to adhere to, but there’s even more to it than that.

The biggest reason why makeup breaks down throughout the day is because it interacts with the oils and sweat your skin produces throughout the day. This is what makes your makeup slip and slide all over your face at the end of a long day. Primers provide a barrier between your makeup and your skin, and reduces the interaction of makeup and sweat/oil, making it last longer. Unlike moisturizers, which are designed to sink into the skin, primers are designed to sit on top of the skin to provide this barrier. There are two main types of primer that people talk about: silicone and non-silicone.

Silicone primers are, you guessed it, made with a silicone base. These are the ones that feel silky and almost powdery when applied. Beyond providing a barrier, silicone primers also fill in large pores and fine lines, creating the appearance of smoother skin. These are also considered “mattifying” primers, as they fill in pores and are better at preventing the appearance of oil than non-silicone primers. Silicone primers will contain ingredients like dimethicone (and other -one products) and siloxane.

Non-silicone primers are often considered more “moisturizing” but really they just contain more occlusive ingredients that trap the moisture you’ve already applied. These are usually made with waxy ingredients rather than silicones. Sometimes the waxes are mixed with emollients to provide moisture, but if you have oily skin I would stay away from those.

Here are a few well-known primers from each category:


  • Smashbox Photofinish Primer
  • Benefit Porefessional
  • Monistat Anti-Chaffing Gel (yes, this is a great primer! and it’s cheap!)


  • Too Faced Hangover Primer
  • Nivea Men’s Sensitive Post Shave Balm (another cheap, unexpected primer!)
  • Smashbox Photo Finish Primer Oil

My two personal favorites are the Hangover Primer and the Photofinish Primer. My skin has been drier recently, so the Hangover has been good for trapping that moisture and keeping my skin looking plump throughout the day. On my oilier days I’ll apply the photofinish primer everywhere, or sometimes mix primer and use a silicone one on my oily zones and a non-silicone primer everywhere else.

The general rule of thumb is that oily skin works  well with silicone primers and dry skin does better with non-silicone primers. But it’s important to remember that every person’s skin is different! If your skin is oily but you don’t like silicone primers, you do you! Half the fun of makeup is experimenting with different products and finding something that works for you.

These same concepts apply to eye primers, except I’ve never run across silicone eye primers. The two biggest issues with eyeshadow are the shadow fading throughout the day, and the shadow creasing. Both of these are solved by using primer. The primer gives the shadow something to stick to but also creates a barrier and prevents the oil from your eyelid from interacting with the shadow and causing creases. Here are a few popular eyelid primers:

Eyelid Primers

  • Urban Decay Primer Potion
  • Milani Eyeshadow Primer
  • Wet N Wild Photo Ready Primer

Was this post helpful for you? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to follow me and like my Facebook page!


3 thoughts on “How Do Primers Work?

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