Beauty 911: Help Me Figure Out Where Primer Fits Into My Makeup Routine!

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“I just bought my first primer and I was so excited to use it, but then I realized I don’t actually know how to use it. Does it go on before or after my concealer? What about moisturizer? My daily regimen includes sunscreen, concealer, powder, and now primer. Could you help me figure out the order in which I should be putting all these products on my face? Thanks so much!” – Primed For Greatness

Oh, Primed For Greatness, you have so much to learn! But not to worry, you have a lot of potential, too — there are plenty of makeup newbies who begrudge the virtues of a good primer in their makeup routine. Expressing a desire to use one properly is the first step in your journey to becoming a primer pro.

Primer should be the very first step in your makeup routine, directly following your skincare routine. Once you’ve got your sunscreen on (used after moisturizer, or kill two beauty birds with one stone by using a moisturizer that contains SPF), let the products sit for a bit before applying primer. Letting your moisturizer and sunscreen really sink in lessens the chance of your final skincare step interacting poorly with the primer, which can result in products pilling off your face and creating a sticky, uneven surface. (I’m loyal to Dermalogica Oil-Free Matte SPF 30 for that reason — it absorbs instantly, so I never have to worry about pilling.)

Drink some coffee, get dressed, then put on your primer. Use it sparingly — say, a pea-sized drop? You can always add more if you need to, but you do want to use as little as possible to get the job done. Focus on the areas of your face where your makeup starts to fade first or where you tend to get oily throughout the day (the under-eye area is where I personally first see my makeup start to look rough, and the T-zone is the biggest target for those with oily and combination skin). When you feel like you’ve covered your face properly with a thin layer of primer, let it sit for a minute or two, then you can get started on the rest of your makeup.

If you wear foundation, tinted moisturizer, or anything of the like, it should always, always come first before concealer. I don’t know where this concealer first, foundation after thing comes from! Just think — you put effort into spot-concealing certain areas, why would you want to put something else on over that and blend away all of your hard work? If you don’t wear a foundation, you can skip right to concealer over your primer. Primer, foundation (if you wear it), then concealer.

Once you’ve got your face all done, dust on a light layer of a translucent powder with a kabuki brush. I will sing the gospel of Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Powder for as long as I live and a kabuki brush, by the way, looks like this. You don’t need that one, though, I use cheap brushes from the drugstore; EcoTools are the bomb-diggity.

Now that your base is all set, you can move onto your eyes, blush, and contouring if you’re into that (I am). Then go ahead and finish off your makeup with a super-fine spritz of a toner like Caudalie Beauty Elixir, which is my obsession. Note that you don’t put powder on over the spray — unless you’re going for a really, really matte look, you don’t want to powder away the soft-lit glow that this bit of moisture imparts. It makes your skin look fresher and livelier, and keeps your makeup looking vibrant throughout the day.

I hope this helps, Primed For Greatness — you are now on your way to makeup mastery! Do you have an urgent (or, okay, not so urgent) beauty question that you want to see answered here, no matter how big or small? I know you do, so send them to me at rachel@thefrisky.com with the subject “Beauty 911!” Check out my primer recs below, and stay tuned for more answers to your burning beauty questions!

(from left to right)

  • Sunday Riley Effortless Breathable Tinted Primer, $48: This crème de la crème de la primers has the power to make a perfect canvas out of even the most busted-looking skin by blurring imperfections into a silky, natural-looking semi-matte finish. With three translucent shades (Light, Medium, and Dark), there’s bound to be one that will blend seamlessly into your skin.
  • Dermalogica SkinPerfect Primer SPF 30, $48: Um, hello, a tinted SPF 30 primer? What more could you ask for? How about a smooth, flawless texture that brightens and fills in fine lines, all while using peptides and antioxidants to protect against free radical damage? It’s essentially perfect, but super-pale ladies be forewarned — it’s a touch darker than what you’re used to, but if you mix it with or wear beneath your usual foundation or tinted moisturizer nobody will be the wiser.
  • Murad Hybrids Skin Perfecting Primer Matte Finish, $35: This formula goes on as a light, silky liquid and absorbs to a shine-free powder finish, minus powder’s telltale drying effect. Made with oily-skinned girls in mind, it works to minimize pores and control oil all day long while using skincare benefits to improve the texture and appearance of skin in the long run.
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