Why now might be the time to get into makeup primers — even if you don't wear a lot of makeup

Two Canadian makeup experts sound off on the often neglected makeup bag staple and how to use it.

Two Canadian makeup experts sound off on the often neglected makeup bag staple and how to use it

(Credit: Aiony Haust/

Face primers are continually praised by makeup artists and beauty editors for their ability to smooth the skin for the ultimate canvas, and for how they hold onto whatever foundation comes afterward for hours. Brands have been churning out this preparatory wunderkind for quite some time now too. And yet! Out of all the cosmetics on the market, face primer, this in-between step post-skincare and pre-makeup, still feels like one of the most puzzling to navigate. 

Oftentimes it's avoided altogether especially if you don't wear a lot of makeup to begin with — it can be hard to justify any real benefit to one's regimen. But the truth is, the case for face primers just got a whole lot stronger, thanks to a new generation of power formulas that have a whole bunch of added tricks up their sleeves. 

"Primers have come a long way in the last few years. They're not just the thick silicone gels to help smooth foundation on anymore," says celebrity and editorial makeup artist Sheri Stroh. "There are so many with amazing skincare ingredients in them now, so they're more of a primer-skincare hybrid. They enhance the skin so that you can actually use them alone or with less makeup." Think skin illuminating, pore refining, mattifying, ultra hydrating and anti-aging. 

But even if you're tempted to dip your finger in the primer pool, there are so many to choose from that it may not be so clear is which formula and texture to select. "It totally depends on the skin type," says makeup artist Aniya Nandi.  "A balm texture is better for dry, dehydrated skin; a cream is great for combination to oily skin. Ultimately, you want your primer to melt right into the skin and not be too heavy or greasy." 

Once the right formulation is in hand, technique becomes key. "I apply with clean fingers to really work it in, and I will also let [primers] set for a bit before applying any other makeup," explains Stroh. And note, a little should ultimately go a long way. "Keep the bulk of the product in the centre of the face and then blend outwards. There's no need to have a heavy layer all over the face," says Nandi.   

Ahead, some of the best new power primers to suit every skin type and budget. 

Must mist

Infused with soothing aloe and cucumber extracts, the refreshing multitasker works as a skin-prep step, plus as a won't-smear setting spray that can be misted over a full face of makeup for hold that lasts all day.

NYX Cosmetics Bare With Me Prime. Set. Refresh. Multitasking Spray, $14, NYX Cosmetics

Oil me up

The problem with a lot of face oils is that they can take a while to soak into the skin. Not this priming oil, though. Resembling more of a dry oil in texture, simply smooth a few drops of the formula over your face before applying foundation and watch it absorb in seconds. 

Quo Facial Primer Oil, $20, Shoppers Drug Mart

Natural wonder

It can be hard to find affordable makeup products that are not only good quality, but made from all natural ingredients and cruelty-free. Famous for its powdered foundations, Australian makeup line Nude by Nature also makes a top-notch primer that's free of any irritating synthetic ingredients or preservatives, like silicones. 

Nude by Nature Perfecting Primer, $32, Shoppers Drug Mart

Face the city

This matte-finish primer boasts antipollution properties, which work to physically guard the skin against toxins in the air (hello, city life) as well as from digital pollution — think of the dose of blue light being radiated from our addictive digital screens. What's more: the formula stays clear of parabens, mineral oil, oil, and fragrance. 

Lise Watier Base Mineral Skin Perfecting Primer, $40, Lise Watier

Oh she glows

A collaboration between Smasbox and Instagram sensation Bri Luna, a queen of horoscopes, tarot cards, and crystals, this non-greasy makeup primer is loaded with super fine rose-quartz shimmer that leaves behind a light-reflecting finish. It dries down fasts and keeps makeup from setting into fine lines and pores. 

Smashbox Photo Finish Crystalized Primerizer, $50, Shoppers Drug Mart

Breakout fighting

If you're prone to acne, rosacea or eczema, this product might help. "I use this skin treatment as a primer on skin that needs some help with calming and breakouts," says Stroh. The antimicrobial clarifying cream works to reduce the colonization and growth of harmful bacteria, while supporting the skin's natural healing process.

Zyderma HS Clarifying Cream, $59.95, Zyderma

Balms away

If your complexion is bothered by discoloration, dullness and uneven texture, then let this balm-like primer be your antidote. The formula's pressed silk extracts diminish the look of pores and fine lines, while finely-milled pink and gold pearl even skin tone. And a little definitely melts and spreads a long way; a rice-sized amount does the trick for your entire face.

Tatcha The Silk Canvas Filter Finish Protective Primer, $68, Sephora

Heaven scent 

It's easy to focus on the delicious tropical scent here, but this multitasking buttery formula has a lot more going for it; it's made with enzymatic pineapple water to help improve skin's texture, and starfruit and dragonfruit to protect skin cells from free radicals. 

Marc Jacobs Youthquake Hydra-Full Retexturizing Gel Crème, $79, Marc Jacobs

Flower power

Chock-full of hydrating white camellia floral water and hyaluronic acid, this creamy mixture works beautifully on its own as an all-over-glow facial moisturizer before doubling as a nourishing base for makeup to stick to. 

Chanel Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, $85, Chanel

Natasha Bruno is a Toronto-based freelance writer with an obsession for beauty, health & wellness, women's issues, and curly hair. Her byline can also be found in The Kit, the Toronto Star, S/ magazine, Sharp Magazine, Bustle, FASHION magazine, among other outlets. Follow her journey on Instagram @natashajbruno.