Makeup primers are so commonplace in the cosmetics world today that it is sometimes difficult to remember that they are a fairly recent innovation. Commercially available products only hit the market about 10 years ago. The first widely-available primers were adjuncts to mascara. These milky-white solutions are applied to lashes first and are supposed to give an illusion of length and thickness to the color solution applied over it. Some lash primers have tiny fibers inside to actually add length to your eyelashes.

Makeup Primer

Applying makeup primers.

Lash primers, especially those with lengthening fibers, should not be used by people who wear contact lenses. Mascara tends to flake more when applied over primer than to bare lashes.

Lip primers were the next big thing when they first came out. Not only did they promise that your lipstick would last longer, they also promised smoother lips and a reduction in “feathering” at the lip line. This is one product you can skip; lip liner prevents bleeding of the color, exfoliating with a rough washcloth smoothes the lips and lipsticks and glosses come off anyway. Using a sealer over a lip product will most likely offer more benefit to you than a lip primer.

I first became a convert to primers when they became available for eyelids because I have really oily lids. By noon most days (even in the dead of a Canadian winter), my eye liner all but vanished and my shadow had gathered in the crease. My makeup bag was always packed for endless touch-ups.

The first primer I purchased was from a Canadian company called Quo. This is the house brand for the largest drugstore chain in the country, Shoppers Drug Mart. A fluid that takes a bit of time to dry, I bought this in the summer and was amazed at how well my eye makeup stayed on, even after a long bus ride home during the dog days of August.

But I had to branch out, and decided to try the product that had been recommended to me for years – MAC Paint in Bare Canvas. What I love about the paint-style eye primers is that they dry quickly to a lasting finish. Color versions can be used alone, as with the Dior Eye Show cream-to-powder eye shadow.

For years, I’ve been using Benefit Lemon Aid for my eye makeup primer. This product is an excellent choice for anyone with a bluish tint to her eyelids caused by blood vessels close to the surface. Not only does it neutralize the blue, but it slips on easily and dries almost instantly. And my makeup stays all day, even in the hottest summer weather.Primers designed to go under foundation or over bare skin are extensions of color correctors. The first ones were lightly tinted fluids that imparted a soft pinkish glow to skin (Estée Lauder Spotlight is the first product that I got in this family). Their purpose is to help makeup go on easily and give it staying power. Most are silicone-based.

Makeup Primers

Some people have great luck with makeup primers

These are marketed as “mattifiers”, “brighteners”, “perfecters” and color correctors, in addition to being called primers. Most are clear or milky white (obviously not the corrector products) and dry quickly to an invisible finish that fills pores. Foundation is supposed to glide easily over this product and look “flawless”.

However, as with anything else in the makeup world, there are variations in primers. That mean that the one your best friend raves about could leave your skin looking terrible. Some products get the thumbs up more often than others -- Smashbox Photo Finish Primer, Laura Mercier Secret Finish, Laura Geller Spackle and MAC Prep ‘N Prime.

The name that unexpectedly pops up when discussing primers is Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel; an inexpensive product that shares an ingredient list of silicones and polymers with most of the pricier products named above. (For a list of primers at all price points complete with reviews, check out BlogdorfGoodman at – 40 Days & 40 Nights of Primers.)

Is primer NECESSARY? This really is a matter of personal preference (and I am firmly in the NO camp). But the truth is that these products were originally formulated for use under the hot lights of photo shoots and fashion shows. They really are not something for everyday wear.

If you’re looking for products that will give the same smooth finish of a primer, try a moisturizer or treatment product with some of the same polymers, like Estée Lauder Idealist or Olay Regenerist Daily Perfecting Serum. It should be noted that several makeup companies don’t even make primers – Lancôme and Bobbi Brown most notably.

Primers aren’t necessary for your makeup to look out of this world. But they can take you in a bold new direction on special occasions.