Maverick Life


Make-up primers – remind me, what are they for again?

(Image: Sahra Heuwel)

With countless new beauty products entering the market every week, knowing which one(s) to include in your beauty routine can be a complex affair. In our series on beauty, we help you find your way through the wide, wide world of cosmetics: today, we look at primers.

Said to improve the look of foundation on the skin, even out skin tone and help your make-up last longer throughout the day (or night), make-up primers seem to be a must-have in your make-up bag. Or are they?

Make-up primers tend to be avoided because, often, consumers can’t really figure out what they are to be used for exactly; they are “invisible” products, that are not part of skincare nor obvious make-up. They also have a wide range of alleged benefits, including creating the appearance of even skin tone, superficial skin smoothing and temporary mattifying effects.

Make-up primers are not part of the skincare family and they should not be confused with a moisturiser or other skin treatments. Whereas moisturisers are absorbed by the skin and used to keep the skin hydrated, make-up primers are designed to sit on top of the skin and can be used to create a smooth base for foundation and make-up application.

Dr Cara Duminy, a South African aesthetic practitioner at Cape Aesthetics, says that instead of using them as a skin treatment, primers are intended to allow smooth application, and longer lasting wear of make-up, or prevent the breakdown of foundation.

“I would never suggest a primer to improve skin complaints. Having said that, the formulation of some primers can lock in your skincare ingredients, helping them to work longer and harder, so you may see a difference in your skin by adding a primer to your routine.”

‘Lock-in’, that’s the primers’ magic power.

Kelly Pataiki, a South African make-up artist for Chanel, concurs, adding that a primer forms a sort of barrier between your skin and make-up; it acts as the binder which will help hold your make-up in place for longer. The barrier created not only assists with longer-lasting make-up – it prepares the canvas for beauty product application – but can also manage a number of issues: oil-control, colour-correcting, illuminating or mattifying the skin as well as creating the appearance of reduced pores and fine lines.

In her straight-talking book Pretty Honest, beauty expert and resident beauty columnist for The Guardian Sali Hughes states, “Primer is utterly brilliant stuff and not just for experts.”

“If you have bumpiness from old acne scars, or if you suffer from rosacea or pimples, if you are going through menopause and find your make-up runs for cover at the hint of a hot flash, if you’re so oily you can’t hang onto your make-up beyond elevenses, if your foundation becomes patchy and gathers around random hotspots on your face, or if it sinks into pores and sits there until bedtime – primer is your friend.”

There are many variations of make-up primers, which can be used to mask the appearance of specific skin problems. There are colour-correcting primers (tinted primers which can be used to deal with discolouration) used for uneven skin tone, illuminating primers for added radiance, mattifying primers that can help reduce shine and control sebum; and hydrating primers, which can add an additional layer of moisture if your skin is showing signs of dehydration.

To find the correct primer, first identify what skin concern you would like to address. If you are looking for colour-correcting, look at how tinted primer will neutralise each discolouration. Pataiki explains that a green tinted primer will minimise the appearance of redness; a purple tint is more commonly used for a dull-looking complexion as it helps neutralise your skin tone for a more youthful glow; a pink or peachy tint will add warmth and illuminate your complexion.

“Peach is also good to help reduce the appearance of dark circles under the eyes,” Pataiki adds.

However, Cape Town-based professional make-up artist Sarah Hoberman notes that a primer will not treat these skin conditions but rather superficially smooths or corrects the cracks, change in textures, enlarged pores, fine lines or discolouration on the face. Hoberman says it is the silicone base of (most) primers that forms a film over the skin and creates an airbrushed-like, canvas effect.

The two main types of primers are silicone-based and water-based. Silicone primers have a thicker consistency than water-based primers and will help smooth textures such as acne scars and fine lines as well as minimise the appearance of pores. The POREfessional Face Primer by Benefit Cosmetics is Hoberman’s top choice when it comes to silicone primers due to the fact that it is “super light in texture and smooths the skin beautifully”.

Dimethicone, also known as polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), is the most widely used silicone-based polymer; because of its smooth texture and ability to fill in fine lines and uneven textures, it is, most often, the ingredient included in silicone primers. The downside to silicone primers is that, because they create a barrier between the skin and make-up, they can also trap other impurities such as bacteria and skin oils. The result? An oilier-looking skin and a possible cause for irritation to sensitive skin.

If you have dry and sensitive skin, water-based primers are best because they are oil-free, lightweight and hydrating for the skin. Smashbox Photo Finish Primer Water is a water-based primer that has a twofold effect of prepping the skin for make-up application as well as hydrating the skin thanks to the inclusion of electrolytes (minerals involved in many essential processes in our body). Another hydrating primer is the Chanel Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, which, Pataiki explains, acts as a moisturiser that illuminates your complexion and gives your skin a glow. “It also minimises the appearance of pores and fine lines.”

To differentiate a silicone primer from a water-based primer, you will need to look at the ingredients on the packaging of the product. In a silicone primer, the ingredient dimethicone (or another variation of a silicone-based polymer ending in -cone) will appear near the top of the list of ingredients. For a water-based primer, the ingredient at the top of the list will be water or aqua. Dimethicone may also be present in water-based primers, however, it will be included much further down on the list of ingredients.

Although both silicone and water-based primers can be a quick fix for superficial skin concerns, Hoberman stresses that skin hygiene remains essential; already congested skin should be treated with the correct skincare and not covered up with primer and make-up. She adds that, should your skin be prone to acne and breakouts, oil-free primers are recommended.

“I would also take into consideration your skincare prep before you apply your products, as sometimes too many layers of product from moisturiser, serums and sunscreen to primer and foundation, can be too much for your skin.” ML


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