Ready, SET, Glow! | Face | Part I of III: Face/Foundation Primers

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Part I: Face/Foundation Primers

Part II: Fix Sprays
Part III: Other Types of Base-Setting Makeup

MAC certainly chose the right words to name their pre-makeup products. I might not use MAC Prep + Prime all the time for this purpose but these two words often come to mind when I’m preparing my face for makeup application.

Eyes, cheeks or lips are usually the focal point of a look but a good base simultaneously complements and compliments them. Foundation and powder are common examples of base makeup and are either used alone or in combination. Tinted moisturisers are favoured by many too. Whatever the product, we want it to last.

Who wants impeccable point makeup when our face makeup is cracking or streaking? A prepped canvas is essential for preventing this and is also the key to creating a polished and flawless appearance.

When it comes to base makeup, different products can be used to protect and make it last. I will examine priming products, discuss their function(s) and comment on their effectiveness on me.

Face/Foundation Primers


These are generally gel, mousse or viscous products that are always used before any makeup is applied to the face. Apply them with warm fingertips or a sponge, over moisturiser or alone; with a foundation brush, for precision and better coverage. Some primers are not meant for the eye area, so please read the product label before application.

Some popular foundation primers include:

Laura Mercier Foundation Primer
MAC Prep + Prime Skin
Paula Dorf Perfect Primer Foundation
Shu Uemura UV Under Base SPF 10
Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer

Why and how?

They provide a smooth surface upon which foundation (or powder) can glide. They contain silicones, which create that smoothness and grab foundation, helping it to stay put. Silicones prevent moisture loss and are non-comedogenic (i.e. they will not clog pores).

A primer creates a barrier between skin and foundation. According to Laura Mercier, this prevents skin from absorbing talc and pigment from your foundation, as well as prevents talc from drawing oil from the skin.

Primers not only enable makeup to stay on longer, they can also even out skintone, fill in fine lines and reduce visible pores. Others mattify/control oil production by absorbing oil with their salicylic acid content, brighten the skin with light reflecting particles and deliver skin-nourishing nutrients with antioxidants, while some have added SPF for sun protection.

Today’s primers even have colour correctors to impart radiance, warm up complexions, counteract discolouration or reduce the sight of blemishes. One such primer is Smashbox Color Correcting Photo Finish Foundation Primer.

In general:

Purple illuminates and works to neutralise a sallow complexion.

combats ruddiness by minimising redness.

/peach/apricot targets blue-greyness and works to conceal/tone down dark veins, undereye circles and even blemishes like sunspots. In my experience, peach evens out skintone, as well. Yellow neutralises blue too but the above shades tend to give a more natural finish.

You may also use these colour correcting principles to find the right concealer for spot concealing.

So, do they work?

Velvety and smooth, it is unsurprising that some makeup artists swear by them (I know a MAC MA who waxes lyrical about MAC Prep + Prime Skin and intones that the face is completely radiant after application), while others cannot imagine not having a comfortable layer of primer before foundation.

Like the MA, I have had good results with MAC Prep + Prime Skin and am pleased that it blends well over MAC Lightful sunscreen without caking. It keeps my foundation true and has a light-reflecting, slight opalescence that gives my skin a glow. Best of all, it helps my foundation to last for hours.

Be warned it does NOT have good oil control and blotting will be required, unless you have dry skin. That said, the glow that it can impart because of this non-mattifying quality is not a bad thing! ;)

I tried the Laura Mercier many years back and although it did not not work, it did not really wow me either. It was nothing exceptional and did not make my skin look any better. Foundation-staying power was average too. I ended up giving it away.

A point to note: The MAC comes in an iridescent black pump bottle, while the Laura Mercier comes in a sleek, flat squeeze tube. Both look good and minimise wastage!

I have also used primers by Japanese brands. These are, in general, lighter than western brands and sit well on the skin. I like how they make my skin look soft and how they mattify without drying. Many of them also come in user-friendly, hygienic plastic tubes that have a pointed tip that minimises contamination, preserving them for future use.

The SANA ones are especially memorable with their simple graphics and smooth exteriors that seem to mimick the product they contain; hinting at velvety promises for your skin! ;)

As with most beauty products, there are caveats: careful application is a must. If you are layering, do allow pre-primer products to sink in before applying. Make sure that the primer sits properly on the skin and is evenly applied. This is to ensure ease of application/blending and to prevent caking upon the application of foundation (or powder, if you are skipping foundation).

Set the foundation with powder (I highly recommend MAC Blot Powder and Kesalan Patharan Sheer Micro Powder) and you are good for the day! For added radiance and long-lastingness, mist with a fix spray (see Part II).

Like foundation, you do not always need to use a foundation primer on the whole face. If your skin is looking good or if you are not wearing makeup for an extended period of time, simply apply it on areas where you get the oilies and/or where you intend to have foundation.

Some people break out from silicones. If you are one of them, such primers are not for you. Other types of products also work for prepping and priming, so if you are looking for other options, do read Part II and Part III of this series. :)


  • Mellerson says:

    Thanks for sharing this entry!

    I’m actually not a big fan of the MAC prep+prime face tube…. I feel like I have to press the pump a little hard to get any product out, but then too much squeezes out! Whenever I’ve been at the testers I always end up with a mass of product wasted.

    I use the Monistat anti-chafing gel, but I’m wondering if it breaks me out, too many silicones perhaps.

  • The Casual Kitchener says:

    Haven’t really been using primers and I’m just now trying the LM Foundation Primer. I like how it feels cool and light and glides smoothly on my skin. Foundation seems to glide on smoother and look sheerer. That’s a plus for me cos I like sheer makeup. And my skin seems more matt. It seems primers ARE worth the extra step. Thanks for reviewing/highlighting this often under-appreciated product.

  • makeupmag says:

    Hey Mel!

    I know what you mean about the packaging; it can be frustrating! What I don’t like is that the bottle cannot be opened, so that we cannot reach the remnants…grr. I just finished one bottle but am certain there’s more inside, lol!

    I’ve tried Monistat – one of my clients was kind enough to show me her tube and let me play with it. It’s ok – I like how smooth it is but I don’t think it is exceptional. It actually reminds me of some Japanese primers. And yes, it IS very siliconey! Does it work well for you?

    PS: You look beautiful in your avvie. Which lippy are you using?

    PPS: Thanks for the MSF price update; I’ve modified the post! :)

  • makeupmag says:

    Kat dear,

    Thank you!

    Did you get my message about how I LOVED your haul? Would love to see pics, hehe!

    I’m glad the LM works for you. Perhaps the formulation’s changed or the tube that I had was old. I shall look at it again, if I ever go to BKK in the near future. :)

  • kendy says:

    The content you have provided is pretty interesting and useful and I will surely take note of the point you have made in the blog.

  • UptownGal says:

    Hi Mag,

    Hv u tried the MAC Prep + Prime that comes with SPF? It’s not bad except it takes quite long to dry.

    Just got some samples from Biotherm. Tried the purple make up base with SPF tdy… so far so good!! Better than Mac’s – lighter.

  • makeupmag says:

    Hi Uptowngal!

    Thanks for the feedback. I have the MAC Prep+Prime SPF50 but I can’t remember how it wore. :P Thanks for reminding me to use it again!

  • makeupmag says:

    Thank you for dropping by and for the nice comment, Kendy!

  • Claire says:

    I recommend GOSH Velvet Touch primer too, it’s wonderfully silky and gorgeous on the skin, and it really helps keep my make-up on my face!

  • makeupmag says:

    Hi Claire!

    Thanks for the tip. I can get GOSH here (love the waterproof pencils) so I will check out the primer soon!

  • Trish Ratna says:

    Thanks Mag. I’ve just ordered Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Prime through a spree and I can’t wait to give it a try. You reckon loose powder to finish off is better?

  • makeupmag says:

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of the Smashbox, Trish! :) Please let me know. It is very popular.

    Do you mean using loose powder in place of a primer, for a smooth look? That would do too. A loose powder would give the face a natural finish – it is my preferred finisher! :)

  • Dana says:

    Very informative post!! Unfortunately MAC Prep+Prime did not seem to do anything for me hahaha… so I gave mine away. I’m currently liking Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer SPF15 and alternatively The Face Shop Make Up Base in Green (I want to try the Violet one now hahaha) which works nicely as well for such awesome price.

    I used to not see the importance of primer but now I use it all the time. I want to try Shu Uemura as it’s been raved on so much about

    • makeupmag says:

      Hi Dana,

      Thanks for the TFS recs! :) I know the HG one gets quite a bit of love; I’ll have to take a closer look the next time I visit Sephora!

  • set makeup says:

    I use the Shielo Hydrate Mist (its a spray) mainly to set my makeup after applying. Not surprisingly, my makeup always used to wear off throughout the day and I’d come home looking like I did before getting ready that morning. If I spritz a little of the Shielo Spray on after applying my makeup I still have a fresh face of foundation, bronzer, shadow, etc. when I get home. It’s also great to spritz on your eyeshadow brush before applying if you want to get a creamer, more dramatic color.

  • Samantha says:


    Do you have any recommendations for face primers with spf for oily skin? Perhaps something not too costly. Thank You!

  • Eil says:

    pls advise to apply prima before or after foundation?

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