When it comes to applying a full face of makeup, a good primer is often overlooked. Nonetheless, this unsung hero is key to a gorgeous glow-up, delivering hydration and skin-smoothing benefits while blurring texture and offering staying power for your foundation.
And if your complexion is particularly parched, you definitely won't want to skip it. "Primer is a great way to smooth enlarged pores that can still be present with drier skin types," explains high-profile makeup artist Robert Sesnek. "This also ensures a smoother application of foundation."
But which formulas are best for thirsty skin types? "I would make sure to use a primer that is hydrating and has radiance to make the skin appear youthful, plumped, and glowy," says celebrity makeup artist and beauty expert Nydia Figueroa.
We conducted hours of research on the greatest pre-makeup solutions for prepping, smoothing, and quenching your dehydrated dermis. After evaluating dozens of brands on their active ingredients, as well as those that specifically target dry skin, and having a look at what the formulas are free-from, we narrowed down our list. We then consulted with two celebrity makeup artists for recommendations on their top picks to give you the best in show.
Too Faced Plump & Prime Luxury Face Plumping Primer Serum
Our number one pick is Too Faced Plump & Prime, which takes a skincare-focused approach to makeup application. This serum-like tincture contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and peptides to deliver a plumping effect and create an ultra-smooth canvas.
The notably lightweight, milky consistency absorbs exceptionally quickly. It tackles dryness and crepiness, improving your skin's natural texture before applying heavier products like foundation and concealer.
We also appreciate that the pretty pink bottle features an airtight pump. This prevents oxidation by eliminating air exposure and contamination from your fingers.
Price at time of publish: $45
Key Ingredients: Peptides, St John’s wort, hydrolyzed rice extract, vitamin C | Skin Type: Balanced, oily, dry, combination | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Catrice Cosmetics The Hydrator Plump & Fresh Primer
This wallet-friendly option by Catrice is one of Sesnek's go-to primers. "Its light formula gives the skin a fresh, hydrated look with aloe vera, and it is alcohol- and perfume-free," he tells Byrdie. It also is free of all the things you don’t want in a skin prep step: alcohol, perfumes, and animal testing.
Price at time of publish: $8
Key Ingredients: aloe vera | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
NYX Professional Makeup Bare With Me Hydrating Jelly Primer
From the drugstore aisle, we're big fans of Bare With Me. This water-based primer provides up to eight hours of hydration, sets the skin with a sublime, glass-like finish, and effortlessly grips to your makeup. Cooling and hydrating ingredients like cucumber and aloe extracts are refreshing and a nice pick-me-up during application. For this reason, it’s a great formula option for use during the summer months.
Price at time of publish: $17
Key Ingredients: Aloe, cucumber extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Dr. Barbara Sturm Anti-Aging Primer
Contains light-reflecting pigments
This high-end primer from Dr. Sturm flaunts a blend of hyaluronic acid and pearl pigments. It saves your skin from dryness, ensures a smooth-as-butter makeup application leaves a youthful glow in its wake. Plus, there are long-term anti-aging benefits, courtesy of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Price at time of publish: $85
Key Ingredients: Pearl pigments, modified rice starch, sodium lactate, lactic acid, inositol, purslane extract, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B3, urea | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Extended Wear
Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Hydrating Primer
May pill on some complexions
When you know you'll be wearing makeup all day, reach for Laura Mercier Pure Canvas. The long-adored Pure Canvas product inspired an entire collection of primers that offers Hydrating, Blurring, Illuminating, Perfecting and Protecting formulas. The hydrating version is perfect for all-day wear because it refreshes skin with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, fills fine lines, and makes your complexion feel comfortable underneath the foundation for several hours.
Price at time of publish: $42
Key Ingredients: Olive extract, marine hydra botanicals, glycerin | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Beauty Bakerie The Butter HydraSilk Primer
Easy to apply
If you haven't tried a stick primer yet, Beauty Bakerie's The Butter is a great gateway. This hydrating makeup prepper is supremely creamy and goes on smooth as, well, butter. The stick formulation is great for targeted application and offers more of a sheen than other primers, which is ideal for dry skin that can appear dull. Pro tip: for an even higher shine highlight that’ll last all day, apply this to your cheekbones before dusting on your powder shimmer of choice.
Price at time of publish: $24
Key Ingredients: Goji berry extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.26 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Danessa Myricks Beauty Prism FX Hydrating Lotion
Comes in three shades
Available in three shades to accommodate those with peachy, gold, and warm undertones, this illuminating liquid elixir offers subtle color correction while delivering much-needed moisture to dry skin. Use before makeup for a lit-from-within glow or on its own for the ultimate clean girl, dewy skin aesthetic.
Price at time of publish: $28
Key Ingredients: Squalene, vitamin E | Skin Type: Dry, hyperpigmented | Size: 0.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Jane Iredale Smooth Affair Brightening Face Primer
"This skin-quenching primer not only makes makeup last all day, but it helps the skin hold on to its moisture," says Figueroa. "It also helps brighten the skin while adding radiance." If you find that your eye shadow tends to crease, this also doubles as a lid primer, so you can just take the excess from your face and smooth it on your eyes – it’ll help smooth crepiness, too.
Price at time of publish: $50
Key Ingredients: Apple extract, coconut alkanes, royal jelly, algae extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Smashbox Photo Finish Smooth and Blur Oil Free Foundation Primer
Combats uneven texture
Not very hydrating
From veteran primer brand Smashbox, this skin-smoother is formulated to minimize the appearance of fine lines and large pores. It goes on silky smooth, spreads easily, combats uneven texture, and helps lock in your makeup. The velvety oil-free formula promises no slipping, just gripping. And as the name implies, it leaves you with a photo finish, so it’s a must for headshot day at the office (or even just to ensure your daily selfies are flawless).
Price at time of publish: $38
Key Ingredients: Vitamin A, vitamin E | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce, 1.7 ounces, 0.27 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer
Not very hydrating
Of course, not everyone with dry skin wants that glassy, hyper-moisturized appearance. With this in mind, the best mattifying option is Fenty Beauty's Pro Filt'r, an oil-free formula that blurs blemishes, evens tone and texture, and absorbs shine without an uncomfortably tight feeling.
Price at time of publish: $34
Key Ingredients: Silicone, glycerin | Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combination, oily | Size: 1.1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Priming Moisturizer
Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich
Containing murumuru butter and shea butter, plus ceramides and fatty acids, Glossier's delectably rich Priming Moisturizer pulls out all the stops for dry skin. This is a great pick for a five minute AM skincare routine because you don’t have to worry about moisturizing before priming, even if you do have dry skin. Bonus: you can use it as your nighttime moisturizer, too, saving you space (and money).
Price at time of publish: $35
Key Ingredients: Anti-Redness Complex, red algae complex, shea butter, murumuru butter, ceramide 3, ceramide 6, fatty acids, lavender oil | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Etude House Glow On Moistful Base
For K-beauty stans, we suggest Glow On by Etude House. This all-in-one base offers ample hydration while reflecting light and prepping even the driest complexions for makeup. The brand emphasizes its volumizing capability for a plump, youthful sheen. Layer it on after makeup as well for a strobing effect.
Price at time of publish: $20
Key Ingredients: 8 types of hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Sensitive Skin
First Aid Beauty Hello Fab Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer
Good for sensitive skin
Takes a few minutes to set
If you're dealing with dry, sensitive skin, your best bet is this priming moisturizer from First Aid Beauty. The two-in-one formula hydrates, nourishes, and protects reactive skin while providing a smooth canvas for makeup.
Price at time of publish: $32
Key Ingredients: Coconut water, quinoa protein, mineral blend, micro-pearls | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
PÜR 4-in-1 Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20
If you're short on time, Figueroa recommends PÜR 4-in-1, which acts as a moisturizer, primer, foundation, and sunscreen. "When I want to achieve beautiful, natural coverage, this is the product I reach for," she tells Byrdie. A nice way to add coverage and give a more polished look is to dust on some translucent powder or a mineral foundation – just two complexion products and you can be out the door on a busy morning.
Price at time of publish: $35
Key Ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, ceretin complex, chamomile, shea butter, aloe, vitamin E | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer
Silicone as an ingredient in beauty products can get a bad rap, but in a primer, it makes for one of the smoothest-feeling formulas. Silicone imparts a blurring effect, which helps to conceal imperfections and minimize the look of pores before you even add an ounce of makeup. When you start with an even canvas – that’s brought to you by silicone – you don’t have to worry as much about makeup settling into fine lines, it actually helps to fill them and creates a smoother appearance. This is also helpful in minimizing other imperfections such as acne scars or current blemishes. Lastly, silicone will grip the makeup you apply over top, allowing for all-day wear.
Price at Time of Publish: $6
Key Ingredients: Advanced Adaptive Silicones | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
Jori Acne Oil Control Primer
Developed by a dermatologist
Treats and prevents breakouts
Could be irritating for very sensitive skin types
This skincare-meets-makeup hybrid was formulated by a dermatologist who specializes in acne and it was specifically crafted with adult hormonal breakouts in mind. The star ingredient is the max level 2% salicylic acid, which is an oil-soluble BHA (beta hydroxy acid) that is known for penetrating deep within the pores to dislodge acne-causing oil and dirt. Because of the potent ingredient, you don’t need much product to mitigate acne, so a pea-sized amount daily will do. If you have areas of very dry skin that you’re not too concerned about in terms of acne flare-ups, you can use this as a spot treatment, but it is meant for allover use if your skin can tolerate it. In addition to sal acid, there’s a mix of hormone and bacteria-balancing botanicals and niacinamide, which is known for its dark spot, redness and blemish-reducing powers.
Price at Time of Publish: $70
Key Ingredients: Salicylic Acid, Niacinamide | Skin Type: Combination, Normal, Oily | Dosage: a pea-sized amount | Size: 1.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Large Pores
Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Hydrate Primer
The formula can be difficult to spread
If you have large pores, you probably already know that there’s no real way to “shrink” them, but you can minimize their appearance and that’s exactly what this primer does. It’s formulated sans waxes or oils, which can sometimes seep into pores and actually have the opposite effect, making them look bigger. Instead, you’re left with a soft focus effect that expertly blurs pores. Another added bonus is that this formula packs hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and shea butter, so your skin will still have a natural, healthy look just sans enlarged pores. Be sure to work quickly—once the formula sets (which happens fast), it can be difficult to spread and blend.
Price at Time of Publish: $32
Key Ingredients: Dimethicone, Hyaluronic Acid, Shea Butter | Skin Type: Dry Skin, Combination, Normal Skin | Size: .75 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best with SPF
Charlotte Tilbury Invisible UV Flawless Primer SPF 50
You need to use a lot
Save a step in your routine with this sunscreen that doubles as a primer. Not only does it meet derms’ recommendation for daily SPF 30, but it exceeds it with an impressive SPF 50– more than is usually found in cosmetic products. One reason that formulating with sunscreen can be an issue is the white cast that’s left behind, especially the higher you get with the sun protection factor, but this silky formula has the slightest peach tone that neutralizes any whiteness and it blends right into skin. And being that this was crafted by superstar makeup artist, Charlotte Tilbury, you know it’s going to perform well under makeup–the formula’s airbrush polymers are responsible for the smoothing effect you get.
Remember: to get the full SPF benefits, you need to use one quarter teaspoon for your face and neck. This can make this formula more expensive per use to be sure you get full coverage.
Price at Time of Publish: $55
Key Ingredients: Octinoxate, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamins C and E | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce| Cruelty-Free: Yes
e.l.f. C-Bright Putty Primer
The brand’s original pore putty is a longtime fan favorite and has been a viral best-seller for its impeccable makeup-gripping ability. New to the game is this brightening version with the same all-day wear priming benefits, but now spiked with 2% Vitamin C to help nix dark spots and even out discoloration over time. Users saw the most improvement with an overall glowier, more even-toned complexion after five weeks of use. Although it comes in a jar, which can be unhygienic, they also offer a tool (sold separately) specific for this product that allows you to scoop out what you need without using your fingers.
Price at Time of Publish: $12
Key Ingredients: Dimethicone, Glycerin, Vitamin C | Skin Type: Oily, dry, and combination skin | Size: .74 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Redness Reducer
L’Oréal Paris Prime Labs 24H Redness Eraser Primer
Not for all skin tones
Red spots and blotchiness keeping you down? This tinted primer is the one for you. The green pigments neutralize red tones upon application, leaving you with an even-toned complexion ready for your base. It’s also laced with 4 percent niacinamide to correct overall tone with continued use. Its 24 hour wear claim promises to keep your makeup intact and your redness at bay. This shade is meant for light to medium tones while the brand’s Dullness Eraser is indicated for medium to deeper shades.
Price at Time of Publish: $17
Key Ingredients: Niacinamide | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
The best primer for dry skin is Too Faced Plump & Prime Luxury Face Plumping Primer Serum, a luxuriously lightweight priming serum that hydrates, plumps, and improves texture. For something a bit more budget-friendly, we recommend NYX Bare With Me Hydrating Jelly Primer, which is easy to work with and provides a moisturizing base for makeup.
Meet the Expert
- Nydia Figueroa is a celebrity makeup artist and beauty expert. In addition to professional makeup, she works as a beauty director at Fashion Gxd Magazine and Miss New Jersey Earth. Nydia has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, as well as in magazines such as Nylon and Allure.
- Robert Sesnek is a celebrity makeup artist with over 15 years of industry experience. His all-star client list includes Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Adriana Lima, and Julianna Moore.
What to Look for When Buying Primer for Dry Skin
Those with dry skin should look for moisturizing ingredients, including humectants such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides. You'll also find priming moisturizers like Lilah B. Natural Aglow Priming Oil containing natural butters and plant-based oils, like jojoba, almond, sunflower, olive, avocado, or squalane.
In addition to providing much-needed hydration, Sesnek says, "Moisturizing primer can also give an illuminating effect to the skin by adding additional radiance."
"One of my favorite reasons to [use] a moisturizing primer is because it can add anti-aging benefits to the skin with ingredients that create a plumping effect," notes Sesnek. Ingredients that plump the skin include glycerin, hyaluronic acid (HA), peptides, aloe vera, allantoin, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacinamide, and algae.
Containing HA, niacinamide, and aloe, Milk Makeup's Hydro Grip Primer is chock full of hydrating, skin-plumping ingredients.
As with foundation and concealer, makeup primers have various finishes. The most common is natural, which is typically light and breathable, not shiny but also not matte.
Then there are glossy, dewy, and glass-like finishes, which can be great for dry skin, as they offer a moisturized appearance. You'll also find mattifying primers, which leave a shine-free finish. If you like a dewy finish, go with NYX Bare With Me Hydrating Jelly Primer. But if you prefer a more mattified, pore-blurring effect, Smashbox Photo Finish Primer might be a better choice.
How do you apply primers for dry skin?
"My favorite way to apply a primer to drier skin types is to apply a pea-sized amount after moisturizer," offers Sesnek, who says he builds up with more product if needed. Both Sesnek and Figueroa recommend starting in the center of your face (aka the T-zone) and blending outward toward the cheeks, chin, and hairline.
What types of makeup products can you wear on top of a primer for dry skin?
"I love using a primer underneath makeup," says Figueroa. You can apply almost anything else on top, including foundation, CC cream, concealer, contouring products, highlighter, blush, eyeshadow, setting powder, you name it.
"I also love using a setting spray over the makeup to combat dryness and add longevity once the makeup is done," adds Figueroa, explaining that this helps eliminate patchiness and prevent dehydrating later on.
Are there any ingredients to avoid in a primer if you have dry skin?
If you have dry skin, you'll want to avoid exfoliating ingredients such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid, which can lead to patchiness and ongoing dryness. Additionally, alcohol, synthetic fragrances, essential oils, dyes, and parabens can be irritating and cause a potential allergic reaction.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Lisa DeSantis is a beauty journalist with ten years of experience in the industry. She is a self-proclaimed "guinea pig" when it comes to testing beauty products and treatments, which has helped her determine the best of the best. Not to mention she has sat in enough makeup artists' chairs to know what passes the test for the pros. From the above, she has personally tried Catrice, Barbara Sturm, Laura Mercier, Jane Iredale, Smashbox, Fenty Beauty, Glossier, First Aid Beauty, The Ordinary, Jori, Benefit, Charlotte Tilbury and L'Oréal.
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