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 | Byrdie Clean: No | 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.
Price at time of publish: $17
Key Ingredients: Aloe, cucumber extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.4 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | 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, pearl pigments, and antioxidants. It saves your skin from dryness while ensuring smooth-as-butter makeup application and leaving a youthful glow in its wake.
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 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | 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. It hydrates with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, fills fine lines, and makes your skin 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 | Byrdie Clean: No | 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.
Price at time of publish: $24
Key Ingredients: Goji berry extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.26 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | 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.
Price at time of publish: $28
Key Ingredients: Squalene, vitamin E | Skin Type: Dry, hyperpigmented | Size: 0.5 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | 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."
Price at time of publish: $50
Key Ingredients: Apple extract, coconut alkanes, royal jelly, algae extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.7 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | 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.
Price at time of publish: $38
Key Ingredients: Vitamin A, vitamin E | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce, 1.7 ounces, 0.27 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | 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 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Lilah B. Aglow Priming Oil Serum
Sometimes, dry skin just needs a heaping dose of moisture before going anywhere near makeup. That's why we love Lilah B. Aglow, a priming serum chock full of plant-based oils like jojoba, tamanu, and sweet almond.
Price at time of publish: $68
Key Ingredients: Tamanu oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, grape seed extract, purple tea extract, lavender essential oil | Skin Type: Oily, combination, dry, balanced | Size: 1 ounce | Byrdie Clean: Yes | 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.
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 | Byrdie Clean: No | 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.
Price at time of publish: $20
Key Ingredients: 8 types of hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: All | Size: 1 ounce | Byrdie Clean: No | 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 | Byrdie Clean: No | 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.
Price at time of publish: $35
Key Ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, ceretin complex, chamomile, shea butter, aloe, vitamin E | Size: 1.7 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer
Soothes and hydrates
Extends makeup wear
If you prefer the consistency of a gel, Milk Makeup Hydro Grip is your best bet. The lightweight, fast-absorbing formula goes on totally clear, then simultaneously soothes and hydrates the skin. This over-achieving primer also promises to help your makeup last for up to 12 hours.
Price at time of publish: $36
Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, aloe vera | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Size: 0.3–5.3 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Skincare-Makeup Hybrid
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops
Slightly tacky texture
May pill over sunscreen
Glow Recipe's Dew Drops were a hit with our tester, who loved how the multi-tasking formula offers skincare benefits (think ample hydration and hyperpigmentation correction) while doubling as a makeup primer. It has a slightly tacky texture and might pill if you apply it under sunscreen, but otherwise, we have no complaints.
Price at time of publish: $34
Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, moringa seed oil, watermelon extract | Skin Type: Dry, combination, oily | Size: 1.4–2.7 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes | 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 Theresa Holland is a content creator specializing in commerce writing and copyediting. She interviewed two makeup artists for this story, compiling their product recommendations, insight into formulations, and application tips. From the above, she has personally tried Too Faced, Laura Mercier, First Aid Beauty, Smashbox, and Etude House. Theresa covers makeup, skincare, and haircare, and Byrdie.
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