How to Apply Primer: 6 Celebrity Makeup Artist–Approved Tips

Model with clear skin getting her makeup done


Here's the thing: You either like primer or you don't. It's rare that someone would teeter between both ends of the spectrum. But if you don't fall within the primer positive camp, perhaps the reason is that you haven't looked into it extensively. For one, not all formulas are created equally, and, like foundation, slathering it on with your hands haphazardly won't do you any favors.

Think of makeup primer like paint primer: If you want smooth, even walls, taking care to create a flush, streak-inhibiting base is paramount. The same applies to makeup primer: Thoughtfully sourcing and applying a product can exponentially elevate your foundation's appearance. Take it from celebrity makeup artist Katelin Gan: "While people often think of primer as a step that is optional, that shouldn’t be the case. Skin prep is the most important part of any makeup application, and primer is like the finishing touch to your skincare routine before applying your makeup. It makes a huge difference in how your makeup looks and how long it lasts."

To get the 411 on how to apply primer like a pro, we enlisted the help of Gan and more celebrity makeup artists for their favorite formulas and how to apply them. Learn more below!

Use Your Fingers

"I am a firm believer that when it comes to skin prep, our hands are the best tools," says Gan. "Using your fingers to massage in your primer allows you to get an even application while also giving the skin a pick-me-up." She continues, "Apply all of the products within your skincare routine first. Then apply an even layer of primer using your fingers to massage it into the skin."

Foundation Primer - Hydrating 1.7 oz
Laura Mercier Foundation Primer $38.00

"My favorite primer is Laura Mercier moisturizing primer," says Gan. "It has a lightweight formula that smoothes and hydrates the skin while creating the perfect base to apply foundation.

"Another thing I love about Laura Mercier primer is that they have one for every skin type. Whether you want something that is moisturizing or oil-free, they've got you covered. Or try the Radiance primer to give your skin that perfect glow."

Try Two Layers

"Oftentimes, I even double up," says Gan. "After applying all of your skincare and finishing with your hydrating primer all over, apply another primer that smoothes fine lines and pores while combating shine to areas where you need it most [Ed. note: Gan likes Lancome La Base PRO Perfecting Primer to smooth fine lines]. Using your fingertips, smooth this primer on in circular motions in areas like the forehead, chin, and nose."

Tap the T-Zone

Optical Illusion Complexion Primer
Urban Decay Optical Illusion Complexion Primer $36.00

Celebrity makeup artist Daniel Martin swears by this method for a pore-free appearance: "After moisturizer, I apply Urban Decay Optical Illusion Complexion Primer on the T-zone by tapping into place with my ring finger. This motion blurs the look of pores in that area."

Don't Ignore Your Lids

Priming Moisturizer
Glossier Priming Moisturizer $22.00

Your cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin aren't the only places that need primer. Says Tina Turnbow, "I first [apply] a bit of Colbert MD face oil then apply Glossier Priming Moisturizer all over the face and tops of eyelids."

Try a Brush

Diorskin Forever & Ever Wear Makeup Primer SPF 20
Dior Diorskin Forever & Ever Wear Makeup Primer SPF 20 $46.00

If you're going for more of a glam look, a brush will help. "For red carpet in which I need lasting longevity, I'll use the Diorskin Forever & Ever Wear Makeup Primer all over the face buffed with a buffing foundation brush. Do this after moisturizer, and let this sit for about a minute or two before your foundation. This trick will grab and lock down the foundation on top like a magnet and keep for hours of wear.

Glamsquad VP of makeup, Kelli J. Bartlett, takes it a step further. "To set your makeup application up for success, start with a balancing skin primer (I love Makeup Forever's Step One Skin Equalizing Primer). Using an Artis Oval 4 brush, smooth the primer over the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin. Follow with a Beautyblender and your foundation to enhance skins' overall evenness." 

Dry Skin Girls: Don't Write Primer Off

Honest Beauty Everything Primer Luminous Base $22.00

We get primer may seem like an inherently drying agent, sort of like spackle on the face, but like the Glossier primer, there are many other formulas that hydrate. Says Martin, "For drier skin that needs radiance, I'll use the Honest Beauty Luminizing Primer all over the face after moisturizer, massaged into the skin with your hands."

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