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Bare canvas to masterpiece: the power of a good makeup primer

A tube of good makeup primer next to foundation, setting powder and a makeup brush

You step out of the door looking like a million dollars. Your pristine makeup, with not so much as a hair on a brow out of place, would put supermodel Bella Hadid to shame. This is definitely going to be your day - or night. But, oops!, two hours into a gruelling shift at work, or part way through a dinner party, the penny drops. You haven’t checked your face since you swirled a dab of powder over your nose, and… everything is on the slide. Clearly, you haven’t found a good makeup primer yet.

The ability of makeup to partake in the proverbial vanishing act is legendary. It is why skin prepping is a real ‘thing’ and not something invented purely to keep the tills ringing at Sephora. In fact, it is essential. Not just to give cosmetics the best possible base but for multiple other reasons too.

I always equate a face primer to an undercoat of paint. The similar benefits speak for themselves. If you have ever tired of a fad for a dark paint shade and attempted a revamp with light neutral, something will click. The number of magnolia coats required to cover a dark grey, for example, is shocking. Patchy walls are an inevitability, unless you have planned ahead and bought a ‘spare’ tin or invested in an undercoat. Without preparation, there is even the potential for the new paint not to adhere to the wall at all.

So, if you want to look flawless and stay looking flawless, you need a primer!

What a good makeup primer does

Contrary to popular belief, a primer doesn’t exist merely to fill in large pores. Continue to think of paint, not putty! While minimising pores and creating an overall smooth surface is important, a great base does so much more. It forms a soft veil to mask imperfections and helps to even the skin tone before any products are applied to the face. But these aren’t the only benefits.

A good makeup primer will provide a tacky canvas for other products to adhere to. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve read product reviews complaining about ‘stickiness’. While nobody wants to feel like they’ve plastered Loctite all over their best features, products that deliver the best results always have a certain amount of tackiness. It is that stickiness that keeps makeup in place.

It can be helpful to think of any viscous primers as a bonding agent. I also like to consider them a bit of a barrier between cosmetics and moisturised skin. It is a surface that can be worked on - your bare canvas. Prepped and ready for makeup!

You need a primer if you wear foundation. Apart from evening out the texture and tone of your skin, it will keep your makeup in place for longer. A decent primer used in conjunction with setting spray will hold a look for up to 24 hours. Think of all those touch-ups you won’t have to faff about with and how much lighter your handbag will be. Knowing that your makeup won’t evaporate into thin air before you’ve even got to where you are going is also a confidence booster.

Foundation with a brush dipped in makeup primer

Buying makeup primer

There are lots of different types of primers. Some offer targeted prep. For example, you may want to create a base that minimises shine or promotes a natural glow. There are even primers for combination, dull, excessively dry, and mature skin. So you can tackle skincare issues as part of your makeup routine. 

Hybrid primers deliver skincare benefits as well as aesthetics. They can include peptides and moisturising agents as well as vitamins. It is worth noting that very few primers include SPF, so you should always apply sunscreen before you reach for a primer. 

Price is the biggest turn-off when it comes to investing in a priming product. A half-decent one will set you back around £8. It is probably why so many makeup lovers make the mistake of using a moisturiser instead. While foundation might blend easily over a thin layer of day cream, it is unlikely to maintain a perfect finish for long. Unless you get lucky.

I’ve endured nightmare scenarios wearing makeup over moisturiser. On one memorable occasion, I visited a bathroom during an awards ceremony at a top London hotel to discover my face was a blotchy mess. Not only had the foundation and moisturiser separated, I had rings of beige around large, open pores. Leper was the word that sprang into my mind. And the awful thing was, the category I was up for an award in was next. I didn’t have time to correct it. I just had to convince myself the lighting was a bit ‘off’ and that I was ‘seeing things’. How we fool ourselves!

Hot, humid conditions are the absolute pits when it comes to makeup staying power. It’s why I used to favour spring and autumn over the summer months. One speck of sweat and it was game over for my look. Primer helps guard makeup from the perils of bodily secretions, including naturally occurring oils.

A great makeup primer from Rimmel London

A good makeup primer - Lasting Finish by Rimmel. Pictured with lid off.

I’ve currently got four or five different primers, but my go-to is Rimmel London Lasting Finish Pore Minimising Primer. The product costs around £8 and is sold in a 30 ml tube. It delivers a matte base while blurring imperfections, including uneven skin tone. 

What I like about it:

  • The consistency - it looks like a moisturiser but feels like a light balm. It is slightly waxy too, which I think is beneficial for smoothing and filling.

  • Blurring - the product comes out of the tube white, which deviates from hoards of clear alternatives. I find this offers better masking, even though it sets clear.

  • Great base - my foundation glides on and blends easily.

  • Lasting performance - it ensures I maintain a look all day. 

I use a pea-sized amount, sometimes a little more if I want to go over a specific area. I tend to pay extra attention to my T-zone. 

This product is widely available from high street stores as well as online. 

Other primers in my collection include tri-colour ones, dewy ones and brightening ones. Rimmel London Lasting Finish Pore Minimising Primer is my favourite because it is an all-round performer. 

Masterpiece or mess? How’s your makeup looking today?

I am old enough to remember the days before makeup primers. Shiny, red faces were a given on a night out. And you could bet your bottom dollar that makeup would be non-existent after a day at the office. Those definitely weren’t the days!

Now you can achieve velvety smooth skin and a perfect canvas for cosmetics in seconds. Just like One Coat can cover up last year’s ghastly living room colour trend, the often under-loved makeup primer is a complete game changer.

Just think what it could do for you.


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