Scarlett Johansson at the 2020 Academy Awards. Photo / Getty Images

Do Primers Really Work? Why This Makeup Must-Have Belongs In Your Beauty Bag

The stars' secret to a perfect complexion that lasts as long as an awards night (and a few after parties) is worth brushing up on

Primers are step one to layering on an enviable complexion, aided, of course, by underlying skin health so you can keep makeup to a minimum but still look fresh faced and even toned.

Long used in the entertainment industry to provide a lasting base for makeup, they've been engineered in more versatile ways in recent years in response to the revealing demands of high-definition broadcasting, and to our selfie obsession and the growing demand for makeup that enhances rather than disguises.

READ: 6 Reef-Friendly Facial Sunscreens To Try This Summer

Think of a primer as Photoshop for the face, but without resorting to cheating on reality, just to enhancing it.

Laura Mercier, known for creating "flawless" faces on models and celebrities from the 1980s onwards, was a key makeup artist who brought primers out of professional kits into makeup ranges sold to the public.

The French woman who made-up Madonna, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, still oversees development for her beauty brand, but has handed over wielding brushes and education to Jason Hoffman, who was in New Zealand this month to talk about the next generation of primers.

READ: The Best Face Serums To Keep Your Skin Healthy & Hydrated

Jason, the brand's global beauty director, says the job of primer — to put a barrier between skin and makeup to lock in skincare and stop makeup soaking in — is still the same, but new formulas offer more versatility and skincare benefits.

Brands generally have either an all-purpose primer or they typically offer a trio of choices, usually a hydrating version, a mattifying one that provides oil control, or an illuminating option.

Some brands offer more, including Laura Mercier with its Pure Canvas Primer silicon-free choices.

To help pick your best option, here's some points to note:

  • Expect any primer to smooth the skin surface to make subsequent application of foundation easier, lighter and more lasting.
  •  Some of these base coats may contain optical diffusers to blur the look of imperfections such as visible pores or pigmentation.
  • Primers aren't typically layered, so pick the one that best suits your primary needs. Your skin condition should be the guide.
  •  If T-zone oiliness is the main issue, use a mattifying primer there and plump up drier cheeks with serum or moisturiser first.
  •  Fingers are fine for primer application, they help the product warm and blend into skin, but use a brush if you prefer.
  • Specialist colour-correction primers counteract sallowness or redness and come in blendable tints such as mauve and green or peach.
  • Primers with bronzers cheat a healthy glow and like the colour correctors and sunscreen primers can be worn without makeup on top.
  • Some primers function akin to a BB cream, doing double duty caring for and enhancing skin in one easy step, although without the degree of cosmetic coverage regular foundation wearers might want.

Products to try

Make the Make Physical Filter SPF50+ Primer. Photo / Supplied

1. Make the Make Physical Filter SPF50+ Primer $46
This silky tinted stick primer has a translucent matte beige light-reflecting base and uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as its serious sunscreening agents. The smart Swedish brand also does a cream-gel Niacinamide Soft Focus Primer, $46, with antioxidant aid for longer-term brightening.

Laura Mercier Prime Canvas Blurring Primer. Photo / Supplied

2. Laura Mercier Prime Canvas Blurring Primer $65
An artistry brand choice that uses non-pore clogging glycerin for smoothing ahead of the usual slick of silicone. With five other options in this reformulated range, all bases are covered. There's an oil-rich essence suited to drier skins, plus hydrating and perfecting primers, through to this one with soft-focus appeal and added oil-control with microalgae and blurring powders. Mecca Maxima and

YSL Touche Eclat Blur Primer Gold. Photo / Supplied

3. YSL Touche Eclat Blur Primer Gold $93
This gold-flecked gel optically magnifies its radiant effect and diminishes the look of flaws, while also smoothing skin. Can be worn alone, but if topping with foundation first let the formula, containing nourishing oils, settle into the skin for 10 seconds or so. A silver version of the primer is due on counter from mid-March for those who prefer a cooler reflectivity. From department stores and pharmacies.

Estee Lauder The Smoother. Photo / Supplied

4. Estee Lauder The Smoother $68
Choose from this universal primer with skin-softening apricot essence to deliver a lasting makeup look which is well matched with Double Wear foundation, or switch to Lauder's The Mattifier or The Illuminator. These two specialist primers, like others of their type, can be used both as a base or later in the day, tapped on to refresh and further perfect oily or dull skin. From department stores and pharmacies.

Revlon Photoready Prime Plus Perfecting and Smoothing Primer. Photo / Supplied

5. Revlon Photoready Prime Plus Perfecting and Smoothing Primer $34
Revlon has scored a coup in having the US-based Environmental Working Group verify this latest of its products to be a first from a global brand in the mass cosmetic market to meet its rigorous beauty evaluation standards around ingredients and transparency. Another plus is the price of this formula, making it ideal if you’re trialling primer. Exclusive to Farmers until March 1.

Inika Matte Perfection Primer. Photo / Supplied

6. Inika Matte Perfection Primer $74
For a natural choice suited to controlling oily and combination skin and reducing large pores under makeup, this Inika primer is promising. It uses liquorice root and rice bran extracts to help balance skin, with other botanicals to ensure moisture isn’t stripped away. Selected health and beauty outlets, see

Clarins SOS Mocha Primer. Photo / Supplied

7. Lancome Prep & Hydrate Illuminating Make-up Primer $82
Alongside its long-standing La Base Pro primer for smoothing and makeup longevity, Lancome now has tubes for those looking for added skincare benefits. This lightweight one helps prep for foundation by adding moisture and radiance. Another choice mattifies. From department stores and pharmacies.

Lancome Prep & Hydrate Illuminating Make-up Primer. Photo / Supplied

8. Clarins SOS Mocha Primer $64
This is No. 7 in Clarins expanding range of coloured primers, joining rose, peach, coral, green and lavender correcting tints to counteract the likes of dark spots, sallowness and redness so you can get your appropriate glow on. Mocha enhances darker skin tones and bronze will help with a sun-kissed finish. A Universal Light brightening primer suits those who aren’t looking for tonal adjustment. All come with an anti-pollution complex. From department stores and pharmacies.

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