Moisturizer is skincare, primer is makeup. But because these two products go up before you start layering on your foundation, you sometimes wonder if you really need to put on both. Could you use moisturizer and just skip the primer?
Depending on your skin condition and what effect you’re going for, you may be able to use moisturizer instead of primer. Some foundations interact with primer better than others. The type of moisturizer you use also matters – some are better substitutes for primer than others.
Let’s dive into what each of these products does and how those properties overlap.
What Does Primer Do?
Picture makeup primer like paint primer, the base coat that goes on before you start to paint a wall in your house. Paint primer levels out small imperfections in the concrete or wood grains, leaving a more even surface that’s easier to paint over.
Cosmetic primer does the same thing; it smooths out the pores and wrinkles in your face and gives foundation something to adhere to so that your makeup lasts longer in the day.
Primers also have an arsenal of different secondary properties to enhance your look and make your skin glow in just the way you want it. Many primers come with ingredients that absorb oil to reduce shine.
Some primers also help with color correction. Check out this guide to selecting the best color for neutralizing the unwanted undertones in your face and brightening your skin tone.
What Does Moisturizer Do?
Unlike what its name implies, moisturizer does not add moisture to your face. The moisture is produced by your body. Instead, moisturizer acts as a protective barrier that traps the moisture, preventing it from evaporating off your skin – a process called Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL).
This barrier is two-way, so anything you apply on top of it will not get absorbed into your skin. Moisturizers often include other nourishing or sun-protecting properties that help to keep the skin fed with nutrients while staying hydrated.
Why Moisturizer Might Be a Good Substitute for Primer
If you have sensitive, oily, or acne-prone skin, you might be worried about primer causing irritation or breakouts. Or maybe you just haven’t really seen results with your existing primer and are starting to suspect that it was just a way for cosmetic companies to make another quick buck off you (have a look at whether professionals think primer is worth your money).
The good news is that some of the functions of moisturizer do overlap with those of primer. Both create a barrier between your skin and makeup, preventing foundation from seeping directly into your skin and clogging your pores.
Depending on its formulation, moisturizer may also help foundation to glide on and stay up. Foundations are usually either silicone- or water-based, so the moisturizer you use should match that property for the best results.
Additionally, I recommend that you do your research into your foundation. Why? Because some foundations work better without a primer, whereas others heavily rely on a good primer to last all day. I know from experience that Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Foundation works better for my skin and lasts longer when I don’t use a primer, and just use moisturizer.
But Not a Perfect Substitute
However, moisturizer and primer are still two fundamentally different products, so moisturizer isn’t going to replace 100% of primer’s properties. Primer might be pore-reducing, illuminating, or mattifying, and moisturizer in general just doesn’t really have those properties. If you’re used to tinted primers that provide color correction, moisturizer probably won’t be cover that base, either.
That being said, it really depends on the look you want to achieve. Perhaps you have dry skin and prioritize moisturizer’s hydrating effect, or maybe you’re just going out for a short trip and don’t really need your makeup to hold for an entire day.
You could opt to use moisturizer and just embrace it for its unique skin benefits, without fussing over the properties it doesn’t share with primer.
There are also other options! Some moisturizers, like Glossier Priming Moisturizer, are specially designed to double up as primers.
Some people swear by primer, but others (like me!) find that moisturizer alone does the job just fine. Because there several factors, you should definitely give it a try and see what works best for your skin and base makeup.