After a heavy week of makeup lessons I want to address what seems to be most difficult for women when it comes to makeup. Foundations, primers, and moisturizers are really confusing. There are a zillion options and seemingly every season a new formulation that is the end all be all. As a whole, foundation is generally the most expensive and most quickly used component of a makeup routine. Moisturizer generally is also the most expensive and also most quickly used in skin care. When I do a makeup lesson I am blown away at how many different foundations a single client owns - indicative of how confusing it is. Then there is primer…..should you , shouldn't you? Does it make makeup last longer? Does it hide things we don't want anyone to see like large pores and wrinkles?
As important as the color you need to figure out what TYPE of formulation will work best with your skin type there are many - serum, creme, stick, liquid, liquid cream, mousse, pressed powder, and loose powder. Then there are subsets under those such as, oil free, High Def, luminous, Hydrating, and SPF. Primers have just as many choices - oil control, photo finish, pore refining, color correcting and luminizing.
When I do a lesson I require the client to bring their skin care because finding the correct foundation starts with the skin type and skin regimen. Skin that is properly taken care of eliminates the need for primer most of the time. That opinion is not only mine but one that is shared by several artists that I admire and have worked with. Primers are mostly silicone - silicone is in most foundations. Why the need for another layer of it? Well, if the client is not cleansing the skin nightly and hydrating, and then hydrating before makeup application the skin will suck the humectant and liquid portion out of the foundation leaving a streaky, broken makeup by mid-day. In that case, yeah better use that primer. But, if the skin is properly cleaned, exfoliated and moisturized, IMO primer is overkill. In fact, primer can enhance pore size and can also "break" the foundation. Lets take a look at a comparison of skin which is properly prepped vs. not...
So its a no brainer - the foundation on the left is smooth and the skin looks supple. The skin on the right looks aged and the foundation accentuates every line and crevice. With primer it would be smoother, but its not going to compare to the left side in over all appearance and durability. Another factor to consider is that foundations formulations can slightly (to significantly) change color when exposed to air. I see this in oil free formulas mostly. A good metaphor here is to think about paint. When you order a house paint the paint is dried to compare your color choice to the sample - the paint in liquid form is lighter than the final dried formulation. I do not see this so much in oil based foundations and seldom in powder foundations though it can happen. A good rule of thumb when choosing a foundation color is to streak the color thickly on your face and let it dry for 2 - 3 minutes. So many companies have gone to oil free formulations because of customer demand, and the belief that oil in a foundation is bad for the skin. In my opinion oil based formulas are overall better in appearance and durability than their oil free counterparts (which aren't really oil free - the oil content is far less and unrecognizable to most in the form of stearic acid, fatty alcohols and the like).
I will use a primer in certain circumstances - one is on a skin that is excessively oily, and also on skins that are excessively dry (this accounts for maybe 10% of my clients for both). A mattifying primer helps to keep the make up from breaking from excessive oil production, or for dry skins a luminizing primer will combat issues with flakiness and dull skin. Another is under airbrush makeup which has no humectant and needs the silicone layer of a primer. Lastly I will mix a pea size of primer with a cream stick foundation. Cream sticks are heavily pigmented and contain wax. The addition of a primer in conjunction with the thickness of the texture of the cream stick produces the most flawless finish and staying power in foundations.
There are always exceptions to the rule, but not often.