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make up primer

Make up primers: The Science and why you would want to buy one

If you think make up primers are just unnecessary waste of time and money, well hold on to that thought, you non-believer. Let me share to you what make up primers do and how it can vamp up your foundation.

vamp up your foundation

nerds will get it


How do make up primers work?

Make up primers are applied on face just before your foundation and all other color-cosmetics. Primers work by filling in the lines and pores so that make up doesn’t pool within the uneven surfaces of the skin

how primers work

how primers work


Is moisturizer not enough?

Moisturizers are great when applied on face before make up to keep the skin moist and supple. However, moisturizer  alone, when used as a make up base can not achieve the same smooth finish as  make up primers. Some make up primer formulations has moisturizers to perform multi tasking benefits on the skin. Primers consist of positively charged molecules designed to adhere on the skin, which is negatively charged (remember that opposite attracts). The main reason why make up can not last all day is its exposure to sweat and oil that are excreted by our skin.  Primers work by creating a barrier between skin’s sweat and oil and make-up, which helps make up last for hours.

Let’s talk about Silicones

A dimethicone molecule

A dimethicone molecule

Silicones are the workhorse of make up primers. Don’t confuse these to the ones implanted for perkier boobs and twerkable butt. To be clear, not all silicones are the same. Silicone is not a single material but a family of  molecules that has repeated chains Si-O (Silicone and Oxygen). The following are the awesome properties of silicones that makes them ideal for make up primers:

♦   Silicones which are found most primers are inert materials, meaning, they are not reactive to your skin, nor to other products. Its molecules are also too large to penetrate the skin.

♦   Silicones have open and flexible chains of molecules. Though it creates a film on the skin, it does not feel heavy on the skin because it allows air and water vapor to pass through.

♦   In many literature, silicones are described as surface active materials. The silicon-oxygen “backbone” of the molecule has water binding properties. This backbone can bind to the water present in the air and holds it in the skin. The water-repelling part of the molecule orient themselves in the skin to create a waterproof film which makes make up last longer. Basically, it’s a busy molecule and does many things at the same time.

Make up primer molecule

Make up primer molecule


Silicones in your Make up primer

Make up primer brands

Make up primer brands

Silicones are present in your make up primer as dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, or dimethicone crosspolymer. You can find these within the first 5 ingredients of the product. Let’s see examples of these primers (silicones in bold):

Benefit The Porefessional Primer: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Isononyl Isononanoate, Silica, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Isododecane, Phenoxyethanol, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Cyclohexasiloxane, Tocopheryl Acetate, Fragrance (Parfum), Mica, Iron Oxides (CI 77492), Limonene, Iron Oxides (CI 77491), Iron Oxides (CI 77499), Triethoxycaprylylsilane, BHT.

Instant Pore Eraser Lightweight Gel Primer by Maybelline Baby Skin: Dimethicone, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Stearyl Heptanoate, Caprylyl Glycol, Silica Silylate, Propylene Glycol, Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate, Prunus Cerasus Extract / Bitter Cherry Extract. May Contain: CI 73360 / Red 30, CI 77492 / Iron Oxides.

BYS Face Primer: Dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, cycopentasiloxane, Silica, Phenoxyethanol, tocopheryl aceate, methyl paraben, Parfum, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben

NYX Angel Veil primer: Cyclopentasiloxane,Isododecane , Polysilicone-1, Cyclohexasiloxane, Glyceryl Stearate, Nylon-12,Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Palmitic Acid, Stearic Acid, Laureth-12, Alumina,Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Phenoxyethanol, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891).

These primers work great in filling in pores, and smoothing skin to give a nice smooth finish when foundation is applied.

Wait, my primer doesn’t contain any silicone!

Okay, are you sure it’s a make up primer? If the product says it is, well maybe it contains more water based ingredients than silicones. Let’s take a look at Laura Mercier Oil-free  Foundation Primer for example:

Laura Mercier Oil-free  Foundation Primer: Water (Aqua), Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Stearic Acid, Isodecyl Isononanoate, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, C20-22 Alkyl Phosphate, C22-20 Alcohols, Squalane, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl Esters, Phenoxyethanol, Boron Nitride, Silica, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Hydroxide, blah blah blah

In this make up primer example, water and other water soluble ingredients come first in the list. Generally, they work just like moisturizers but will not have the same finish as the first three primers listed in this page. Generally, these types of primers work best with tinted moisturizers and bb cream as these products usually has thinner consistency and contains more water-soluble ingredients than silicones.


Important make up primer tips:

♦   Use only a small amount of primer on face. Do not add too much that you feel your skin slippery. Silicone-based primers do not penetrate and only create a layer on top of the skin. If the layer is too thick, it will do the exact opposite of its purpose: your make up will tend to slide off much sooner.

♦   An expensive primer will not hide (though it might improve appearance) of dry skin. Make sure to keep skin moisturized.

♦   If you are using a sunscreen, let sunscreen absorb completely first, before you apply primer. If you apply primer and foundation before sunscreen has fully dried up, it will make your make up separate quickly. This is something you don’t want to happen.


What’s you favorite primer? I love Maybelline Babyskin – it’s almost a dupe of Benefit Porefessional Primer, and it’s a lot cheaper. That’s all for now 🙂



Article written by:

Anne Porter

Hi! I’m Anne. I am a chemical engineer from Cebu, Philippines. I created Zarins Beautylab because of my love for cosmetics, skin care products and all other stuff that makes me (and you) look and feel beautiful. My semesters of chemistry courses come in handy as I explain the science behind different beauty products: which works and how it works. Well, Sometimes its science and sometimes its just good ol’ common sense.

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