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Get into your prime

Want to know the real secret of perfect skin? Airbrushing of course – but we don’t mean in photographs. The latest primers on the beauty counters rub away flaws and pores for baby-clear skin as well as any computer program, says Kelly Rose Bradford

Image Credit: Supplied picture
Whatever primer you choose, beauty-bag heroes can make a huge difference to your finished look – and once you have chosen the right type for both your skin and your beauty concern, they definitely live up to the hype!

Gone are the days when it was OK just to dab on a few dots of moisturiser in order to have the perfect base for the rest of our make-up. Our expectations and demands of our cosmetics mean that we want – and expect – picture-perfect results every time we apply make-up and that means disguising open pores, blemishes, lines and wrinkles.

Thankfully, we can now deal with many of the skincare issues that stop our make-up looking its best. How? By using dedicated bases and primers. These little tubes and pots of magic are at the top of every beauty expert and make-up artist’s kit and wish list for a perfect canvas upon which to apply other cosmetics, and far from being just more marketing hype from beauty houses, they do actually live up to their claims.

Primers come in a variety of guises and names: face protector, make-up base, skin prep – but they all essentially do the same job – making your skin more receptive to your foundation, and making your finished make-up appear perfect.

The premise is simple – a primer is designed to mop up excess oils, disguise large pores, conceal redness, soften lines and blur imperfections, in others words, smooth out and disguise all those problem areas that make-up can magnify, settle into and make more obvious.

Many experts credit make-up artist Laura Mercier as being the primer pioneer. Her simply named ‘foundation primer’ (Dh127, Harvey Nichols) hit the beauty counters in 1995, and promised to protect the skin from the elements while ensuring the longevity and colour-fastness of foundation. Since then, practically every cosmetic company has followed suit with their own range of pre-make-up bases, and like most things beauty-related, the myriad products out there can make choosing the right one – and using it correctly – something of a minefield.

“The best primer will always depend on your skin type,” says Ruksher Malik, co-founder of Pastels Salon ( ) in Dubai, “A lightweight, silicone-based make-up primer labelled ‘oil-free’ would be best for acne-prone or oily skin, while a heavy product with waxes or emollients will work well for dry or ageing complexions.”

“Primers prepare your skin for the application of make-up products, providing a smooth canvas for your foundation to stick to,” Ruksher says, adding that in her opinion they are the ‘secret to flawless skin’.

“Because a make-up primer has the unique ability to keep oil at bay, minimise pores and fill in fine lines and wrinkles, using one as a layer between your skin and foundation will provide the base necessary to create the appearance of perfect skin at any age.”

Getting results

The order of application is key to getting the best results from your primer. Ruksher recommends applying it after moisturiser so the skin is lubricated before the primer forms a film on top of it. Application with either fingers or a sponge is down to personal preference, Ruksher says. “After the moisturiser dries, the make-up primer can be applied either with the fingers or a sponge. Many people start by gently spreading a thin layer over shiny areas like the forehead, nose, and chin, and then covering the rest of the face.” Ruksher recommends using ‘gentle swiping motions’ to help avoid streaks and uneven application.

“For optimum results, leave the primer to dry for several minutes before applying other make-up,” she says.

Dubai-based make-up artist Hazel Mills ( agrees that skin should be thoroughly prepped before primers are introduced.

“Always cleanse, tone and moisturise first” she says, “And make sure that you use a light textured eye cream before make-up application and not a sticky eye gel. Let the moisturiser settle into the skin for at least 30 minutes before you start make-up application.”

As a make-up professional working on magazine shoots and campaigns for major beauty brands, Hazel is a huge fan of primers and the finish they can give to a client or model’s skin. Her cosmetic kit includes YSL’s Matt Touch and Smashbox’s Photo Finish, which she says have very different textures but produce excellent results, with Matt Touch being her go-to product for oily skins, and Photo Finish for drier or normal complexions.

Hazel has worked with primers for a long time, and is also keen on the ‘new generation’ of make-up bases that are emerging on to the beauty scene. “Clarins Beauty Flash Balm was one of the first and is still a favourite of mine,” she says, while the new-kids-on- the-make-make-up block, BBs – blemish bases – also have a place in her make-up bag. “These creams are the new thing on the market,” she says, “They replace tinted moisturiser and primer and give an even finish to the skin tone. They can be worn on their own as a natural light make-up, or can be used as a base for powder and mineral powder foundations.”

When choosing a primer, Hazel suggests testing it in store on the back of the hand to gauge its effectiveness. “When you try it out on the back of your hand you can then check that your skin looks brighter and fresher than on the other hand,” she says, warning customers to steer clear of any that appear to ‘peel’ on the skin as they will not work well under liquid foundations.

Perfect for special occasions

Despite the huge difference a good primer can make to the skin, Hazel says that women shouldn’t feel pressurised into using them everyday if they prefer a more simple make-up regime. “Not every woman wants to add primer to their daily skincare and make-up routine, especially if they are on a tight morning schedule,” she says. “Although they can be used all the time if the skin gets oily throughout the day, generally they are more for evening, party, or bridal make-up – occasions where you want the best finish possible.”

 And that ‘best finish’ says Hazel, is thanks to the silicone base in most of the products, which literally forms a new surface on the skin for make-up to adhere to.

“Silicone provides a ‘filler’ effect for open pores and fine lines, plus it leaves a smooth silky texture on the skin,” she says, “And silicone and plant-based products are great for all skin types, including sensitive.” She admits that primers are more ‘cosmetic enhancers’ and not skincare treatment products.

“Some claim to improve the skin with continued use,” she says, but recommends a good skincare routine in terms of thorough cleansing and exfoliation as the best treatment for complexion concerns. “Regular facials keep the skin in perfect condition for a smooth complexion. Dead skin cells build up over time and can leave the skin looking bumpy and grey in areas,” she says, “If regular facials are not an option, then make sure you exfoliate the skin at least once a week to speed up skin renewal and keep a healthy-looking glow.”

Tinted primers are an additional option for transforming skin that has problems with tone or high colouring. Ruksher advises her clients to check out tinted primers in different hues to address their specific skin concerns.

“Green-coloured primers will combat redness from rosacea or acne,” she says, “while mauve or light purple primers counteract sallow undertones and pink primers help to brighten complexions.”

And it’s not just all about the main facial skin. Ruksher flags up the emergence of primers to target other facial areas to keep beauty-problems under wraps, and make-up in check.

“There are a variety of area-specific and problem-specific primers,” she says, “For example, a lip primer can keep lipstick from feathering, while a tinted primer can enhance the appearance of an otherwise blotchy complexion.”

Smashbox’s Photo Finish Hydrating Under Eye Primer (Sephora) is one such ‘targeted’ primer that would fall into this category – its concealer-like coverage minimising fine lines, while calming puffiness and bags. For lips, Estee Lauder’s Lip Conditioner (Bloomingdale’s) with SPF 15 not only hydrates and smooths dry or chapped lips, but provides the perfect base on which to apply lip colour.

Whatever primer you choose, both Ruksher and Hazel agree that these beauty-bag heroes can make a huge difference to your finished look – and once you have chosen the right type for both your skin and your beauty concern, they definitely live up to the hype!