Shiny oily springtime make up look
Beauty / Society

Water or oil based? Turns out the wrong primer can ruin your foundation

By Fiona Embleton

Photo: Getty

Primer can make or break a makeup look—and it all comes down to the ingredients

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Applying primer the right way is a bit like making salad dressing. Oil and vinegar mix when you shake them together but over time they begin to separate. The same is true if you layer a water-based foundation over an oil-based primer and vice versa. At best you get a cakey, patchy result; at worst it cancels out the skin-smoothing, makeup-locking benefits of a primer and your foundation pills.

“Your primer should always match your skin type and foundation,” says makeup artist Marina Andersson. She is one of only a few Scandinavian makeup artists we spoke to who lean on primer to prolong the longevity of a look both on the red carpet and in real life. Many others said they preferred to use face oil as a base, which works for dry skin types but can pose issues for oily, blemish-prone skin.

In the same way that you would never use a rich, oil-based moisturiser on oily skin, the mantra equally applies to your choice of primer and foundation. A good rule of thumb is: if you have oily skin and use water-based primers, stick with a water-based foundation; if you have dry skin and prefer more hydrating oil-based primers, choose a complementary oil-based foundation.