Primer on Primers

Primer on Primers: New York Times, Skin Deep By Shivani Vora

New York Times

Many appearance-conscious women have grown accustomed to applying primer, a product said to fill in fine lines and enlarged pores on the skin, before using foundation makeup.

But Brooke Filosa, 27, a publicist at Bullfrog & Baum in Manhattan, goes a step further. She uses Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion ($20), which she believes makes her eye shadow go on smoother and keeps her from having to touch it up throughout her long workday.

“I’ve been wearing makeup every day since I was a teenager, but didn’t start wearing eye primer until a few years ago when my makeup-artist friend pointed out that my eye makeup looked worn and suggested I use one,” Ms. Filosa said. “Now I can’t go without it.”

Throw a few more tubes and bottles on the growing pile in your bathroom: primer is becoming more popular, and increasingly specialized. As in painting, it’s a base coat meant to help what comes after last longer and work better, and iterations are now being created not only for the skin and eyelids, but eyelashes, lips, nails and even hair.

Polly Blitzer, the founder of Beauty Blitz Media, a site discussing trends in the industry, observes hundreds of products come to market every month and says that primers are one of the fastest-growing categories. “Primers give you the sense that what you’re already using could be more effective and amped up, whether it’s helping your blush stay in place longer or ensuring your nails won’t chip as easily,” Ms. Blitzer said. “They’re the Spanx of cosmetics, and are so prominent today that a lot of women are starting to feel irresponsible if they don’t use them.”

It was about a decade ago that brands including Smashbox, La Prairie and Urban Decay introduced face primers. At the time, they were mostly used by professionals on women who required their makeup to stay intact for several hours, such as actresses and brides. But they turned out to be a hit with average consumers as well.

Virginia Lee, a senior research analyst at Euromonitor International, a market research company in London, said the company’s tracking of the category “other facial makeup,” which includes face primers, jumped 73 percent from 2006 to 2011, with sales in the United States going to $46.6 million, from $26.9 million. And primers (or correctors, as they are sometimes called) are regularly discussed, rated and traded on review sites like

“Since face primers have been a success and have been endorsed by beauty editors, makeup companies are taking advantage and coming up with niche ones for the face and also going beyond the facial category,” Ms. Lee said.

Indeed. Smashbox has developed primers for the lid, under the eyes and the lashes, and is introducing one for the lips in 2013, according to the company. Urban Decay and MAC each offer eye, lip and lash primers that claim to help eye shadow, lipstick and mascara last longer after application. According to Nick Gavrelis, the vice president for global product development for MAC, the company’s primer category has doubled its sales within the last year.

Deborah Lippmann, a manicurist, includes a nail primer ($14) as a part of her collection, intended to be applied before base coat (yes, a primer for the primer), which she promises will help polish adhere more evenly, stay on longer and dry faster. “I want customers to think about nail care the same way they think about skin care,” Ms. Lippmann said, “and this primer cleans the nails of dirt and oil which is just what you want to do with your face before putting on makeup.”

Living Proof, a hair care company in Cambridge, Mass., that counts Jennifer Aniston as an owner, recently introduced one of the first hair primers on the market. Costing $20 a bottle, the serum-like light-textured product, intended to be massaged into the hair before using sprays or gels, comes with the hefty claim that it will help hairstyles last twice as long between shampoos.

Even the basic face primer is becoming more specific. Smashbox, based in Los Angeles, now has nine face primers, priced at $32 to $42 and variously offering anti-aging with SPF, hydration or correction of dark spots. And La Prairie said it saw such success with its original primer (Cellular Treatment Rose Illusion Line Filler, $135), that it was inspired to introduce a second one in gold ($165).

But not everyone is buying the hype. Julia S. Dalton-Brush, a makeup artist and the owner of Brush Beauty, a makeup studio on Manhattan’s West Side, said that she doesn’t regularly rely on primers, even when painting the faces of models and actresses who are preparing to spend several hours in front of a camera.

“Not everyone needs to spend the money on primers, especially if they have good skin, because they don’t necessarily boost the performance of your products that much,” she said. She is a fan of one for the eyelids because she said the eyes have more creases and lines than the rest of the face, and a primer can help keep them looking fresh for a lot longer than eye shadow alone. But she said that there are other cheaper ways to set foundation and lipstick, such as baby powder.

Ms. Blitzer, though, said that while she used to don primer only before television appearances, she now wears it regularly. “I need to juggle twin babies and run a business, so I don’t have a spare second to fix a smudge, wipe flecked mascara or give my blowout CPR when it’s redlining, and think of primers as the ultimate beauty insurance, even if they add an extra step in the morning,” she said.

And Ms. Filosa said that she’s sticking to her primer — and that her primer is helping her eye shadow stick to her. “It takes all of a few seconds for me to put on,” she said. “I don’t think of it as an extra step but as a smart time saver in the long run.”