An investigation: Is primer a complete and total waste of money?

I’m a sucker.

I think it’s in my blood. My mother, for example, watches those 15-minute-long ads on why you absolutely need a human-sized pillow in your life (and if she buys one in the next half-an-hour, she can get another for HALF THE PRICE!!!) and seriously considers buying them.

An advertiser’s dream, we call her. The one who consistently, without fail, will cry at those WorkSafe ads.

I always thought myself a more critical thinker. The catch is, I’m not. Nothing like a deluded mind, eh?

I’m terrible at saying no to people when they sell me things. I think a) they know what they’re talking about and b) they know what they’re talking about.

So I buy the things.

My latest existential crisis came when I began to consider primer. Yes, the primer that goes under your foundation. Do I actually… need it? Is this one of those things I have been duped into buying for years? Is this like a marketing dream? Have I been a sucker all this time without even realising?

I began to think. When have I noticed primer actually do anything? Sure, you could argue it helps foundation last longer, but with the introduction of setting spray, has primer lost its purpose?

I stopped asking questions, and started an experiment: I would come to work for a day with primer on only half my face and have my colleagues guess which side its on at the end of the day.


It went a little bit like this:

7am: I applied my makeup, using the Napoleon Perdis Auto Pilot Bronzing Primer. On top, I used my NARS Sheer Glow Foundation with a dash of Napoleon’s Camera Finish pressed powder. On top of that came a tiny bit of Natio’s Pressed Powder Bronzer and MAC’s Mineralize Skinfinish highlighter. Because I’m terrible at makeup, and always running for my train, I had to – tragically – leave it there.

9am: The thing about this primer is that it’s GLOWY. I asked my colleagues straight away which side of my face they thought the primer was on. They almost all guessed the right one initially.

5pm: At 5pm I pestered people trying to smash out writing, those in meetings and others staring blankly at their screen to ask them which side they thought the primer was applied on. A couple of interesting things happened. Firstly, no one was confident. And if no one was confident, did it mean it didn’t actually make much of a difference? Secondly, of the seven people I asked, only THREE out of the seven colleagues I surveyed got it right. Just three. (It did so happen that three who guessed correctly, however, are definitely the beauty geeks among those of us in the office.)

5.15pm: We decided to take some photos to see how distinct the difference was. Even more curiously, the finished product was so, so convincing. In the photos, my makeup on the side of my face without primer had totally melted off. Look at this:

Left: Without primer. Right: With primer. There's nothing less confronting than seeing your face close up. Not.

So although some people didn't look at my face and see it straight away, in photos, the difference was blinding. Primer, it would seem, WORKS. It's not just a dupe for us to spend money. It has a purpose.

For celebrity makeup artist Chantelle Baker, it was what she's been trying to tell me all along.

"Primers are designed to keep your foundation lasting longer and are designed to suit your skin type.  There is a huge range to choose from. For example; illuminating for dull skin, mattifying for oily skin."

Baker's point is a simple one: if you're skeptical about primer, it may be because you're not using the right one. She tells Mamamia if your skincare is good enough, that in and of itself can, occassionally, act as a primer.

"If you find that your skincare does the job, then it [can act as a primer]. For example, your face cream hydrates your skin enough if you are drier skin type. Primers are generally great for oily skin types though as I find it keeps the oils at bay."

However, she says, you don't have to be breaking the bank to find one that works.

"Sometimes the cheaper ones are just as good as the pricey ones."

Okay, got that?

Primer. Works.

Listen: Now your face is sorted, let's talk brows.