A few weeks ago, we talked about how a serum can double up as a moisturiser (if you have oily skin). But can it do the job of a makeup primer as well?
That’s something I wondered when I came across this video by Paula’s Choice Skincare Team. The lovely Desiree assures us we can, but I am not so sure. I admit the idea makes sense in theory. But problems start when you try to put it in practice. Here’s why:
Why using a serum as makeup primer makes sense
Makeup primers contain ingredients (usually silicones) that create a protective layer on the skin. This layer prevents the oils in your skin to come in contact with your makeup, allowing it to last longer. It also provides a smooth base for foundation to glide on more smoothly. Silicones can also fill in fine lines and wrinkles, thus helping them look temporarily smaller.
A lot of serums, like Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum and Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum, are infused with silicones too, so they provide the same benefits.
And more. Serums are also chockfull of anti-ageing ingredients, like antioxidants and retinol, that can help keep new wrinkles at bay. Some are rich in skin-lightening agents that can help reduce the appearance of dark spots too. Primers usually lack these goodies, or contain them in minuscule amounts that don’t benefit skin much.
So using a serum as a primer seems to make a lot of sense. You’re saving money, and time in the morning, but getting double benefits, right? Not so fast.
The Problem With Using Serum As Makeup Primer
In the video, Desiree says that you should apply your skincare routine as normal, and then, at the end add a thin layer of primer. I took this to mean you should apply serum after moisturizer, which is why I have doubts about this method. Then, she says that, if you are using a separate sunscreen rather than a foundation with SPF (you should be using both anyway!), primer goes before that.
Again, I find this order of application odd. The general rule is to apply skincare products with a thinner consistency, like serums, first, and those with a thicker texture, like moisturizers and sunscreens, later. That’s because they contain occlusive ingredients, like petrolatum and shea butter, that moisturize skin by creating a protective barrier that prevents water loss.
But this protective barrier can prevent whatever you are applying next from penetrating into the skin. As we already know, makeup primers rarely contain active ingredients that benefit skin. They just form a nice base for makeup, so you can safely apply them after moisturizer and sunscreen.
But the goodies in a serum may not be able to penetrate skin as well if you apply it last. If you, instead, apply it before moisturizer or sunscreen, then you’ll get its anti-ageing and/or skin-lightening benefits and, if they contain silicones, your wrinkles will look smaller too. But your foundation and sunscreen may not provide as smooth or longlasting base for makeup.
Even if your skin doesn’t need moisturizer, sunscreen isn’t optional. And a primer, as Desiree said, should always be applied before that. So, according to its place in your skincare routine, a serum can usually act only as a serum or as a primer. If you try to use it as both, it is likely you won’t get its full benefits.
The Bottom Line
Although I usually agree with the advice dished out by Paula Begoun and her team, I don’t think that using serum as a primer is as beneficial as they make it out to be. Applying skincare products in the right order is essential if you want to reap their maximum benefits. If you apply primer too soon, it won’t make a great base. Too late and you may compromise its anti-ageing properties. Better stick to a separate makeup primer, if you really need one.
Have you ever used a serum as makeup primer?