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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A Guide to Primers and Bases

Eyeshadows can be tricky buggers. Getting them to look the same colour and texture as they are in the pan, plus getting them to stay put throughout the day can be a nightmare! If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware there are products you can use to help with both of these issues. Sadly the lingo can be pretty confusing – there are primers, bases, eyeshadow “helpers,” mixing mediums, glitter glues, foiling liquids and much more!

I’m going to go through the products you can use to stop your eyeshadows from creasing and then products you can use to help increase the vibrancy of your eyeshadows. The two main categories for this are primers and bases and that’s what I’ll be focusing on today. Please be aware that everyone has different body chemistry and so different products will have different results on different people!

This is a long one, folks!

a guide to eye primers and bases


Our eyelids are one of the oiliest parts of our face and this can cause our eyeshadow to “crease,” fade, and collect in the folds of our eyelids during the day. Even people like myself with very dry skin can have oily lids. The effort involved in applying nice makeup for an important do or even a long day makes this creasing and fading REALLY annoying! Eyeshadow primers help with this by creating a barrier to stop the oils on your lids from messing with your eyeshadow, stopping them from creasing and helping to keep their vibrancy throughout the day. The reason I personally will always call products that prevent creasing a primer and not a base is that if something causes or contributes to creasing, it has no business going on first and therefore no business calling itself a primer!

Here’s what I mean by creasing – you can see the shadow is collecting in lines all over my lid where my eye naturally creases.

Primers go on first, onto clean lids before anything else, hence the name! (Primer, premier, first, blah blah blah.) Primers normally come in a a tube with a wand applicator and generally have a thin, concealer-like consistency and colour. Apply a very thin layer over a clean eyelid and blend out over the lid – you can do this with a finger or a brush. Allow it to dry for a couple of seconds and then apply your eyeshadow on top. Some brands will have a slightly tackier texture than others so can it take a while to get used to blending over the top of them. It can also take a few goes with a new primer to determine how much or little of the product you need to use! Because there aren’t really defined criteria for what makes a primer a primer, if you want your eyeshadow to stay put, make sure you’re buying a product that sets and doesn’t stay creamy or you’ll still end up with creased makeup! Most primers are in that neutral concealer-like colour, so if you’re picking up something bright green, it’s probably not meant to prevent your eyeshadow from creasing.


When deciding which primer to use, research what you’re interested in before purchasing as some primers are quite expensive! See if you can find a blogger whose reviews you trust who has the same needs as you – for example, very oily eyelids – and find out what they use. If you’re stuck, try a budget version first – the MUA one is very good and only comes in at £2.50, and e.l.f does one for only $1/£1.50, so you won’t be too out of pocket if they doesn’t work for you!

Primer examples:

Urban Decay Primer Potion*
Too Faced Shadow Insurance
MUA Professional Eye Primer*
NARS Smudgeproof Eyeshadow Base
Artdeco Eyeshadow Base
E.L.F Eyelid Primer


Primer FAQ

Can’t I just use foundation on my eyes?

You can use a foundation over the lid to help colour stick or to even out veins or discoloration on the lid, but you’ll still have the problem that the makeup will collect in your creases throughout the day. Powdering over the foundation will keep it in place a little longer, but you won’t get the longevity of a primer. Foundation can sometimes mess with certain application techniques as well, such as foiling.

It’s still creasing!

You could be using too much product, or too little – stick it out a little while longer and try using different amounts. Make sure you’re applying it into the creases of your eyes. It could just be the wrong product for you - many bloggers I know have had to purchase several primers before

I’ve been using my primer for a while and now it’s stopped working!

I have a few friends who this has happened to and we can’t quite work it out! Our skin chemistry can change when we’re stressed, ill, or  when we change medication or birth control. Perhaps an extreme weather change has meant your product has had to work harder! There’s not a lot you can do in this case except try different products once again! Remember to check if your product is old and to replace it if it is.

Do I really need a primer? Makeup artists on Youtube don’t use them!

Makeup artists often have different needs to normal people who wear makeup every day. An MUA may need to change makeup quickly, or they will only need it to last for a few photographs, so using a primer on the eyelids is often needless. This can go for facial primers, too! You and I, however, probably have an eight to ten hour working day, plus a commute, errands to run, kids to drop off and parties and events to go it, and need our makeup to look nice the whole time!


Now we’ve got our eyeshadow to stay put throughout the day, there are a ton of products you can use to help enhance the look of your eyeshadow, whether you want them to look more vibrant than they do on bare skin, or help the sparkles in the product to stick to your skin. Your primer will more often than not help with this problem a little bit, but as you start to become a bit more confident and experimental with your eyeshadow looks, you often want a little more help.

There are hundreds of products you can use to help do this, and they’re almost always cream products. Using a thin layer of a cream product over your eye primer can provide a base for your eyeshadow to sit on which will both make it pop and help show off the texture. As it gives your shadow something to cling to, it can help minimise the fallout (where loose eyeshadow drops onto your face) you can get all over your cheeks as well.  It’s absolutely essential to use a thin layer or it will be too thick to cling to your primer and will crease anyway. A too thick layer can also cause the products to move around on the lid during application, creating a smudgy gross mess! It can be very hard to blend on top of cream products as they are indeed creamy and sticky, which is another reason you only need to use a small amount:

base1base 3

Can you see how little I’ve applied in the right hand picture? That’s a stark white cream eyeshadow, and I took a tiny blob and spread it on my lid. You really, really don’t need to cake it on – you can see from the left-hand picture it’s enough to get my eyeshadow colour looking smooth and vibrant! This also means your base is going to last you a long time. Many makeup nerds have tons of bases (I must have at least twenty if you don’t count eyeliner pencils) but you can probably get away with just a white cream base like NYX Jumbo Eyeshadow Pencil in Milk, and perhaps a dark base if you do a lot of smokey looks.

Base examples:

NYX Jumbo Eyeshadow Pencils*
LA Colors Jumbo Eyeshadow Pencils*
Kiko Long Lasting Eyeshadow Pencils*
MAC Paint Pots*
Maybelline Colour Tattoos*
Barry M Super Soft Eye Crayon/Eyeshadow Pencils
MakeUp Forever Flash Palette
Ilamasqua Liquid Metals/Cream Pigments*
Any soft, smudgeable pencil eyeliner or gel liner


Base FAQ

Do I need a primer if I’m wearing a base?

Not always! Some cream products really are very long lasting on their own – try them in store and see if they set without smudging. If they do, you’ll be able to get good wear out of them on their own, although you might find you do still need to wear a primer anyway for really long wear. Maybelline Color Tattoos and MAC Paint Pots are good examples of this type of product.

I can’t blend over my base!

Chances are you’ve just used too much base. It can be hard to make shadow look smoothly blended out at the edges if your base isn’t blended out underneath, so be careful to do that first before you go in with your shadow.

Can I use more than one base?

Of course! I often use different coloured bases on different parts of my eyelid where I want different eyeshadow colours to stand out, although a stark matte white is pretty much just as effective.

Can I use a base over an eyeshadow?

It  *is* sometimes possible to do this depending on the product combination, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Generally, applying cream over a powder makes a nasty, curdled-looking mess so it’s always best to err on the side of it not working! This also goes for your face – don’t apply lipstick or cream blush over powdered skin!

Does it have to be sticky or creamy? Can I use a face paint, greasepaints or lipsticks?

I often use Kryolan Aqua Colours, water-activated face paints, as a base, but they will dry down and have no tackiness or creaminess, so that’s something to bear in mind. Greasepaints are renowned for being long lasting – after all, it’s stage makeup and actors sweat, cry and dance without it budging – so if you have some, try them out. Lipsticks and lip products often have colours in them that in a lot of countries aren’t legally safe for your eyes, and they are also more likely to crease as they often have moisturising properties. However, I’ve known some makeup artists use them to great effect. Do experiment with your makeup box – if you need a base, you’ve probably got something that will work. Just be careful and use eye safe products.

Are glitter glues bases?

They work in mostly the same way, and go on after your primer, but are more sticky than creamy. You still apply a very small amount, and they’re made for helping glitter or loose pigments stick to your eye while enhancing the sparkle and not falling everywhere!



Well folks, that’s your basic guide to primers and bases. I’m going to write a separate post on how to alter the looks of your eyeshadow by using glitter glues, foiling mediums, etc., and go over some techniques to create different looks with the same products. If I’ve missed anything at all or if you have any questions, please do just let me know!

*Products I own, regularly use and repurchase.


  1. very informative!!!

  2. Very interesting........I once went to a temple spa party and said something about oily lids.....which me and my mum both get......and the representative told me it wasn't possible to get oily lids and I must have an oily forehead and its running down onto my eyelids, I thought she was talking bollocks but its nice to have it confirmed, thanks xxx

  3. This was really helpful! Thanks for all of the information!

  4. What a great post Robyn! LOL at Cheap Kicks' experience. Decided I don't use my NYX JEP in milk enough after reading this, also the MUA intense colour eyeliner pencils are good as base colours. Soft and a sharpener in the lid.I have the sparkly pink one called 'lovely lilac'...just £1!!!

  5. Thanks so much for this post. It's been super helpful! I didn't even know you could use a primer and a base, and I'm make up obsessed! xx

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    1. Great post! Lots of very helpful info here for those new to the makeup world.

  7. I love, love, love these posts. I already have a good grasp of all of this, but it would have been invaluable when I was just starting out. I had to learn everything by slowly figuring out people's cryptic acronyms and phrases. You should definitely keep these types of posts going. I think a series on brushes would be good too as brushes always confused me the most. I had no idea people even used ANY brushes on their faces, or what all the different types were for.

    1. I'm going to do one as soon as I have time to take photos of all my brushes!

  8. YES! I love this post! Thank you so much!!!

  9. Awesome post! I already knew this information but when I was starting out with makeup I didn't have a clue and this would have been an awesome resource.

  10. Excellent post! I am having a bit of a primer issue right now, I had used UDPP for years with awesome results and since they changed the packaging it barely gets me through a work day! I have tried TFSI but it isn't very good either. I am not quite sure what to do.

    1. There are lots of indie primers! I've heard good things about Concrete Minerals. My friend is trying ArtDeco and she likes it so far.


Thanks for reading! Got a question? Catch me on Instagram @staybeautifulmakeup or on Twitter @robynheartsslap