Can I Use a Primer as a Moisturizer?

Skin Care
Perception is key.

Usually, the skin care-conscious community (including myself) focuses on the concept that something labeled as a “primer” is not strictly necessary; any good moisturizer or serum can double as a foundation primer, depending on an individual’s skin type.  So I thought it’d be interesting to investigate the flip-side of this: what primers would I recommend to be used as regular moisturizers?

Unfortunately, I was only able to come up with two options. But they are good options!

Estee Lauder Matte Perfecting Primer

This primer’s texture is a bit of a hybrid between the two Smashbox Photo Finish Primers (Original and Light): it’s slippery, but not overly velvety or dry-feeling. It does a decent job of temporarily filling in large pores and minor wrinkles, while providing a rather fleeting mattifying effect.

However, the strength of this product is in its inclusion of several well-documented beneficial ingredients such as the green tea, skullcap, and mulberry antioxidants. Besides the silicone-based occlusive agents, sucrose acts as the primary water-binding agent. Overall, this is a good serum for normal to oily skin types. Plus, you can always use this as a primer too, of course!


Water, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polysilicone-11, Silica Dimethicone Silylate, Sucrose, Isopentyldiol, Hypnea Muciforms (Algae) Extract, Poria Cocos Sclerotium Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Fruit Extract, Scutellaria Baicelensis Root Extract, Laminaria Saccharina Extract, Morus Bombycis (Mulberry) Root Extract, Algae Extract, Caffeine, Amorphophallus Konjac Root Powder, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Polysorbate 20, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, HDI/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Saccharide Isomerate, Laureth-7, Sodium Hyaluronate, Stearyl Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Polyethylene, Isododecane, Acrylates/Ethyl hexyl Acrylate Copolymer, Laureth-21, Caprylyl Glycol, Tocopherol Acetate, Magnesium Myristate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Hexylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol May Contain: Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Bismuth Oxychloride, Iron Oxides

Urban Decay Brightening & Tightening Complexion Primer Potion

While the ingredients of this product would at-a-glance be more appropriate for dry to normal skin types, in reality its lightweight gel-spackle texture is more suitable for oilier skin types. In fact, as I’ve personally tried both, this product provides a more sustained mattifying effect than the Estee Lauder primer. Note that neither of these two products can quite rival the “primers” mentioned in the Milk of Magnesia post, in terms of oil control. Finally, due to this product’s spackle-like texture, it is quite excellent for filling in any “dents” or “valleys” on the skin.

Now, the beneficial ingredients included aren’t bad at all. It contains the traditional vitamins C and E (in ester forms), as well as two peptides that make up the Matrixyl 3000 complex. In addition, this contains a surprisingly high amount of the Litchi fruit extract. While there are zero studies documenting the efficacy of this ingredient, preliminary studies do show that the skin of this fruit contains significant amounts of several polyphenols that do have some limited evidence supporting efficacy in terms of topical application. These polyphenols include the antioxidant quercetin, which has been shown to help curb both UVA- and UVB-induced lipid peroxidation of the skin; albeit not equally.


Water, Litchi Chinensis Pericarp Extract, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Polyacrylamide, Algae Extract, Thermus Thermophillus Ferment, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Butylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, Pullulan, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Laureth-7, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Hexylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenoxyethanol

Primers as Moisturizers: Conclusion

As you can see, a multi-faceted perception is a useful characteristic to adequately gauge skin care products. As it turns out, these two primers are better than a lot of products out there marketed as “moisturizers” or “serums.” If you’re looking for a new primer or moisturizer for normal to oily skin types, give these two a test drive. If you end up liking it/them, know that it/they will protect and improve your skin more so than your average primer!

I hope this was a fun read and please share what your favorite primers are and why! And feel free to join in the super long discussion about which products you go through the fastest/slowest!

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  • @nelson

    Oh I see, I haven’t tried those. But based on the ingredients, it would appear that they would mattify the skin temporarily. But in terms of sustained oil control, the effects are likely fleeting.

  • nelson

    yeah i get what you mean. oh well. the woes of oily blemished skin. =( anyway i meant these:

    i just realized sephora no longer has it. does it mean it’s gonna be discontinued? =O

  • @nelson

    Hm, if you’re talking about the Murad Oil-Free Mattifier SPF 15, well I hated that. Lol! It was so thick and sticky on my face that I couldn’t stand it. And after all that, it only provided decent oil control. As for the “matte finish” one, I’m not sure to what you’re referring.

    Anyways, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to always having to blot throughout the day. There are items that I use that really help with oil control, but only to the extent that everything doesn’t fall apart by the end of the day. But I still have to blot.

  • nelson

    tell me about it! i have this peter thomas roth oil-free spf50 that i keep for travels. PTR has less oil control compared to the neutrogena ultra sheer dry touch but it has the added benefits of AOX. i use neutrogena daily because its cheaper per ounce for daily use and i layer hada labo’s arbutin lotion underneath. when i use the PTR during my travels, i dont have to layer anything underneath. =) back to the topic of primers, i tried the murad primers (the acne control and matte finish ones) that day at sephora. have you tried them? did you like them? how was the oil control like for you? are the beneficial ingredients in these primer too little to provide any beneficial effect?

  • @nelson

    Yeah, I agree with you in the sense that I too have yet to find the perfect sunscreen. 🙁 It’s such a difficult thing haha! There are SO may aspects to consider. Counting off the top of my head, there’s… at least 7 different aspects that I consider. I have yet to find a sunscreen that gives me “satisfactory” results in every aspect. Ah well, the search continues!

  • nelson

    (i forgot this post exists! XD) i personally really love olay’s regenerist serums as primers! i follow lisa eldridge’s method of applying the more moisturizing products (olay’s micro sculpting serum) on the dry parts (my chin, my cheeks) and the more mattifying products (olay’s wrinkle revolution-sold as ‘wrinkle relaxing cream’ here in SEA) on my oilier parts (my nose and forehead). the days when my skin is slightly better, i use olay’s regenerating serum all over.

    sadly i can only do this at night. i’ve yet to find the perfect sunscreen combination for the day and im worried about the avobenzone in my neutrogena ultra sheer dry touch losing its efficacy if i layer and/or mix. during the days when when i need day makeup but i feel that i dont need foundation, and during the days when im gonna sweat a lot but i still need a lil bit help with the skin, i just use the body shop’s loose powder (light to buildable medium coverage) over my neutrogena sunscreen.

    i’ve switched my day foundation to missha’s signature perfect bb cream after realizing that the kate foundation actually might not have enough ZnO and TiO2 for the spf rating and sufficient UVA protection. the darkest shade is a touch too light for me (think a shade darker than clinique’s city block spf 25) and it’s a lil’ too moisturizing (texture is also similar to clinique’s city block spf25 but thicker, medium to buildable full coverage) but i still like it. i think phyrra would like it considering she’s quite pale and have a drier skin type. =D

  • @Lindy

    Well, it really depends on the user. For example, I personally want dedicated products from reputable companies that include high concentrations of specific ingredients (and other details). And I want all of these details listed somewhere on the packaging. However, for those who enjoy multi-tasking products, based on the ingredients list, the UD primer would theoretically provide pretty good antioxidant protection to the skin, and would certainly boost the efficacy of your sunscreen! And you also have to consider the rest of you routine, so you can gauge how much total antioxidant potential your routine provides.

    So this can definitely help you cut down the amount of products used!

  • Lindy

    Am I reading this correctly and would this (at least possibly) work? I could use the Urban Decay primer over my sunscreen and get the effect of primer and still also have the benefit of vitamins C&E helping my sunscreen work more efficiently? My skin is oily and makeup just slides right off without some sort of primer beneath it. I am looking for ways to pare down the number of products I use. The toiletries bag needs to lose weight for travel!

  • @BooBooNinja

    Thanks for reading, as always!

  • BooBooNinja

    Fascinating article. Thanks, John!

  • @Phyrra

    I’m glad that it works for you. While I’m not a huge fan of it, I am happy to have tried it. Now, I can give better recommendations if anyone asks me questions. 🙂

  • Hi John! I would never just rely on something with only SPF 20 to protect me daily. Having rosacea and living under a strong FL sun, I always reach for SPF 40 or higher. I’m so glad you got a sample to try out!!! I’m still firmly in the camp that a product is not a bb cream if it does not provide full coverage. That said, I love the UD beauty balm as a primer. I got a ton of compliments when I wore it out for New Years (set with e.l.f. hd finishing powder).

  • @Mae

    Hm, I’ve tried the original Too Faced primer here: and I can tell you that it’s very similar in most aspects to the L’Oreal Magic Touch Base (or something). I’m not sure if that’s the one you’re talking about. It’s also very similar to this: and this:

    They are all good for filling in pores, and have okay oil-control capabilities. I just find them too much of a hassle to use on a regular basis. You have to be careful how much you use (and your foundation application technique) or they will ball up. Furthermore, they tend to accentuate dry patches (so of course, what you do in your skin care routine, is also very important).

    But yeah, I hope that helps you and good luck!

  • @Melissa

    I too, really like the MAC SPF 50! The UV filter contents, the texture, AND the opacity/whiteness are great! The mattifying effect isn’t particularly amazing in my opinion, but it is still pretty good in this aspect. The only freaking shame is the price! Since it’s $30 for 1 oz, I’d have to buy a tube every two weeks (considering you have to apply a LOT of sunscreen >2.0 mg/cm^2 to get the labeled SPF rating)! And I cannot see myself spending THAT much on sunscreen. 🙁

    But I’m glad that you can!

  • @Jeanie

    Yay! I’m glad it’s working for you!

  • @Phyrra

    Actually, I just got a sample of the UD BB cream with my latest Sephora order (I had to buy some staple items). And I tried it yesterday for the first time.

    The color is a tad too dark for my NC20ish skin; so it definitely won’t work for your NW10. 🙁 Unless you use it as a primer of course. However, this BB cream does have decent longevity on its own, which is surprising! I purposely didn’t apply primer or set with a powder and it got about 4 hours of good wear out of it. So this product is pretty good from a cosmetic point of view!

    The ingredients however, are the deal-breaker for me; (and the shade too I suppose). This only contains 3.4% ZnO and 7.5% octinoxate, meaning that it provides very little UVA protection. Since I’d only wear a BB cream/tinted moisturizer if I were in a hurry (and didn’t have time to mix my regular foundation and sunscreen), I’d much prefer my favorite Tarte Smooth Operator tinted moisturizer, which contains 5% ZnO and TiO2.

    I hope that helps and thanks for reading!

  • Mae

    I’m still on the search for a good primer. I don’t really like the Tarte Poreless primer, but I’ve tried everything from L’Oreal to Revlon to oft-mentioned Benefit and Smashbox. I didn’t like any of them. You could still see foundation in my pores after about 6 hours.

    I’ve heard very good things about the TooFaced primer. I will try that next once I spend out of my current stuff. I hate to waste money.

    Thank you for this!

  • Melissa

    I use Mac Prep + Prime Face Protect SPF 50, sometimes without anything else under it. Though I have kept searching for a rival to it, nothing else has come close to being as mattifying with such high spf. And it’s never irritated my skin or broken me out. I’d love to know what you think of its ingredients!

  • I bought the UD primer above when it was on sale and it works quite well with my combination/oily skin.

  • How cool! Have you tried the new UD Beauty Balm yet? I would love to hear your thoughts on it. For me, I would call it a complexion perfection moisturizer/primer.

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