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Is Primer and Moisturizer the Same Thing?

You’ve probably heard that many folks prime their face before applying makeup. And you’ve also probably heard it’s a cardinal sin to put foundation on over a non-moisturized face.

So is this the same step?

The answer, for the most part, is no. Primer and moisturizer are different steps in a makeup prep routine. But that being said, some primers can double as moisturizers if they have the right ingredients.

In this post, I’ll present those hybrids, as well as discuss more about what moisturizer vs primer is.

What Is Moisturizer?

water droplet
Source: @erdaest on Unsplash.

Moisturizers are products that are designed specifically to add and trap water in your skin. Namely, all decent ones have humectants and occlusives that work together to keep your skin hydrated.


Humectants attract water to your skin. A great example of this is hyaluronic acid, a buzzy ingredient in skincare these days that works with well with water-based moisturizers. Some other examples are the glycols you see on ingredient lists: butylene and propylene, for example. Even alpha hydroxy acids, like lactic or glycolic acid, are humectants that can attract water. (Note: it’s important to either make sure water is in your ingredient list or apply to a wet face for humectants to work—otherwise, the water they will draw to themselves will come from within your skin, making you more dry.)


Once you’ve attracted water, you’ll want to hold it in. That’s where occlusives come in. Some products, like Aquaphor and Vaseline (petroleum based products), are purely occlusive, meaning they won’t give moisture but they’ll act as a barrier to hold them in. That’s why I wouldn’t call something like Aquaphor a complete moisturizer.

Some examples of occlusive ingredients are silicones, oils, waxes, butters, and ingredients like cetyl alcohol and stearic acid. If you’re prone to breakouts, be careful of which occlusive you choose. Many of these are comedogenic. Try looking for a moisturizer with a silicone.

Put Them Together and…Moisture!

Good moisturizers have both humectants and occlusives (and water, or used on a wet face) to add and trap water into the face. Then, there can be any number of additional ingredients that set the moisturizer apart, like peptides or botanicals.

As you can see, a moisturizer has a lot going on.

What Is Primer?

A primer’s raison d’être is to prep the skin for foundation, meaning it will make the foundation sit better on the skin and/or last longer.

This usually means that they can do things like fill in pores, mattify, smooth, blur, and the like.

The nice thing is that lots of the time they’ll have occlusives and humectants included in them. Silicones are common as your occlusive in primers, and lots of primers have glycerin as a humectant. But…there’s an issue.

Why Is it Hard to Effectively Combine Them?

Some primers claim to be hydrating, it’s true. And they may boast ingredients like hyaluronic acid or coconut oil. But as you’ve learned, those ingredients need their counterparts of water and humectants or occlusives to be effective as moisturizers. It’s not necessarily true that primers will carry all they need to be an effective moisturizer as well as an effective primer.

Moisturizers are targeted skincare products. Primers are supposed to make makeup sit well on the skin and last all day. And with all that goes into these things being effective at their jobs, it’s hard for them to do double duty.

If I Want to Cheat, What Are Some Moisturizing Primers?

Here are a few primers with water, humectants, and occlusives.

If a moisturizing primer had denatured alcohol in it—an ingredient that dries your skin out—it didn’t make the list no matter how many great ingredients it had.

Also worth noting: it’s hard to know how these will act as primers that actually prolong the wear of makeup. I’m looking at products that bill themselves as primers but have the kind of ingredient list I’d expect from a moisturizer. I hope they’ll work great to prime your face for makeup, too, but I can’t be sure!

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base Priming Moisturizer

a tan tub

With water listed first and ingredients like butylene glycol, shea butter, and squalane, this primer carries a balance of what you need in a moisturizer.

Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow Face Primer

a tan squeezy tube with gold lettering

This primer has good ingredients for moisture all throughout the beginning of its ingredient deck: water, silicones, butylene glycol, glycerin, and squalane.

Smashbox Mindful 5 Nourishing Primer Serum

a green bottle with a dropper

This primer has some good stuff in it, including water as its first ingredient, hyaluronic acid, butylene glycol, glycerin, silicones, and jojoba oil.

One More Thing: If I Moisturize, Do I Really Need a Primer?

It could be argued that a properly moisturized face is already a canvas that’s prepped for makeup—no more products needed.

You may find this applicable if you have normal or dry skin. If that’s the case with you, you’re not in as much danger of your natural oils acting as a makeup remover sitting on your face, as discussed in this post on why foundation separates. Just having a moisturized face has the potential to be the proper level of prep for your skin type.

But if you have oily skin, I’d argue that your makeup will stay on better with an additional step after your moisturizer—priming with a product designated to controlling your oils.

In other words, do you need a primer and a moisturizer? If you have normal or dry skin, maybe not. If you have oily skin, probably.


We covered a lot of ground here!

First we established that primer and moisturizer aren’t the same thing—unless you get a primer with all the components of a really good moisturizer.

We also talked about what goes into a good moisturizer and what products might double as both.

And finally, we covered who needs a separate primer and for whom moisturizer in itself might be priming enough.

As always, hope this was helpful!