A skin care and makeup routine often go hand in hand, and each step is meant to build upon the last. But with so many products out there, it can get a little confusing.

For example, primer and moisturizer boast a lot of the same benefits and appear to be interchangeable. But, the reality is that they're very different products and best used in conjunction. So, if you've ever wondered about using primer or moisturizer first in a routine, this is for you.

Is It Primer or Moisturizer First?

Moisturizers and primers have essentially different functions, and it's important to distinguish between the two before adding them to your regimen.

A moisturizer is meant to hydrate your skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, moisturizers retain water in the outer layer of the skin to treat and prevent dryness, protect sensitive skin, improve skin texture, and help reduce the appearance of marks. In skin care routines, moisturizers are the second-to-last step to lock in all the other skin health products that you may have used, like toner or serum. But when it comes to primer versus moisturizer, remember moisture comes first.

Aptly named, primer does just that—primes the skin for makeup application. Primer creates an ideal canvas to hold onto your makeup and keep it looking fresh all day long. Some primers also have a ton of other benefits and functions, like boosting hydration, smoothing out skin texture, and reducing the appearance of pores.

The difference between the two mostly comes down to necessity. Most experts advise using a moisturizer every day, as it treats many skin concerns and locks in the rest of your skin care. If you're looking to give your makeup a little boost, a primer may be a good addition to your regimen.

How to Work Moisturizer and Primer Into Your Routine

Once you understand the benefits of moisturizer and primer, application for both is pretty straightforward. Once you pick a moisturizer, you'll want to use it twice a day: in the morning before your sunscreen and at night before bed. And your primer should be applied once a day, just before your makeup.

And of course, you'll want to find the moisturizer that works best for your skin type. The Mayo Clinic breaks it down like this:

  • Normal skin: Water-based moisturizers that are lightweight

  • Dry skin: Heavier oil-based moisturizers

  • Oily skin: Oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizers

  • Combination skin: Medium-light moisturizer

  • Sensitive skin: Hypoallergenic and fragrance-free moisturizers with soothing ingredients like aloe or chamomile

  • Mature skin: Oil-based moisturizers

Finding the right primer for your skin is similar to finding the right moisturizer in that you need to take your individual needs into account. If your skin is dry, look for an oil-based primer, and if you have oily skin, look for a primer that has mattifying ingredients. Experts recommend using your fingers to blend your primer in seamlessly, filling in any fine lines and wrinkles.

It may take a while to find the right products for your skin; if you don't know where to start, check out EltaMD's range of skin care products. So, next time you're wondering about application order, remember that your moisturizer comes before your primer and soon, it will become a natural part of your skin care routine.


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.

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