Primer vs Moisturizer + My Top Picks! 

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Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both.

Do you know the difference between face primers and face moisturizers?

These are very different products, though they do share some similarities in function. Working as smoothing, final steps to your morning routine, some may use these products interchangeably (not recommended!)

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

Today, I’m exploring both primer and moisturizer and sharing their differences to help expand your beauty knowledge!

I’m also including my opinion on whether you should use both primer and moisturizer, along with my top beauty picks for both!

Looking for more skincare content? Check out Everything You Need to Know About Salicylic Acid.

What is Primer?

Primer is a makeup product used as a first step in your beauty routine. There are three main types of makeup primer:

  • Face primer
  • Eye primer
  • Lip primer

While I’m going to be focusing largely on face primers in this post, it’s essential to understand how primer functions all over the face. 

Eye primer is applied before eyeshadow to help with makeup application. Using the right primer will prolong makeup wear and help eyeshadow better adhere to your lids. 

Lip primers provide long-term lipstick wear, smoothing the surface of your lips while preventing smudges and feathering. 

Finally, face primers can be used all over the face or in targeted areas like the “t-zone” as a base for your face makeup. It provides a smooth surface, filling in fine lines, wrinkles, and pores. 

There are also face primers for different skin types. A mattifying primer will help control excess oil, while a moisturizing primer will add extra brightness and glow to your complexion. 

What is Moisturizer?

Moisturizer is a skincare product formulated to target different skin concerns while adding moisture to the face. 

Common moisturizer ingredients include aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. 

The main purpose of a moisturizer is to hydrate your face, preventing dry patches and supporting your skin’s natural barrier. A good moisturizer will also protect your skin from environmental pollutants and irritants. 

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

Moisturizers come in a variety of formulas, from dewy gels that make lackluster skin glow to fast-absorbing matte creams. 

Other perks of using moisturizer in your beauty routine include anti-aging properties and SPF sun protection. 

You can even use a tinted moisturizer to add a bit of coverage to your face, providing an easy way to apply skincare and makeup in one step!

Primer vs Moisturizer – Differences & Similarities 

Now that we know what each product does, are they similar enough to use one or the other? And which cosmetic product comes out on top? 

Let’s dive in:

Similarities of Primer vs Moisturizer 

  • Smoothing – Creates an even, smooth canvas for improved complexion and better makeup application. 
  • Hydration – Moisturizer is specifically designed to hydrate, while some hydrating primers may offer similar benefits. 
  • Protection – Depending on the formulations, both products can protect against sun damage and environmental damage. 

Differences between Primer vs Moisturizer

  • Ingredients  
    • Primer – Smoothing silicones and color-correcting pigments for topical appeal.
    • Moisturizer – Oils, butters, jellies, and actives that nourish and hydrate your skin. 
  • Purpose
    • Primer – Improve makeup application and skin texture while increasing wear-time.
    • Moisturizer – Hydrates skin and promotes overall skin health.
  • Application 
    • Primer – As a first step before makeup application. Apply after moisturizer. 
    • Moisturizer – Daily, morning and night, as a final step in your skincare routine. 
  • Texture
    • Primer – Silky, lightweight, and slightly slippery for a silicone-based primer. Slightly dewier for moisturizing primers. 
    • Moisturizer – From soft to tacky, the texture will depend on the formula. Creams, serums, gels, and lotions all produce different, hydrating results. 

Primer vs Moisturizer – Do You Need Both?

In all honesty, the main difference between these products comes from necessity. 

Moisturizer is a necessary step to your beauty routine, both day and night. Whether you have dry or oily skin, moisturizer does wonders for your complexion, providing ample hydration and anti-aging effects. 

Like all makeup products, primer is one hundred percent optional. If you’re a makeup wearer, you may enjoy a silky, smoothing base to your skin before makeup application. I wear both moisturizer and primer daily. If I was to only choose either moisturizer or primer, I would 100% use moisturizer for essential hydration.

Even if you don’t traditionally wear face makeup, a bit of pore-filling primer can add a lovely touch to your complexion alone. 

If you choose to use both products, ensure you’re applying them in the right order:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Treat
  3. Moisturize 
  4. SPF
  5. Primer 

My Favorite Primers

Ready to find the right primer for your makeup routine? Here are some of my favorite primers for various skin types and concerns:

#1 Best Makeup Primer

MILK MAKEUP | Hydro Grip Primer

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

This lightweight gel primer is equipped with hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, aloe water, and blue agave extract for locked-in moisture and a 12-hour grip. 

#2 Best Makeup Primer

YVES SAINT LAURENT | Nu Glow In Balm Face Priming Moisturizer

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

This deeply moisturizing primer includes softening shea butter, illuminating rosat, and hydrating glycerin. 

#3 Best Makeup Primer

ARMANI | Luminous Silk Hydrating Primer

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

Try this primer for a flawless complexion and an extra boost of hydration. It’s perfect for different skin types, formulated with shea butter, rice bran, and glycerin. 

#4 Best Makeup Primer

HOURGLASS | Vanish Airbrush Primer

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

I love this Hourglass primer because it provides an airbrushed finish, blurring fine lines while extending makeup wear and absorbing excess shine. 

#5 Best Makeup Primer

TATCHA | The Liquid Silk Canvas

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

For skin texture that feels just like silk, try this weightless primer, designed to give your skin a smooth surface while protecting it from pollutants. 

#6 Best Makeup Primer

CHARLOTTE TILBURY | Wonderglow

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

This anti-aging primer makes you glow from within, formulated with collagen-supporting peptides and anti-wrinkle ingredients. 

#7 Best Makeup Primer

LAURA MERCIER | Pure Canvas Hydrating Primer

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

For an even base, try this hydrating primer formulated with smoothing olive extract, moisturizing glycerin, and nurturing marine hydra botanicals. 

#8 Best Makeup Primer

URBAN DECAY | All-Nighter Face Primer

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

A cult classic, this All-Nighter Face Primer locks makeup down for long-term wear. It smooths, hydrates, and gives your makeup some serious staying power. 

#9 Best Makeup Primer

REN | Perfect Canvas Clean Primer

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

This silicone-free formula provides shine control while minimizing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores. Soothing agave and renewing probiotics make this formula a serious powerhouse!

#10 Best Makeup Primer

STILA | One Step Correct Skin Tone Correcting & Brightening Primer

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

Try this color-correcting primer to hide dark spots and skin discoloration while brightening your complexion.

My Favorite Moisturizers

Each of these different moisturizers provides your skin with major hydration – they’re my top picks for a reason!

#1 Best Face Moisturizer 

GLOW RECIPE | Plum Plump Hyaluronic Cream

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

This plumping moisturizer includes hyaluronic acid for ultimate hydration.

#2 Best Face Moisturizer 

KIEHL’S | Ultra Facial Cream 

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

Try this fragrance-free formula, including nourishing squalene, hydrating glacial glycoprotein, and softening glycerin. 

#3 Best Face Moisturizer 

COLLEEN ROTHSCHILD | Extreme Recovery Cream

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

Formulated for sensitive skin, this thick cream is best applied at night for deep hydration and repair. I started using Colleen Rothschild last year and love the products. Use my Colleen Rothschild discount code LORNA20 for 20% off your purchase.

#4 Best Face Moisturizer 

DRUNK ELEPHANT | Protini Polypeptide Cream

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

Users of this moisturizer love its complex formula, complete with soybean folic acid for elasticity, pygmy water lily stem cell extract for soothing moisture, and signal peptide complex for plumping and bounce. 

For more information, read The Ultimate Drunk Elephant Skincare Review!

#5 Best Face Moisturizer 

FARMACY | Honey Halo Ultra-Hydrating Ceramide Moisturizer

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

This ceramide moisturizer provides a smooth base to your skin in a rich cream formula.

Read more about it in my Farmacy Beauty Reviews

Get 20% off your Farmacy purchase using my link and Farmacy Beauty Discount Code LORNA20

#6 Best Face Moisturizer 

FIRST AID BEAUTY | Ultra Repair Cream

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

This moisturizer is specifically formulated for dry, sensitive skin with creamy shea butter and soothing allantoin. 

#7 Best Face Moisturizer 

DRUNK ELEPHANT | Lala Retro Whipped Cream

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

This rich cream moisturizer targets several common skincare concerns, including dryness, lost elasticity, and other signs of aging. It feels luxurious on the skin, with a powerfully soothing texture. 

#8 Best Face Moisturizer 

TATCHA | The Dewy Skin Cream

Find out the best primers and the best moisturizers. Find out the difference between primer and moisturizer and why to use each beauty product.

Made with natural ingredients like Japanese purple rice, this moisturizer is amazing for all skin types, from combination skin to dry skin. Wild thyme, ginseng, and marjoram give your skin a healthy glow. 

#9 Best Face Moisturizer 

THE ORDINARY | Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

This moisturizer is great for all skin types, producing lasting hydration.

#10 Best Face Moisturizer 

SUMMER FRIDAYS | Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream

Learn the difference between primer vs moisturizer, along with my top picks for both. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I will reveal in this blog post.

This gel-cream formula is lightweight, soothing, and plumping – talk about a triple threat!

#11 Best Face Moisturizer 

CHARLOTTE TILBURY | Charlotte’s Magic Cream

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

Try this moisturizer for its anti-aging properties, made with vitamins C and E, hyaluronic acid, and bionymph peptide complex. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the questions I get the most about primer vs moisturizer. 

Do I need a separate moisturizer for both day and night?

Moisturizer is incredibly important, both day and night. That’s why I always recommend applying twice a day. Some formulas are versatile enough for day and night, focusing on classic actives like hyaluronic acid that can be combined with a variety of other ingredients. 

There are some formulas, though, that better suit one or the other. For example, moisturizers containing vitamin C or SPF should be worn during the day. Thicker formulas should be applied as the last thing in your skincare routine at the end of the day. This way, your skin has all night to hydrate and target dead skin cells.

Can I use face primer instead of moisturizer?

I would not recommend that you use face primer instead of moisturizer. While some face primers contain moisturizing additives that provide a glow to your skin, they cannot replace the heavy hydration that moisturizers provide. 

If you choose to include face primer in your makeup look, the best way to incorporate it is after you’ve applied moisturizer.

Do I need a face primer if I don’t wear makeup?

Nobody needs to wear a face primer. It can, however, be worn with or without makeup. 

Try using a moisturizing primer on its own without any added face makeup. This will give your complexion a subtle sheen, minimize the appearance of pores, and provide an airbrushed finish to your skin.

What are the most essential skincare steps?

In my opinion, there are only four essential skincare steps that you should take every day. The rest can be cycled through based on need and specific skin concerns. 

*Cleanser – Cleanse every day, up to twice a day, to keep skin clear and healthy. 

*Eye Cream – use under the eyes, both day and night to target fine lines and wrinkles, dark circles, or tired eyes.

*Moisturizer – Moisturize both day and night to hydrate your skin and protect against environmental pollutants. 

*SPF – Apply SPF every morning to protect your skin from sun damage. 

For more information on skincare and cleansing, read my posts on How to Cleanse Your Face Properly and What Are the Different Types of Cleansers?

Final Thoughts: Primer vs Moisturizer 

Learn all about moisturizer vs primer and if you can use one or the other. There are key differences between primer and moisturizer which I’ll explain in this beauty post.

That wraps up my thoughts on primer vs moisturizer. While both products can give your skin beautiful, glowing results, one product comes out on top as truly essential – moisturizer! I hope you’ve found this post and product recommendations useful in building your ultimate beauty routine. 

If you have any further questions about primer, moisturizer, or all things beauty, please reach out via Instagram or my contact page. I’d love to help you out!

About Lorna Ryan

Lorna's fashion & beauty journey began on runways, including NYFW, which sparked her love for all things chic. Lorna spent two years as a SephoraSquad ambassador, sharing hero beauty products. Lorna unveils coveted beauty gems, the latest fashion trends, and best-kept jetsetter escapes.

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