Some TikTokers Swear By Using Calamine Lotion As a Makeup Primer, But Is That Really a Good Idea?

A dermatologist explains why you might want to skip this beauty hack, especially if you have sensitive skin.

TikTok True or False: Calamine Lotion As Primer
Photo: Polina Kovaleva

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You've probably used calamine lotion before to soothe irritated skin and rashes caused by sunburns or poison ivy or to treat pesky insect bites and stings. But some TikTokers have been using the drugstore staple all over their faces as a makeup primer. Yes, really.

Videos with the hashtag #calamineprimer have racked up a collective four million views and counting on the app. In one video with more than 35,000 likes and 600 comments, user Tia Samuda applies calamine lotion all over her face with a makeup brush before applying foundation, showing off smooth, even skin afterward.

In another video, user @a_banik duets with Samuda, describing how the calamine lotion looks and feels on her self-described oily skin. After applying the pink lotion using a foundation brush, she does her usual makeup routine over the DIY primer. "I have to say, my skin looks beautiful," she says, including shots from three and eight hours later to display how the technique provides long-lasting results.

The budget-friendly buy is garnering fans who love that it provides a long-lasting base and a smooth canvas for foundation and other beauty products, especially for those with oily skin. While it might seem like a solid solution to sliding makeup woes, some TikTok users who've tried it didn't experience such glowing results. What's more, this skin-care hack may not be worth trying, especially if you have sensitive skin or existing skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema, according to a dermatologist. Keep scrolling for all the details.

What is calamine lotion?

That light pink lotion in your medicine cabinet is actually chock-full of ingredients and has many uses, says Geeta Yadav, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of FACET Dermatology. "Calamine lotion, which is made up of calamine, iron oxide, phenol, and zinc oxide, works by temporarily soothing inflammation, lightly numbing discomfort, soothing itching, and drying out any oozing or weeping," she explains.

If you've got minor itching, irritation, pain, or discomfort from poisonous plants (including poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac), having calamine lotion on hand is a solid move to help soothe your skin. It's also helpful for insect bites and stings, and it can relieve discomfort from hives and rashes caused by conditions, such as chickenpox, heat rash, and shingles, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Does using calamine lotion as a makeup primer work?

Given its drying properties, calamine lotion will draw out oils from skin to create a smooth canvas, explains Dr. Yadav. While it might be okay for occasional use on normal and oily skin, it really shouldn't be used as a makeup primer on the regular, she adds. "Using products outside of their intended use is always a risk," she says. "Since it is a topical drug, calamine lotion is strong, and long-term use can compromise your skin barrier [i.e. damage the skin's top layers]. This will strip your skin of its natural moisture and lead to sensitivity and inflammation."

People with dry, sensitive, and reactive skin definitely shouldn't use calamine lotion as a primer, adds Dr. Yadav. This is because long-term wear all over the face will likely only irritate or inflame these skin types.

Is using calamine lotion as a makeup primer safe?

There are some safety issues with using calamine lotion as a primer. "Calamine lotion is heavily fragranced and is packed with ingredients that dry out skin. You should not apply this product near the eye area," says Dr. Yadav. "Not only is the skin here thinner and more prone to irritation than other areas, the mucosa of the eye [the moist, inner lining that protects your eyes] will easily be irritated and potentially damaged by calamine lotion," she continues.

Along with its potentially irritating fragrance, calamine lotion contains phenol, a "potent exfoliant," explains Dr. Yadav. That means it can be extremely drying and irritating and could exacerbate skin conditions, such as rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema. (Read more: Natural Eczema Remedies You Haven't Tried Yet)

You also shouldn't apply it to an open wound, near the nose, or close to the mouth. "If you do get calamine lotion in your eyes, flush them with water immediately," she says.

You should use calamine lotion as a makeup primer: True or false?

TikTok True or False: Calamine Lotion As Primer
Polina Kovaleva

While calamine lotion might work as a primer for some and may be safe to use occasionally, Dr. Yadav doesn't recommend trying it, especially when there are so many makeup products available at many different price points designed to lock makeup in place — without compromising your skin's delicate barrier. One budget-friendly buy that Amazon shoppers love is the E.l.f. Poreless Putty Primer, which gives users that coveted blurring effect for just $10.

With this in mind, it's best to hold onto your calamine lotion for pesky bug bites and rashes.

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