The 15 Best Primers for Oily Skin for Shine-Free Skin All Day, Tested & Reviewed

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If your T-zone suffers from the mid-afternoon oil slick, a primer could literally change your life.

<p>InStyle / Jhett Thompson</p>

InStyle / Jhett Thompson

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a $200 or $2 foundation, nothing challenges a long-wear makeup formula like oily skin. We find it infuriating when we spend time carving out our cheekbones with contour or blending a sultry smoky eye only for our shiny skin and greasy lids to ruin it within hours, or sometimes even minutes, depending on the humidity that day. One of the things we dread the most is catching a glimpse of ourselves in the office bathroom looking ten steps beyond a glossy glow with makeup sliding all over the place.

Thankfully, the right primer can provide a sunbeam of hope in counteracting this effect by “creating a barrier between the skin and makeup, to prevent the oils from your skin from breaking down the makeup,” says Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Idriss Dermatology in New York City. What’s more, many go beyond the call of duty to fend off oils throughout the day and include helpful ingredients that can treat acne, provide sun protection, moisturize skin, and even mitigate oil production over time.

Still, if we’re being honest, we didn’t consider primers the most exciting part of our makeup routine. Who really needs or wants another step in their routine? But once we began our research to find the most popular options on the market right now, we discovered they actually provide a strong first line of defense against the enemy that is slippery skin and now we can’t imagine our makeup routine without one. We tapped InStyle editors for their all-time favorites and referenced insights from our intensive and thorough real-world tests conducted at our New York City-based lab. Our writer with oily skin also requested several formulas from PR to conduct additional real-world testing, putting the primer up against sweaty commutes, hot outdoor events, and long hours of wear. We considered the texture, blendability, application, and overall appearance under makeup. We also evaluated other factors like added skincare benefits and how long the formula kept makeup in place. We then rounded out our list by asking three highly sought-after makeup artists and a board-certified dermatologist for their favorite formulas. Finally, we narrowed the search down to 15 formulas that received the InStyle stamp of approval.

Best Overall: Smashbox The Original Photo Finish Smooth & Blur Oil-Free Foundation Primer

$16 at

$42 at

What We Love: The oil-free primer blurs our pores, keeps makeup in place all day, and uses anti-inflammatory, plant-based extracts to calm redness and strengthen the skin barrier.

What We Don’t Love: It takes a little longer to dry than other primers.

Smashbox presented me with my ultimate desert island pick of primers: It kept my shiny skin at bay, only letting the right amount of glow shine through and prevented my makeup from sliding into pores and crevices, even after a day spent walking around on a warm day and sweating. But don’t just take my word for it, makeup artists Elizabeth Seropian and Kyle Brown also swear by the primer’s oil-free formula — a crucial element, as most oily skin tends to also be acne-prone — and Brown adds to its list of all-star attributes that work to “instantly smooth, blur, and mattify your complexion for perfectly prepped skin.”

And boy, is he right. When I swiped the clear gel across my problem areas, like the larger pores around my nose and dull, dry areas along the sides of my cheeks, it had the same brightening and skin-softening effect on my pores and fine lines as the Instagram Paris filter has on our photos. It gave me enough confidence to leave the house wearing just this primer and not a stitch of makeup, but I was equally thrilled to see how well our foundation rested on top, looking totally natural without any evidence of pilling. We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention that it earned our Best Primer for Oily Skin award after being scrutinized without mercy by InStyle editors during our tough real-world test last year.

I’ll admit, my conception of what a primer would feel like — thick, goopy, restrictive — was totally wrong. Applying the silky formula actually felt like an extension of my skincare routine. The Smashbox formula contains a host of antioxidants, such as vitamins A and E, and grape seed extract, to prevent inflammation and damage from environmental stressors (Think: pollution and UV radiation), which exacerbates oily skin and disrupts your skin barrier.

One suggestion: Give this primer at least a minute to dry before rushing to judgment on its efficacy. While it applies like a gel (which may read as greasy to those with oily skin), it dries down to an invisible matte finish that we think you’ll be very pleased with.

Key Ingredients: Grape seed extract, camellia oleifera leaf extract | Base: Silicone | Texture: Gel | Size: 1 oz 

Best Drugstore: NYX Professional Makeup Shine Killer Mattifying Face Primer

$15 at

$15 at

What We Love: NYX leans on charcoal to absorb extra oil and provide skin with a natural-looking matte finish.

What We Don’t Love: It can leave behind a gray cast if you don’t give it a good shake before applying it.

NYX should come with a little cape considering the way this humble drugstore brand has developed some of our favorite multitasking, superhero products that save our eyeliner from smudging and eyebrows from budging. Now, Seropian adds another to the list with the recommendation of Shine Killer, a primer that she considers another problem-solving product. “This primer effectively controls shine and maintains a matte complexion,” she says.

Though its vegan ingredient list is short, it contains one particularly beneficial element for controlling sheen — charcoal. If you’re unfamiliar with this powerful powder, its having a moment in nearly every beauty category, from shampoos to toothpaste, for the ability to draw out impurities and, when tapped as a skincare ingredient it soaks up oil with the efficiency of a kitchen sponge.

The one downside to using charcoal is that in this particular instance, it can become separated from the other ingredients in the formula and might leave behind a gray residue. The workaround here is to shake the primer super well before applying it so that it all mixes together and creates one unified product that simultaneously hydrates skin and sops up extra oil.

Key Ingredients: Charcoal powder | Base: Silicone | Texture: Gel | Size: 0.67 oz

Best Splurge: Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base

$69 at

$69 at

What We Love: Working as both a moisturizer and a primer, the formula is filled with super hydrating ingredients that won’t clog pores or feel heavy on skin.

What We Don’t Love: Grapefruit extract gives the product a light, citrusy scent that may not please everyone.

Following a freshly cleansed face and a facial roller, what better feeling is there than slathering on a rich moisturizer at the end of your skincare routine? We’ll tell you: It’s massaging this best-selling primer from Bobbi Brown. Its true superpower lies in the smart hybrid formula that saves you time by working as both a skin-softening moisturizer and also a skin-evening primer that grips makeup in place all day for skin that looks radiant and hydrated without veering into oily territory.

Honestly, from the outset, we raised our eyebrows when Brown suggested we try this pricier pick and questioned if the ultra-creamy formula would sit like a heavy blanket on our oily skin or even worse, trigger a breakout. He patiently reassured us (a few times), saying: “Don’t let the thick-looking texture fool you, this product is surprisingly lightweight and easily melts into the skin, leaving nothing but a perfect base for your makeup.”

Plus, we reasoned that since we’re getting two products in one (a primer and a moisturizer), we felt better about spending a little extra, especially once we read the ingredient list. The A+ formula is filled with all of the wonderful, non-comedogenic, and non-greasy oils that we not only want, like hyaluronic acid and squalane, that our skin needs in order to stay well-balanced, hydrated, and healthy.

What’s even better is that those prone to irritation will bask in the calming, anti-inflammatory properties provided by shea butter and grapefruit extracts — just note that grapefruit has a subtle, citrusy scent many people love, but perhaps skip this pick if that’s not your thing.

Key Ingredients: Vitamins B, C, and E, hyaluronic acid, grapefruit | Base: Water | Texture: Cream | Size: 1.7 oz

Best Oil-Free: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer

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$20 at

What We Love: The unusual pink formula sinks into skin like a dream, leaving us with a lightweight, matte canvas that looks just as good without makeup.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t completely blur pores.

Having issues with flaky, peeling makeup? Not on Rihanna’s watch! Whether you’re heading to hot yoga or have a particularly grueling summer subway commute, where it always feels 20 degrees hotter this primer from her eponymous brand erases shine and ensures you arrive with fresh-looking skin. Sweat? We don’t know her.

We’re not just saying that, either. Last year, we put the primer up against some stiff competition, testing it against some of the most popular primers on the market. It prevailed, earning our Best Overall title as the best primer for mattifying skin as it instantly absorbed oil without leaving complexions dry. In fact, this ingenious formula won over our InStyle editor who (formerly) was a self-described primer-hater, but with just two pumps, it covered her entire face with ease.

While Seropian agreed, and touted how this long-lasting, oil-free formula stops blush (or bronzer or foundation, or basically anything else) from sliding down your cheekbones and causing the exaggerated wing of a liner that reaches your temples from making its descent, if we’re being totally honest, we’re also drawn to it because, honestly, it’s sexy.

That’s not normally a term we’d use to describe a primer, but everything about it is lush, from the soft, romantic pink color to the enticing lineup of hydrating ingredients, especially glycerin, to transform the skin’s surface into a pillowy-like texture, making this a real treat to use.

Although it won’t totally erase your pores (but really, what does?), we’re pretty confident that the silky finish it provides will win you over anyway.

Key Ingredients: Glycerin | Base: Water | Texture: Cream | Size: 1 oz  

Best Long-Wear: Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer

$20 at

$20 at

What We Love: Even without the use of silicones, this primer extends the wear of makeup, as hyaluronic acid forbids dehydration — a true foe when it comes to oily skin — and keeps skin balanced.

What We Don’t Love: It feels pretty sticky when you initially apply it.

If this Milk Makeup primer were a band, the InStyle team would be a certified groupie — just take a look back through our archives and you’ll see we’re huge fans (particularly when we paired with its setting spray). Our editors even put it up against a rigorous test against 38 other primers and it came on top as the best one to keep makeup intact and flawless all day long.

And we are the only admirers — Brown also raves about it. “This primer is a staple in my makeup kit,” he says, adding that he gets the best results by tapping it into the skin with his fingers and letting it get a little tacky before moving on to makeup.

We know this texture may sound unappealing, but anyone who has fallen victim to the slip and slide effect deeply understands the need for a primer that could be confused for superglue. Since there’s no safe superglue for the face, Milk Makeup’s primer is the next best thing because the tackiness does, in fact, disappear within seconds.

However, this is a futuristic makeup product: Although you can no longer feel any stickiness, the formula’s blue agave extract washes over the skin, forming an invisible layer overtop that grips makeup and holds it tight until you’re ready to take it all off.

Just trust us on this. We’d bet the ranch that you’ll be so shocked by the entire experience of wearing this primer that you won’t even notice that your skin looks extra glowy and hydrated from the niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. Actually, it bridges the gap between skincare and makeup so flawlessly, that when we tested it, we began using it not only as a base to wear under makeup but also on its own as a moisturizer for our natural skin days.

Key Ingredients: Blue agave extract, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, aloe water | Base: Water | Texture: Gel | Size: 1.52 oz

Best for Sensitive Skin: Jane Iredale Smooth Affair Mattifying Face Primer

$55 at

$55 at

What We Love: Natural, plant-based emollients preserve moisture within the skin barrier, preventing the overproduction of oil, while also magically ensuring a beautiful, matte complexion.

What We Don’t Love: The consistency is a little runny, causing it to come out of the packaging fast.

Dealing with sensitive, oily skin can feel like playing a high stakes game of poker — one wrong move and all the progress we made is of null value. To keep my reactive skin happy, I gravitated toward this formula, brimming with glycerin, hibiscus bark and rose geranium extract, all of which are non-comedogenic, moisturizing emollients that blended seamlessly with my makeup.

These enticing ingredients felt extremely soothing when I applied them over a patch of red bumps along the sides of my cheeks that I had the misfortune of sporting at the time. The primer seemed to act as a barrier between my angry skin and the foundation and concealer I piled on top of it. But, truthfully, I didn’t come to these results without some initial skepticism.

Let me explain: The primer had the runny consistency of a face oil, and when I warmed it up between my fingertips, the texture felt like it would dissolve before the makeup had a chance to stick to it. Yet, even though it didn’t have any of the tackiness I’d normally expect from a long-lasting primer, it kept makeup in place throughout the workday so no one was any wiser to the congestion I had going on underneath — and all without provoking another menacing reaction from my skin I might add.

However, what really caught my attention is the formula’s inclusion of red algae extract. Marine algae, particularly red algae, contains bioactive compounds that are filled with an almost ridiculous amount of lipids, proteins, amino acids, minerals, and carbohydrates. This intense cellular makeup, when used in skincare formulations, is known to provide anti-aging benefits as well as improve the skin’s ability to protect itself against damage caused by UV light. In fact, these ingredients left my natural skin looking so cushiony and buoyant after using it consistently for several days I started skipping foundation altogether.

Don’t shy away from the primer’s slight pink tint — it absorbs quickly into the skin without leaving any residue in its wake. One more suggestion: Be sure to use a light touch when squeezing the product out of its packaging or you could end up with more product than you need.

Key Ingredients: Hibiscus bark extract, red algae extract, rose geranium leaf extract | Base: Water | Texture: Liquid | Size: 1.7 oz

Best Lightweight: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer

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$24 at

What We Love: The primer taps zinc oxide to counteract oil production and shields skin from UVA rays, all while feeling like you don’t have a drop of product on your skin.

What We Don’t Love: It’s difficult to get the right amount out of the bottle.

From its dark circle-dissolving concealers to its plumping lip gloss, Hourglass is the bellwether of complexion-enhancing products. To be honest, we weren’t really sure if we were going to go mad for the Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer the way we did with its sister product, the Hourglass Vanish Primer, but after using just once, the Veil Mineral Primer earned a coveted spot in our beauty routines. Because of how airy the consistency feels on our skin, we liken it to a favorite summer sundress: An ultra-light linen fabric you wear when it's so hot out that you can’t bear the thought of anything touching your skin.

In fact, we gave this Hourglass primer a spin during our official test in our NYC-based Lab last year, and we found that it worked beautifully across skin tones, especially on the editors who are prone to flashes of redness and irritation. During the test, we found that our foundation applied beautifully, without cracks or patchiness, from the second we smoothed the cloud-like texture over our skin. It sank into our skin immediately, rather than simply sitting on top, to create a hydrated, smooth base that kept our skin feeling velvety all day long.

Leaving out heavy, potentially pore-clogging irritants like sulfates, oil, gluten, and fragrance, the formula has this weightless effect and makes it safer for sensitive skin types to wear without fear. By making these sensible swaps, Hourglass relies on gentler alternatives, namely titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, to sponge up oil from skin without over-drying it, as well as guarding against damaging rays with SPF 15 sun protection.

After applying, Seropian says you’ll see a satin, pore-blurring finish ready for whatever makeup you want to wear on top. We should note: One thing to watch for before you start slathering it all over is the pump; it can be finicky by either dispensing too much or too little product.

Key Ingredients: Titanium dioxide 2.45%, zinc oxide 4.2% | Base: Silicone | Texture: Cream | Size: 1 oz

Best for Irritated Skin: Youth to the People Superfood Air-Whip Moisture Cream

$16 at

$16 at

What We Love: This primer delivers a radiant glow that looks especially great on dry or mature skin as its all-natural, vegan formula diminishes shine and works to reduce oil production with continued use.

What We Don’t Love: It may not be hydrating enough for super dry skin.

Similar to its fanbase (think: Kaia Gerber and Paige DeSorbo), Youth to the People’s primer is exclusive — it only allows non-comedogenic, vegan ingredients into its mix. After learning this, I greedily dipped my fingers into the whipped cream-like texture and slathered a liberal amount all across my cheeks and forehead, because, finally, I wasn’t worried about my easily irritated skin breaking out from questionable ingredients.

What makes this moisturizer suitable as a primer is how quickly it sunk into my skin, even with its buttery, rich consistency, and smoothed-out texture so that my makeup applied like a dream on top of it. I tested it in early July as temperatures topped out at 95 degrees and even though I (probably) over-applied the primer, my pores could still breathe under the light fluffy formula made up of nutrient-rich plant extracts like aloe and hyaluronic acid.

Essentially, it checked nearly every box we look for when seeking out a primer for oily skin and did we mention it contains vitamins A and E that target and reduce skin roughness, plus minimize the depth of wrinkles?

Also, we were pleasantly surprised to note green tea made the cut, too, since it can be beneficial in reducing sebum production and treating acne without irritating sensitive skin. Kale and spinach, on the other hand, not only boost hydration, but they’re filled with vitamins A, C, and K, which could strengthen the skin barrier against environmental damage that could lead to signs of aging.

I loved how plump and radiant my skin looked after using it for several days, but if you find your skin needing even more hydration, I suggest the equally beloved Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream.

Key Ingredients: Kale, spinach, green tea, alfalfa, vitamin C, vitamin E | Base: Water | Texture: Cream | Size: 2 oz

Best Vegan: Lune+Aster PorePerfecting Primer

$36 at

$32 at

What We Love: This all-vegan formula conditions skin and gives it a subtle radiance that doesn’t add to our shine.

What We Don’t Love: It contains added fragrance, which could irritate very sensitive skin.

This product is the primer with the Midas touch, and we mean that in a literal sense — it actually incorporates gold flecks into its formula. We know this sounds like an oxymoron. Still, my skin looked nothing less than totally luminous without veering into dewy territory, likely due to the generous amount of rice bran oil, an ingredient that supplies skin with a daily dose of fatty acids and vitamin E, within the primer.

In terms of consistency, I’d liken its texture to a non-sticky, clear version of Silly Putty. It had enough tack to effectively keep my makeup from sliding into fine lines, dry patches, or tight crevices, like the sides of my nose. However, the jelly-adjacent texture never subjected my skin to that tight, constricting feeling of an overly sticky primer and instead allowed me to jostle up against strangers in a crowded, compact concert venue and emerge hours later with my makeup fully intact.

Moreover, those with textured skin will adore the way this primer evens out rough texture to give skin a smooth, and seemingly airbrush effect, rendering saucer-sized pores into tiny specks. To top it off, conditioning oils and hyaluronic acid prevent moisture from escaping to keep skin nourished and radiant.

Like our all-time favorite foundation brush from the brand, this formula also uses only vegan ingredients to deliver these wow-worth results. According to the brand, the primer was tested by a dermatologist and is hypoallergenic, so those with sensitive skin needn't worry. The added fragrance didn’t cause my skin to flare up either, but if you’ve experienced issues with scented skincare in the past, we always recommend doing a patch test.

Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, apricot oil, passion fruit oil  | Base: Silicone | Texture: Gel | Size: 1.06 oz

Best for Dry Skin: Nars Soft Matte Primer

$36 at

$36 at

What We Love: Although it dries down to a silky matte finish, this primer still offers plenty of moisturizing benefits so neither skin nor makeup looks flat.

What We Don’t Love: It has a smell that could trigger sensitive noses.

As one of those unfortunate souls with a hopelessly oily T-zone, I’ve found it challenging to feel confident attending any outdoor event knowing that my makeup will start to slide down my face and resemble a Picasso painting within an hour of being in the hot sun.

I was particularly concerned about potential shininess coming through during a wedding I was attending during the criminally humid and sticky month of August in Alabama, but I’m delighted to report that this primer gave my skin a matte finish that kept my makeup so secure, it lasted from the second the bride’s mother stepped onto the aisle until we threw the final grain of rice.

And, I have a thoughtful, lightweight formula to thank for it. We’ve said it before but it still bears repeating: The culprit behind a slick T-zone is the skin overcompensating for not having enough moisture, and it’s a hard road for those of us who have the one-two punch of finding a primer for oily and dry skin. Celebrity makeup artist Uzo tells us that Nars understands this cause-and-effect better than most other primers by tapping plant-based, non-comedogenic and moisture-replenishing extracts, such as sunflower, rosemary, and rice bran, that skim over pores, not clog them.

Moreover, the inclusion of the omega-6 and antioxidant-rich cocoa seed extract may leave your skin with less redness because it calms inflammation and defends it against the effects of irritants like pollution.

Additionally, if I ever need an eyeshadow primer that achieves similar results I’ll turn to InStyle editors’ favorite from Nars, which earned our top spot in a test we conducted last year on the best eyeshadow primers that create a flawless canvas for eye makeup. Similar to this face primer, we found it super easy to blend into skin and couldn’t believe the stronghold it kept on our shimmery eyeshadow all day and night without letting a single sparkle fall.

Although we appreciate that the formula leaves out added fragrance, we do wish it smelled at least a little bit better…but luckily it dissipates quickly after application.

Key Ingredients: Rosemary extract, rice extract, sunflower extract | Base: Water | Texture: Cream |  Size: 1 oz  

Best for Blurring Pores: Shiseido Synchro Skin Soft Blurring Primer

$36 at

$36 at

What We Love: With a proprietary blend of powders, Shiseido’s best-selling primer absorbs oil and shrinks the look of pores.

What We Don’t Love: For a creamy formula, the consistency is still a little runny.

By now, we know it’s impossible to revert our pores back to the good old days when attempting to clear blackheads from our skin wasn’t even on our radar. However, that unfortunate phase has passed, and now that we’re older and wiser, we simply use a primer to reduce their appearance to nearly invisible dots.

Uzo says Shiseido does just the trick by harnessing “special blurring powders that maximize light diffusion, to make skin look ultra-smooth with a soft-focus effect.” When combined, these peptide-rich powders quickly absorb oil from the skin and keep future oil at bay. One of these powders — mica — may be a surprising inclusion because it can give skin a subtle shimmer, which sounds like just about the last thing someone with oily skin would want, but somehow it just works, leaving skin looking soft and airbrushed.

Despite looking a little thick when you first dispense it, the texture of this innovative cream-to-powder primer feels featherweight on the skin without any trace of the heavy, mask-like layer. We wouldn’t even mind if it was a bit thicker since it tends to be a little runny, though the upside to this is that it spreads like butter across our skin.

Key Ingredients: Glycol, sebum catching powder, snowflake powder | Base: Water | Texture: Cream | Size: 1 oz

Best Mattifying: One/Size Secure the Sweat Waterproof Mattifying Primer

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What We Love: Using unique natural ingredients like bamboo marrow and sage, this primer locks makeup in place, even around tricky, sweat-prone areas, such as your T-zone and lower chin.

What We Don’t Love: A little bit goes a long way and overapplying it may cause some of your makeup to pill.

We didn’t realize something with the word “sweat” in its title could look so adorable, but the Barbie-pink packaging is only the beginning of what we love about the One/Size primer. “The ingredients in this primer help to absorb excess sweat and oil, while the squalane prevents dry skin, creating the perfect balance,” says Brown, who adds that it's also waterproof, so won’t have to worry about a summer thunderstorm dampening your glam.

And while yes, when we’re dealing with oily skin we pretty much want every primer to provide us with a matte finish, this one goes above and beyond, starting with the innovative formula.  The formula was developed with a synthetic derivative of zinc called Zinc PCA, which is commonly used throughout the skincare industry for the treatment of acne and balancing the skin’s production of sebum.

As a bonus, natural skin tightening plant-based extracts, such as horsetail, sage, and bamboo powder, act as hydrators, anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and antibacterials, meaning that skin also receives a hearty dose of health in addition to oil control.This primer should pair well with whatever makeup you lay over top of it, but you may need to work with it in smaller amounts to avoid pilling.

Key Ingredients: Bamboo powder, sage, squalene | Base: Water | Texture: Gel |  Size: 1 oz

Best with SPF: Charlotte Tilbury Invisible UV Flawless Primer SPF 50

$55 at

$55 at

What We Love: This SPF 50 primer enables you to skip a couple of steps in your skincare routine, courtesy of the formula’s hydrating ingredients that also provide long-lasting staying power.

What We Don’t Love: It’s not super mattifying.

Sun and sweat go hand-in-hand, but so do damaging UV rays, so why not find a primer that tackles both problems, plus a couple of others? To our delight, Brown shortened our search process by offering this Charlotte Tilbury primer. He loves it not just for the high level of sun protection it provides (as a reminder, dermatologists advise using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30), but also for its hydrating and soothing properties from skin-savvy ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and aloe.

According to Brown, this primer is suitable for all skin types since it “perfectly primes, hydrates, and protects the skin against the harmful effects of the sun,” yet we’re particularly fond of using it on oily skin because the water-based formula won’t cause congestion.

Though it may not give you a super matte finish, we feel the radiance it delivers makes up for it. Case in point: Vitamin C and the anti-inflammatory benefits that come along with it. This one ingredient makes the primer great not only for controlling excess oil, but also boosting collagen production over time, resulting in plumper-looking skin, improved elasticity, and less noticeable pores. What’s even better is the addition of vitamin E, as the duo works together to create a strong shield against oxidative damage, which is defined as stress from environmental factors, like solar radiation and pollution.

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid | Base: Water | Texture: Cream | Size: 1 oz

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Jori Acne Oil Control Primer

$70 at

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What We Love: With two percent salicylic acid, this is both a primer and an acne treatment to fight breakouts while smoothing the texture of skin.

What We Don’t Love: You shouldn’t use it every day if you have sensitive skin.

As the beauty industry continues to move toward a skin-first, makeup-second world, we're constantly on the lookout for products that double down on both fronts to help make our skin healthy and happy. We still want to wear makeup but we want our skin to breathe and look like, well, our skin.

“This primer helps blur imperfections and it also treats acne with two percent salicylic acid.” As a refresher: Salicylic acid is every clogged pore’s nightmare, as this gentle exfoliator clears dead skin cells, dirt, and grimy congestion from skin, all of which — if not sloughed away — lead to an excess of oil.

In addition to salicylic acid, the primer is spiked with zinc, an antiseptic that’s been proven to be a powerful soldier against acne-causing bacteria. By blending zinc with the soothing properties of aloe vera, niacinamide, and skull cap (which sounds kind of terrifying, but it’s just the opposite; it’s simply another very helpful plant-based anti-inflammatory), which neutralizes redness caused by irritation.

And though these ingredients should be generally safe for all skin types, it's important to keep in mind that this is still a potent acne treatment, meaning that you probably don’t want to apply it every day (plus, it’s pricey). To avoid irritation or sensitivity, it’s best to alternate between this primer and another on this list.

Key Ingredients: 2% Salicylic acid | Base: Water | Texture: Gel | Size: 1.5 oz

Best Multi-Tasking: Lightsaver Activated Mineral Sunscreen

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What We Love: This primer-sunscreen duo really lives up to its name by simultaneously reducing shine, moisturizing skin, and protecting your dermis from the effects of harmful light and UV radiation.

What We Don’t Love: It has a slight tint.

Only using one product to solve all our skincare needs seemed like an airy-fairy concept until Dr. Idriss steered us toward this primer, which we have to admit gets us pretty close. “The Lightsaver Mineral Sunscreen creates a mattifying effect on the skin and ensures your skin is protected from the sun,” she says, outrightly solving two main concerns from the get-go.

Truly, wearing this sunscreen is kind of like walking around with an invisible veil over your skin, if that veil could shield you from several different kinds of harmful light, including UVA and UVB radiation, and the aging effects caused by blue-light damage.

It leans on several ingredients to safeguard your skin. First, it’s formulated with SPF 33 coverage as well as photolyase, an enzyme with an almost unbelievable ability to prevent and reverse skin damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As if that weren’t enough, it taps the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of lingonberry. This amazing little berry also has one of the highest amounts of antioxidants among all fruits and vegetables with the power to slow down the aging process by accelerating skin cell turnover, translating into rejuvenated skin that looks youthful, plump, and bouncy.

Our one wish is that the primer had totally sheer coverage instead of a tan-colored tint since we worry this could leave behind a cast on some skin tones.

Key Ingredients: Zinc oxide 14.2%, niacinamide, squalane | Base: Water | Texture: Gel | Size: 1.7 oz 

What to Keep in Mind


  • Ingredients: First and foremost, you’ll want products that are filled with oil-fighting ingredients that can also sop it up, like silica or kaolin clay. However, it all comes down to your specific skin type, says Seropian. If your skin is congested, Dr. Idriss suggests trying a primer with salicylic acid. This way, you can treat blemishes and at the same time, allow the long-term benefits to take effect to cut down on the oil your skin produces. However, if you have very, very sensitive skin you may want to use a primer with fewer drying or mattifying ingredients in favor of options that perk up complexions with nourishing ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, blue agave extract, and aloe.

  • SPF: Some primers offer SPF coverage, or you could opt for a sunscreen that doubles as a primer. Both are sustainable options, but you’ll just want to watch that the formula has enough SPF (dermatologists recommend at least SPF 30) or else you’ll need to wear a full-on sunscreen on top. For example, the Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer has SPF 15 coverage, which is a helpful touch, but that isn’t suitable to replace the use of sunscreen altogether.

  • Finish: Overall, our experts agree that those with oily skin should seek out a primer with a matte finish, but that doesn’t mean you need something that will totally flatten your look. Some products have a subtle shimmer, so you’ll still get that radiant pick-me-up but with a soft, diffused, matte finish. Ironically, hydrating products, primers included, are necessary to maintain healthy levels of moisture within the skin barrier. As such, it's smart to have the skincare version of an all-hands-on-deck outlook to avoid dehydrated skin and the cascade reaction it causes, starting with the attempt to compensate for the dryness by fast-tracking oil production.  Look for formulas with lightweight, moisture-boosting ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, niacinamide, and aloe, to get all the hydrating goodness without the grease. And don’t sleep on plant-based extracts: They can brighten the skin’s natural luminosity, giving it that healthy, dewy glow, minus the sheen.

Your Questions, Answered

What causes oily skin?

“Oily skin is caused by an overproduction of sebum, which is natural oil produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin,” says Dr. Idriss. She adds that everyone needs at least some amount of sebum to keep their skin moisturized and protected. After all,  a moisture-less, disrupted skin barrier leads to a trove of unpleasant side effects, like breakouts, inflammation, and dehydration. Of course, too much of it isn’t great either, leading to shiny T-zones or even worse, dull-looking makeup that's quick to pill or straight-up slide off.

Is silicone or water-based primer better for oily skin?

There are advantages to using both, but one isn’t necessarily better than the other. It comes down to your personal preference and skin type.

For example, water-based primers typically feel lighter than their silicone counterparts, says Dr. Idriss, who adds that they “tend to absorb quickly into the skin and may provide a more natural, weightless finish, whereas silicone primers blur imperfections and create a soft focus effect.”

If you have especially oily skin, she says that silicone-based primers are more effective when it comes to controlling oil and shine throughout the day. She says that many primers rely on ingredients like dimethicone, which is magically able to leave a smooth, silky texture on skin, while helping to fill in fine lines and large pores. On the flip side, Dr. Idriss adds that “silicone-based primers have been known to pill if you’re applying it incorrectly or layering too many products.”

To prevent this, it’s important to match the ingredient base of your favorite foundation with your primer. He explains: “If you use a silicone-based primer, use a silicone-based foundation. This will help reduce the likeliness of any pilling and therefore will create a smoother finish.” And word to the wise: If your skin is oily, liquid foundation likely isn’t doing you any favors. Try a powder foundation to sop up oil as it covers imperfections.

When do you apply primer?

Think: Skincare first, makeup second. “Primers are your base for makeup, so this should be the last step of your skincare routine even after sunscreen in some cases,” says Dr. Idriss. Additionally, you should wait around a minute or two and let it dry fully before putting anything on top to avoid flaky, pilling makeup.

Why Shop with Us

Irene Richardson is a writer covering fashion and beauty trends. For this story, she researched and tested dozens of primers for oily skin. She also consulted three makeup artists with years of experience, Uzo, Kyle Brown, and Elizabeth Seropian; and she spoke with Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist, founder of Idriss Dermatology, and creator of the #PillowtalkDerm series on Instagram.

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