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When I was a broke grad student in cloudy and overcast England, I had a giant leftover bottle of 100% aloe vera gel, a homesick longing for Sephora, and no chance of a sunburn. I was also in desperate need of a primer, but the selection at UK-based pharmacy chain Boots—imagine if CVS had a Chanel beauty counter—overwhelmed me in my jetlagged state of being. The exchange rate meant that my American dollars weren’t worth much in British pounds, and I wasn’t sure if I could afford my usual beauty basics across the pond. I read on a blog that aloe vera makes a great natural primer for your skin, so I went back to my bathroom and slathered a cool layer over my freshly-scrubbed face. Unlike the application of my favorite Smashbox Photofinish Foundation Primer, I had to wait a few minutes for the aloe vera to dry. It was inconvenient, but I liked the cooling sensation on my face.
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My face is a giant pore, but once the aloe vera gel dried, however, my tinted moisturizer and concealer glided on smoothly as if I had cover girl HD-quality skin. After over 12 months of using aloe vera as primer, I can say that it not only smooths my pores, but also controls the oil that accumulates on my face throughout the day. Aloe vera has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s an ideal budget primer for acne-prone or oily skin. Any 100% aloe vera gel works (beware of additives and preservatives that may dry out your skin), but my personal favorite is Fruit of the Earth Crystal Clear Aloe Vera Gel ($6). The 20 oz. bottle should last you a year or two, even if you get some massive sunburns.