There's a difference between glowing skin (read: radiance from strategic highlighter) and greasy skin. Oily skin often creates a constant battle to keep your makeup from melting off, exacerbated in hot weather and humidity. The solution: a face primer.
Like primers for paint, makeup primers are applied after skincare products and before foundation to prep skin and help makeup last longer throughout the day," says makeup artist Vincent Oquendo. These cosmetic formulas use ingredients like silicones to temporarily fill in, or “spackle over” textural irregularities such as pores and wrinkles, leaving a smooth canvas behind. Makeup primers formulated specially for oily skin "generally contain absorbent particulates that soak up oils from skin and have a more powdery feel," says Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. Look for key words like mattifying, oil-free, or pore-minimizing on product packaging and oil-reducing, mattifying ingredients like silica, clays or starches to keep skin shine-free all day.
The GH Beauty Lab has a history of testing makeup primers on consumers for factors like ease of application and skin smoothing and pore blurring effects. In the most recent primer test, consumers of a variety of skin types, including oily, evaluated them for ease of use, performance and overall satisfaction. Below, we've rounded up the best primers mattifying primers for oily skin based on GH Beauty Lab testing, editor favorites and top-reviewed picks, including drugstore buys:
No7's powerhouse primer, a Good Housekeeping Seal star, is great for oily skin, but it has anti-aging benefits, too: Its hyaluronic acid spheres instantly soften wrinkles and blur imperfections. More than 70% of testers reported that it made their fine lines and pores look less visible in 10 minutes.
- Minimizes the look of pores
- Softens lines
Kaolin clay works to control oil and mattify in this E.L.F. Cosmetics drugstore pick, while tea tree oil helps clarify skin. "I have incredibly oily skin and I have tried everything from the drug stores to the 'high end' products and everything in between, and nothing has worked," says one reviewer, praising this primer as the only one that has ever worked for their skin.
- Controls oil and shine with clarifying tea tree oil
- Keeps skin matte throughout wear
- Bargain price
Think of this affordable Maybelline lightweight lotion like Photoshop in a tube —a drop will prep and perfect skin. "This is a particularly great option for oily skin with problem pores because it helps to fill in the pores, allowing for smoother skin," Oquendo explains.
- Minimizes the appearance of pores
- Smooths skin
This luxurious Tatcha primer comes in a balm form, so it's easy to swipe on. "It is practically the only primer I have tried that doesn’t make my makeup run," says GH Beauty Lab Chemist Danusia Wnek. "It keeps foundation locked, minimizes the look of pores and keeps me matte all day long. There is a learning curve with this one: Less is more and I tap it (not rub) into the T-zone area of skin. I can absolutely notice a difference when I use it and when I don’t with product application, look and longevity."
- Lasting matte finish
- Minimizes pores
Didn't think it was possible to have a radiant glow while trying to combat oil? Think again. Givenchy's mattifying primer also helps illuminate and boost radiance, so you can have the dewy (not greasy!) finish of your dreams. "It gives a glow without look like an oil slick, whilst keeping the make up totally in place and makes my skin a lot more flawless/smoother than usual," raves one reviewer.
- Boosts radiance
- Keeps makeup looking fresh all day
If minimizing large pores is your main concern, try Smashbox's formula to help smooth skin to a soft, velvety texture, making makeup look more uniform longer. "I have tried many primers that promise a matte look and they are either too drying and cause my skin to flake or they don’t take away the shine enough and I’m constantly reapplying," explains one reviewer. "This one is the perfect balance and fairly long lasting."
- Blurs the appearance of pores
- Doesn't dry out skin
By absorbing oil, Laura Mercier's blurring primer keeps your face matte throughout the day and is formulated with good-for-your-skin ingredients itself, like glycerin and squalane to balance combination skin. "This doesn’t change the finish of the foundation that you put on top, it just completely blurs out any texture imperfections you have," says one reviewer.
- Blurs out imperfections
- Formulated with nourishing ingredients
- Absorbs oil
Not only is this gentle Tarte gel primer mattifying, it's also waterproof, so no matter what, your makeup will stay in place. It's hydrating while also working to even out texture for the smoothest finish. "Game changer for incredibly sensitive and oily skin," raves on reviewer. "First primer I have ever tried that worked wonders — absolutely worth the price, and a little bit goes a long way."
- Works on oily and sensitive skin
- Waterproof formula
This Estée Lauder primer keeps oil at bay while smoothing out mature skin and wrinkles for a flawless base, enhanced by antioxidants like green tea. "I find this primer looks a lot better under makeup than other mattifying primers I’ve tried," a reviewer reports.
- Controls oil and shine
- Keeps makeup looking fresh all day
- Enhanced with antioxidants
What can't this Hourglass primer do? Not only does it help keep skin matte and oil-free, it also color-corrects redness, makes pores look invisible and smooths out fine lines and wrinkles before makeup. "This is a beautiful product and makes my make up look so smooth," a reviewer noted. "It makes my face feel smooth and very soft to the touch."
- Reduces redness
- Silky finish
- Minimizes pores
Not only does this MAC primer create a smooth canvas for makeup, it also gently exfoliates your skin as you apply it, which helps skin stay oil-free throughout the day and can refine pores and smooth skin texture like acne scars. "I had tried primers, multiple different foundations, moisturizers, the works," says one reviewer. "I still wound up looking shiny, greasy and sticky before lunch. Enter this product. It kept me matte until long after work."
- Gently exfoliating to smooth pores and scars
- Cancels shine
GH Seal star Olay's face sunscreen, a GH Beauty Lab test winner, functions as a primer, keeping greasy skin at bay. It came in highest for leaving a matte finish on every skin type and tied for best texture and not being sticky, rating first with oily-skinned users.
- Provides sun protection
- Mattifies skin