Which Makeup Primers Really Control Oil? I Tried Them All

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One simply can’t write about oil-controlling makeup without possessing some highly overactive sebaceous glands. So you can safely assume that I am no stranger to a shiny forehead—it’s something I’ve tried combatting with everything from harsh cleansers to blotting papers.

Oil-controlling primers, my most recent discovery, promise to not only make your makeup stay put all day (which is hard enough to achieve when you have a shiny complexion), but to also combat over-enthusiastic oil production. These products typically contain polymers that simultaneously bind the foundation with your skin while also creating a smooth finish—the perfect canvas for makeup. Some also have ingredients that can help control shine, like silica. The result? An even, sheen-free finish and makeup that lasts all day. It almost sounds too good to be true, which is why I put these popular products to the test.

Keep scrolling to discover the best primers for oily skin.

Best Overall: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer

Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer

It took all of three seconds for me to fall in love with this primer—the words “mineral” and “paraben-free” caught my attention immediately, and I’m a sucker for any makeup claiming to be even vaguely natural. After removing the lid, I used two pumps of the smooth, velvety formula on my wrist. Feels like satin, I thought, before spreading a pea-sized amount of the solution over my face. 

Compared with other primers I’ve tried, this one definitely feels less greasy, so I had high hopes for it. I coated my skin with liquid foundation, dabbed bareMinerals concealer under my eyes, swiped some Nars bronzer across my cheekbones, and checked out my complexion in the mirror. Evenly-covered, a little dewy, but not oily—a good start.

For the first few hours, I sat around the house working on a story, and at around 11 a.m. I took my primer out for a test run on the subway, an experience I rarely escape without at least a little sheen. By the time the sun went down, I was still shine-free. I think we’ve found a winner, folks!

Best Budget: Neutrogena Shine Control Primer

Neutrogena Shine Control Primer

At $12, Neutrogena’s primer is certainly a budget option, but don’t let the price fool you into thinking it’s ineffective. I was impressed with the product’s longevity, and my skin remained shine-free, even after navigating the subway and walking around the city for over an hour. It glides on easily, and liquid foundation follows evenly over the top. After about five hours, I felt like I needed to touch up, however, during that time my complexion was a little glowy, but not at all shiny. However, this product does contain fragrance, so if your skin’s on the touchy side, be sure to do a spot-test before applying it all over your face.

Best Drugstore: Maybelline New York Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer

maybelline baby skin instant pore eraser

Maybelline's primer might be a great affordable option, but it feels just as undetectable as its pricier counterparts. And for the days when you want to go easy on the makeup application, it has enough skin-perfecting power to be worn alone. But the best bit is that it's clear, making it a great option for a range of skin tones.

What Our Testers Say

"Most importantly, it extended the wear time of my foundation and prevented it from transferring or moving around on my face. Bottom line: this stuff works." — Olivia Hancock, Product Tester

Best Long-Wearing: Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer

Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer

Like a bottled Instagram filter, Benefit's primer is slightly thicker than the ones you might have used before, so it's best suited for those who don't mind wearing a lot of makeup. Once on, it was as though I'd put a plug in each one of my pores. And it didn't just keep my foundation in place all day—it also lasted through my evening run. Impressive, right?

Best Balancing: NARS Pore & Shine Control Primer

Nars Pore & Shine Control Primer

This primer from Nars mops up any excess sebum to leave an all-around more matte complexion. It also contains oil-inhibiting African whitewood, nourishing oleanolic acid, and plenty of peptides to help balance the skin going forward, making it so much more than just a temporary fix.

Best 2-in-1: Estée Lauder The Mattifier Primer + Finisher

Estée Lauder The Mattifier Primer + Finisher

This one is close to joining Double Wear in the Estée Lauder Hall of Fame. An oil-controlling primer as well as a "finisher," you can use this first as a base before your makeup to keep any shine at bay. Then lightly tap an extra layer over the top of your foundation and concealer to lock it all down. If you're not fussed on powders, this is your new go-to.

Best Hydrating: Bite Beauty Changemaker Skin-Optimizing Primer

Bite Beauty Changemaker Skin-Optimizing Primer

Now, we may want to mattify skin, but we don't want to take away all the sheen that makes us look fresh and glowy. Bite Beauty's Changemaker primer hits that sweet spot just perfectly. It feels more like a moisturizer than a primer thanks to hyaluronic acid and olive oil included in the formula, and it contains mattifying willow bark to control shine and blur pores.

Best Lightweight: Illamasqua Matte Veil Primer

Illamasqua Matte Veil Primer

If you don't like the feel of heavy creams or products on your skin, Illamasqua's super-light cream-gel formula could be a winner. While the mattifying ingredients work to absorb excess oil and literally form a shine-controlling "veil" over your face all day, oil-free moisturising agents such as glycerin make sure you don't dry out either. Because who wants flaky makeup, right?

Best Super-Matte Finish: Becca Cosmetics Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector

Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector

“Too matte” is not a phrase one expects to hear from a girl who publicly laments her oily complexion, but here we are: Becca’s Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector is just overly effective. Basically, a super-matte look is the one you're striving for, then this is the product for you. I’d heard that this stuff lasts all day, and indeed it was a good eight or nine hours before I thought my skin started to show hints of that all-too-familiar sheen—a Herculean effort!

There’s a strategic way you’re supposed to apply this particular formula, too. It absorbs fast, so foundation needs to go on quickly afterward. If you rub it into the skin, it can dry and ball up (not cute), so instead, warm up your hands first and then tap the primer across your face until it absorbs.

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