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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 help combat over-enthusiastic oil production. These products typically contain polymers that simultaneously bind the foundation with your skin while also creating a smooth finish without looking greasy —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.
What To Look For in a Primer for Oily Skin
Consider Your Budget
Primers are trendy at the moment, and considering their myriad benefits it doesn’t look like that’ll change anytime soon. This means lots of different options, all touting basically the same technology. So when choosing the best one for you, don’t feel like a major investment is always necessary.
Pore Blurring Abilities
One of the benefits of oil-balancing primers is that they tend to make pores look less noticeable, which is a total bonus. However, if that filtered look is what you’re after, there are many primers at your beck and call, with the ability to blur pores to smooth perfection.
Formulas That Go Heavy on the Matte
Most of the oil-controlling primers on our A list are designed to help balance oil while also promoting a natural finish on the skin. However, if you crave an ultra-matte look, you’ll find a few products with the ability to give you the absolutely no-shine finish you desire.
Keep scrolling to discover the best primers for oily skin.
Best Overall: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer
Provides SPF protection
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!
Key Ingredient: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide | Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combination, oily | Dosage: Half of a pump to 1 pump | Size: 0.31 ounces, 1, ounce, 2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: 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.
Key Ingredient: Rice protein technology | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: Maybelline New York Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer
Can use alone
Can feel greasy
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.
Skin Type: All | Dosage: A thin layer | Size: 0.67 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
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
Not for those who like minimal makeup
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?
Key Ingredient: Vitamin E | Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combination, oily | Dosage: A thin layer | Size: 0.75 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Balancing: NARS Pore & Shine Control Primer
Can be drying
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.
Key Ingredient: African whitewood, oleanolic acid, peptides | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best 2-in-1: Estée Lauder The Mattifier Primer + Finisher
Can also use to set make up
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.
Skin Type: Oily, combination, balanced | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Hydrating: 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.
Key Ingredient: Willow bark, hyaluronic acid, olive oil, maqui berry | Skin Type: Oily, combination, balanced | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Lightweight: 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?
Skin Type: Oily, combination, acne-prone | Dosage: 1 scoop | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Super-Matte Finish: Becca Cosmetics Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector
Provides antioxidant protection
Reviewers note bottle is hard to squeeze
“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!
Key Ingredient: Enantia Chlorantha Bark | Skin Type: Ace-prone, combination, dry, mature, balanced, oily, sensitive | Dosage: Pea-sized amount | Size: 1.35 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
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.
What is the best primer for oily skin?
If your skin is oily and shine is a constant issue, a primer that’s designed to control oil while helping foundation to adhere to the skin could be the ideal product to use between skincare and makeup. They’re available in a variety of textures, from liquid to gel cream, ideal for a wide range of skins and preferences.
Is primer suitable for oily skin?
An oil-controlling primer can work wonders for those prone to a series case of the shinies. They not only help to balance excess sebum, but they can also extend the life of your makeup for a fresher look that lasts all day.
How can I control my oily face with makeup?
When it comes to excessively oily skin, certain types of makeup can work wonders. But you can also tackle the problem two-fold by using an oil-controlling primer before you apply foundation to provide an extra measure of oil control while helping the foundation to better adhere to the skin.