I Was Sick of Makeup Melting Off My Oily Skin—These 14 Primers Actually Helped



We've talked about it before—primers are known for their relatively controversial nature. For the most part, people seem to fall into one of two camps: 100% pro primer or 100% against. Few seem to be on the fence. However, after shunning most primers for years and simply letting my oily skin have its way with my foundation (it never ended well), I got sick of my perpetually melty face and decided to dabble. The key to finding an amazing primer? Hone in on the specific formulas that cater to your particular skin type or skin concerns. And if you're oily, certain primers are going to be a far more successful bet than others. 

In general, a good rule of thumb for those with oily skin is to shop for primers specifically stating they were created with oily skin types in mind, and some other keywords and phrases to look for are "matte," "oil-free," "noncomedogenic," "blurring," etc. Although there are a few exceptions (which I will point out below), most glow- and dew-enhancing primers probably won't bode well for anyone whose complexion goes full-on oil slick by noon. (Trust me—I'm one of those people.)

To help you wade through all of your options, my fellow beauty editor Courtney Higgs and I are sharing 14 of the best primers for oily skin we've personally tried and recommend to people with grease-prone skin. Plus, we've gone a step further by sharing our favorite shine-curbing foundations said primers play especially well with. Keep scrolling! 

The OG Favorite: MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Skin 

When I asked my fellow beauty editor Courtney Higgs to share her favorite primers for dealing with oily skin, she immediately shared this cult-classic formula from MAC Cosmetics. "This primer is great for oily skin because it's so lightweight but super effective for evening everything out and keeping your skin balanced—it's pretty perfect with the MAC Studio Face and Body Foundation since they're both so light on top of the face."

Pair it with: 

The Filter Effect: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Mattifying Primer

"This mattifying, oil-free primer from Fenty is very good for oily skin types," notes Courtney. "I think it's best paired with the Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation—its filter-effect formulas go hand-in-hand and make your complexion look sooooo nice." 

Pair it with: 

The SPF Hybrid: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

Okay, technically, this best-selling sunscreen is, indeed, a sunscreen. But the 100% invisible, featherlight gel formula grips onto your makeup just like a primer, and it helps smooth uneven skin texture all while keeping oil at bay. It plays well with every foundation I've paired it with, but I especially love to use it underneath Armani Beauty's Luminous Silk Foundation for a grease-free satin finish that lasts all day or night. 

Pair it with: 

The Moisturizer Hybrid: Glossier Priming Moisturizer Balance

You can read my full, glowing review on this brand-new Glossier launch here, but I'm here to tell every other oily skinned person on the planet that this product is SO good for keeping grease and shine at bay. In fact, it's almost too good, so you can definitely reach for a foundation that boosts your glow a bit. This priming-moisturizing hybrid is the new, oil-free, noncomedogenic version of the brand's best-selling original, which may be a little too rich for those of us prone to the midday oil slick. 

Pair it with: 

The Pollution Protector: Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas: Featherweight Protective Primer

I wanted to love Tatcha's The Silk Canvas Protective Primer, the brand's first expedition into the priming scene. But despite so many rave reviews, the heavy balm-like texture was just too thick and oily for my finicky complexion. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when the brand came out with a new, lightweight, oil-free iteration with all of the same pollution-prevention perks sans the greasy aftermath. The formula is unique thanks to its special mix of fibroin, sericin, and silk powder which work in harmony to blur the look of pores, fine lines, and any other imperfections you may be looking to camouflage. I love to apply it before this skin-refreshing foundation from Shiseido.

Pair it with: 

The Hydration Insurance: Tarte Sea Quench Hydrating Primer

I have been screaming about how good this primer is for years, and I have yet to find a superior formula fit for my oily skin. If I could only use one primer for the rest of my makeup-wearing days, it would be this one. Though it might sound counterintuitive, oily skin still needs and craves hydration—just not heavy, oily, or pore-clogging hydration! This primer is enriched with algae and marine plant extracts, hyaluronic acid, kefir extract, and turmeric to keep the skin balanced, smooth, soft, and miraculously grease-free. Plus, it makes any foundation you apply afterward look even more amazing. Another longtime obsession? Physicians Formula The Healthy Foundation With SPF 20.

Pair it with: 

The Pore Eraser: Benefit Cosmetics The Porefessional Face Primer

This is another longtime cult favorite within the primer realm. It's remained one of the all-time best oily skin primers for a reason—it's highly effective. Oil-free, clear, and rich with skin-protecting vitamin E, it's the perfect setup to prep your complexion for foundation and significantly minimize pores.

Pair it with: 

The Clean Composition: Ren Clean Skincare Perfect Canvas Clean Primer

I'll just say it. This is one of very few primers formulated with clean ingredients that haven't made my skin freak out. Since so many clean skincare and makeup brands rely on oils, I've found many yield dastardly results when it comes to greasy aftermath. However, this one from Ren is an exception. In addition to being clean, it's also noncomedogenic (aka, it won't clog your pores), and it boasts tons of MVP ingredients like matte-enhancing agave, probiotics, and lactic acid. 

Pair it with: 

The Smooth Operator: Pat McGrath Labs Sublime Perfection Hydrating Primer

We don't believe in such a thing as "perfect" skin, but if we did, this primer would get us pretty dang close (especially if we wore it underneath its strategic foundation accomplice below). As one of the most legendary makeup artists of all time, Pat McGrath delivers on this skincare-enriched primer that lends necessary hydration and glow (thanks to hyaluronic acid) and some smoothing magic courtesy of the brand's signature Cosmetic Filler Powder, which it describes as a coated, microsphere powder designed to emulate the seamless clarity of ceramic. (Yes, like the tile.)

Pair it with: 

The French Import: Sisley Paris Instant Perfect Perfecting Skin Corrector

This primer from French beauty brand Sisley Paris is an investment but a worthy once considering how much ground it covers in the skin-enhancing category. Not only does it help out oily skin thanks to its simultaneous shine-reducing, pore-tightening powers, but it also fills and blurs fine lines and wrinkles and even diffuses the look of blemishes or pigmentation.

Pair it with: 

The Glow Without Grease: Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow Face Primer

Trying (and loving) this radiance-boosting primer from Charlotte Tilbury officially dispelled the myth that products touting "dewiness" and "glow" don't work for oily skin types. The name doesn't lie—this wondrous primer curbs oil, revives dehydrated-looking skin, and lends a soft-focus aura to your complexion that's so incredibly flattering. Worn underneath the brand's best-selling Airbrush Flawless Longwear Foundation, you won't experience a lick of grease. (Pre-pandemic, the combo survived through plenty of evening workout classes and even granted me "good skin" compliments afterward!) 

Pair it with: 

The Dark Horse: Beautyblender Selfie Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 38 Dry Oil Primer

ICYMI, there's a lot more to Beautyblender than its iconic makeup sponges. In fact, it's a little-known fact (except among makeup artists and beauty editors) that the brand's makeup primers, foundation, and newly released concealers are truly fantastic. I recommend this primer for oily skin since it absorbs almost instantly, has skin-protecting antioxidants and SPF, and also has a unique dry-oil consistency to ensure your skin doesn't get too matte.

Pair it with: 

The K-Beauty Pick: Erborian Extra Matte Ultra Mattifying Primer

Specifically formulated to address oiliness and pores, this mattifying primer from Korean beauty–inspired brand Erborian features a beautiful fusion of white water lily (to moisturize while nixing grease), silica powder (to absorb sebum and minimize the look of pores), and light-reflecting pigments (to add a haze of radiance that doesn't look like it's been born from grease).

Pair it with: 

The Long-Term Skin Improver: Yves Saint Laurent Top Secrets Instant Matte Pore Refiner

YSL touts this best-of-the-best primer for oily skin as "blotting paper in a tube," and I have to wholeheartedly agree. Salicylic acid is the hero ingredient and goes on the offensive to control oil, nix excess shine, and even minimize the look and size of pores. Even better, if used regularly, the formula is designed to actually curb your complexion's oil production long-term as well so your skin will look more refined even without product.

Pair it with: 

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