What are the Best Primers for Oily/Acne-Prone Skin?

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Don't shine like this guy in the summer! Cute as he is, we don't want to glow like he does. So make your primer work for you, not against you. (Photo credit: Will Merydith)

From a comment on FutureDerm.com:

What are the best primers for oily/acne-prone skin? 

-M G

Dear M.G.,

OIly and acne-prone skin can be difficult, but in the summertime, the oil glands go into overdrive.  The excess sebum makes a perfect environment for bacteria, pore-clogging, and inflammation, resulting in acne as papules or cysts.  It can be hard to find a foundation that works, much less a primer!

All makeup primers should be designed to create a smooth, uniform canvas for makeup, which means a large dose of silicones.  However, those for oily/acne-prone skin should contain at least one adsorbent ingredient, like one of the following:

  • Aluminum derivatives:  Alumina, aluminum hydroxide, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, etc.
  • Bentonite
  • BIsmuth oxychloride
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Fuller’s earth
  • Hydrolyzed corn starch
  • Kaolin
  • Magnesium or one of its derivatives:  magnesium hydroxide, magnesium silicate, etc.
  • Rice starch, rice bran, etc.
  • Silica or one of its derivatives:  silicate, etc.
  • Silk powder

And in case you don’t feel like searching through hundreds of products for these ingredients, we’ve hand-selected our favorites for oily/acne-prone skin here:

Our Favorite:  Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer

Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer

Beauty expert and FutureDerm writer John Su's favorite? Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer.

Got oily skin but still crave a smooth surface for makeup application?  Enter Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer ($52.00, Amazon.com), which is a virtual godsend for oily skin.  It contains an array of lightweight silicones and alumina, one of the most absorbent materials on earth (GlobalSpec).  Alumina is so absorbent that it is used as a desiccant (drying agent) commercially to dry out gases, as well as an industrial agent to filter fluoride for drinking water.  If it can do that to 10000 gallon jugs of water, imagine what it can do for your skin!

I’m also a fan of Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer because it contains two forms of physical sunscreen, titanium oxide and zinc oxide.  Unlike chemical sunscreens, which allow UV light to hit your skin and then transform it into another form of energy, physical sunscreens provide a barrier so UV light doesn’t hit your skin from the start.

In addition, most sunscreens contain either titanium oxide or zinc oxide.  However, zinc oxide blocks significantly more UVA rays than titanium oxide.  UVA and UVB rays are separated into longer UVA (UV-aging) and shorter UVB (UV-burning), and zinc oxide blocks a significantly longer length of rays – that is, more UVA rays.  (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2005).  So I love the fact Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer has 4.20% zinc oxide and 2.45% titanium dioxide.  Awesome!

Ingredients in Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer:  Titanium Dioxide: (2.45%).  Zinc Oxide: (4.20%).  Cyclopentasiloxane, Isododecane, Polysilicone-11, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Hexyl Laurate, Peg-10 Dimethicone, Polyglyceryl-4 Isosterate, Stearic Acid, Alumina.

Best Value:  Smashbox Photo Finish Light

Smashbox Photo Finish Light Primer

Our runner-up: Smashbox Photo Finish Light Primer. 60% water, this guy is light enough for the oiliest of skins, but the 40% silicone-rich blend makes the surface silky, not sticky.

Unlike Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer, Smashbox Photo Finish Light won’t do much in the way of oil control or sun protection.  And while it gets a partial thumbs-up due to the vitamin C (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) and peptide (oligopeptide-10), these are in very small concentration, and also embedded in a ton of silicones – not likely to diffuse far into your skin.  But still a partial thumbs-up for trying.  :-)

Yet we still like it here at FutureDerm because it has a base that is 60% water and completely oil-free.  The blend of the other 40% is mostly silky silicones that will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.  And while it can be un-chic to mention price tags, we must say, we also like the price tag – $16 versus $52 for the Hourglass product.  And when you’re reapplying makeup as often as we do in the summer, well, that’s saying something.

Ingredients in Smashbox Photo Finish Light:  Water (Aqua), Cyclopentasiloxane, Polysilicone-11, Butylene Glycol, Ethylene/Acrylic Acid Copolymer, Methyl Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Carbomer, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Triethanolamine, Decyl Glucoside, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Hexylene Glycol, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Oligopeptide-10.

Best for Extremely Oily Skin:  Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner

Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner

Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner has tea tree oil as an antibacterial agent. It is actually too drying for many people - so make sure you have very oily skin before trying this product!

If your face gets to be like an oil slick come summer, you might want to consider Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner ($33.57, Amazon.com).

One of the secrets?  Tea tree oil.

An Australian study involving 124 subjects showed tea tree oil was just as effective as the most commonly used acne treatment, benzoyl peroxide. It was far less damaging to the skin, and was found to reduce whiteheads and blackheads just as well. There have also been two more recent studies that reconfirmed its effectiveness as an acne fighter.

For you science geeks out there, the substance terpinen-4-ol is believed to be the ingredient responsible for tea tree oil’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. Terpinen-4-o has been isolated from tea tree oil, but is not currently being sold as an isolate of substance.

Another secret?  The magnesium silicate.  In fairly high concentration in Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner, this product will truly dry out the oil on your face.  In fact, if you haven’t got oily skin and you try it, you will look a bit chalky and dried out.  That’s the magnesium silicate at work!  On the other hand, though, this product can be a dream if you suffer from ultra-shiny, hard-to-manage skin in the summertime.

Ingredients in Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner:  Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Water, Methyl Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Sodium Stearyl Fumarate, Lauryl PEG/PPG-18/18 Methicone, Magnesium Silicate, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Octyl Palmitate, Phenoxyethanol, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Methylparaben, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Dimethyloxobenzo Dioxasilane, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxide (CI 77491), Iron Oxide (CI 77492), Iron Oxide (CI 77499).

Best for Disguising as a Foundation Itself:  NARS Pro-Prime Pore Refining Primer – Oil Free

NARS Pro-Prime Oil-Free Refining Primer

NARS Pro-Prime Oil-Free Refining Primer does a great job as doubling as a foundation, provided oil is your only problem. Just add powder.

Of all the primers we’ve investigated, NARS Pro-Prime Pore Refining Primer ($51.83, Amazon.com) is our favorite for those with great skin that just happens to be a little oily.  (Think:  someone in her teens or early twenties, with oily skin, who doesn’t need foundation or concealer).  The silica in this product is excellent at both absorbing oil and reflecting light – and there is plenty of it!  Just add powder, and you’re good to go.

Ingredients:  Aqua (Water), Isododecane, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Silica, Dimethicone, Poly(Glycol Adipate)/Bis-Hydroxyethoxypropyl Dimethicone Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate Se, Dipropylene Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol, Lens Esculenta [Lens Esculenta (Lentil) Seed Extract], Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Potassium Hydroxide, Xanthan Gum, Lavandula Angustifolia [Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract], Carbomer, Retinyl Palmitate, Petasites Japonicus (Petasites Japonicus Root Extract), Tocopheryl Acetate, Ascorbic Acid, Trisodium Edta, Vp/Va Copolymer, Bisabolol, Niacinamide, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Amodimethicone, Potassium Sorbate, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Ci 77891 (Titanium Dioxide).

Didn’t Like:

  • Illamasqua Matt Primer.  Popular in the U.K., Illamasqua Matt Primer contains mostly chemical sunscreens, but the amount of SPF isn’t quantified.  It contains soothing allantoin, which may help soothe acne a liiittle bit, but overall, we like the Hourglass or the Smashbox products better.  Ingredients: AQUA (WATER), NYLON-12, OCTOCRYLENE, HOMOSALATE, CYCLOPENTASI- LOXANE, GLYCERYL STEARATE, GLYCERIN, OCTYLDODECANOL, CAPRYLIC/CAPRIC TRIGLYCERIDE, BUTYL METHOXYDIBENZOYL- METHANE (AVOBENZONE), CETEARETH-12, CETEARETH-20, TOCOPHERYL ACETATE, PHENOXYETHANOL, XANTHAN GUM,CETEARYL ALCOHOL,METHYLPARABEN, ALLANTOIN,CETEARYL GLUCOSIDE, ETHYLPARABEN, PROPYLPARABEN, PARFUM (FRAGRANCE).

What questions do you have?  We love to receive your comments!

by Nicki Zevola

8 thoughts on “What are the Best Primers for Oily/Acne-Prone Skin?

  1. Melinda Holmes says:

    I tried, and stuck with, Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel as a primer. It is cheap and works like a charm on my oily sensitive skin. :)

  2. Alejandra says:

    I vote for Monistat chafing gel too, it has no fragance, nor other irritant ingredients and feels like velvet even on oily skin. My combination-sensitive and acne prone skin has no problems with this. For special occasions I use milk of magnesia (unflavored) underneath for extra oil control.

    It costs around 7 dollars for 1,5 ounces.

    Ingredients: Active Ingredients: Dimethicone (1.2%) Inactive Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone/ Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Silica, Tocopheryl Acetate, Trisiloxane

  3. Mary says:

    I have been using the Monistat, too. It does make my makeup go on nicely, but it doesn’t do anything for oil. Since the ingredients are almost identical to the Smashbox primer, it wouldn’t cause wrinkles. I’m sure they just want you to buy the pricier product!
    Great reviews, thanks!
    The search continues….

  4. Mimi says:

    I also use Monistat powder gel. It takes away the shine left by my sunscreen, and makes my skin look velvety. I agree with Mary, it doesn’t stop oil. I think I’ll try Melissa’s trick of using milk of magnesia underneath the Monistat powder-gel. I have allergies to perfume, phenolxyethanol, and some other ingredients, and I love that the Monistat gel has just a few ingredients and is totally gentle on my skin.

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