Best Primer for Acne Prone Skin

Hello! In this post, we'll be discussing primers. Specifically, primers for people who are prone to acne.

First, we'll talk about what a good primer is supposed to do, and how you can wear primer so that it's less likely to cause a breakout. Then we'll provide reviews of some excellent non comedogenic primers (and hopefully we'll determine what may be the best primer for acne prone skin, so that you can figure out which is best for you). Finally, we'll discuss what "non comedogenic" means (and what it doesn't) and give some general tips on how you can wear makeup and hopefully keep your face clean and clear.

Benefits of an Effective Primer​

So before we get into some specific information about primer and acne-prone skin, let's review the basics. What is primer supposed to do? What's it good for?

A good primer:​

  • Covers acne, blemishes, and other various forms of discoloration (such as rosacea and dark spots). If you have acne prone skin, this is usually Job #1 for a primer;
  • Smoothes over facial lines, crevices, and wrinkles. Ultimately, your primer should make your skin look uniform and smooth;
  • Covers your pores. An effective primer should minimize the appearance of your pores, and this is an important buying factor for many women;
  • Protects your moisturizer, and prepares your face for foundation. Usually, the order of makeup application is moisturizer, then primer, then foundation. There's a reason for that: moisturizers protect your skin and gives it a bunch of vital nutrients. Primer forms a protective layer over your moisturizer, locking it into your skin, covering blemishes, and providing a solid base for you to put your foundation on. Foundation then keeps the rest of your makeup---blush, bronzer, whatever it is you're using---in place and looking great; and
  • Provides weather control. If you live in a humid area or a very arid area, primer is very beneficial to keeping your makeup in place.

These reasons add up to a VERY powerful makeup product. Primer may seem like a "not-so-flashy" makeup, but it's actually performing a lot of different roles all at once.

There are numerous types of primers---you've got primer for your lips before you put on your lipstick, primer for your eyelashes before you put on your mascara, and primer for your eyelids, before you put on your eyeshadow---but when people use the word, they usually mean "foundation primer," which is what you apply to your skin before you apply your foundation. Those alternative primers---lips, lashes, and lids---are good, but they can be impractical on a day-to-day basis, because they add SO much time to your routine. We're not saying don't use them---they're fantastic products, and they really can protect those areas of your face and provide a base for other makeups---but don't feel bad if you can't incorporate them into your daily makeup groove.

Lastly, there are numerous consistencies of primer. There are liquids and powders and gels and semi-gels and creams. As with many different makeup products, there's no "best" consistency of primer---whatever works for you is the best primer for you, so it may take a little while to find the type you'll fall in love with and grow old with.

Now, let's get down to specifics:

Primer and Acne: Some Helpful Info

If you're prone to acne, primer can be equal parts magical and frustrating: it makes your skin look fantastic... and yet it can also make your skin break out. It's the best and the worst, all at the same time. Here are some facts about primer you need to keep in mind, if you're prone to acne or have sensitive skin.

Many Primers Have Silicones as an Ingredient. If you've looked at the ingredient list on any makeup product, you've probably seen a long list of nonsense words that sound a little menacing. Example: Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5. What on earth is that? (Believe it or not, it's a chemical that promotes collagen production, which may be a good thing because collagen helps your skin look young and supple).​

Anyway---this is to say, there are a lot of weird things in almost every type of makeup. So if there are so many weird things in makeup, what's the big deal with silicones, specifically?

It's a widely held belief that silicones can cause allergic reactions, and many women avoid makeups and primers that feature silicones. If you have sensitive skin, or if you're worried you'll have an allergic reaction to silicones, you should consider a water-based primer, instead of a silicone-based primer.

As for the acne-producing properties of silicones, the jury is still out: Paula's Choice Skincare says that there's no scientific evidence that silicones cause acne, while Renee Rouleau says that silicones do not directly cause acne, but may allow other ingredients in a makeup to block pores and cause acne. So---it's awful that we can't give a clearer answer---but if you have acne-prone skin, silicones may or may not be the cause of it. Keep an eye out for silicones, and try and figure out it if makeups with silicones are causing breakouts.

Application Matters. There are a number of different ways to apply primer. Most people use their fingers, but some use sponges to apply it---and while that's a great thing (makeup is a "whatever works" kind of operation---if it works for you, then work it)---if you don't regularly replace your sponges, they literally become a hideout for germs and bacteria that irritate your skin. Dragging all that gunk across your skin is almost an invitation for an acne breakout.​

So whatever you're using to apply primer---whether it's your fingers, a sponge, or whatever---make sure you are applying your makeup in the most antiseptic way possible.

There are a TON of Features Available. There are color-correcting primers, primers with SPF properties, primers with aloe, primers with Vitamin A, Vitamin, C, Vitamin E, primers with tea tree extract, and so on. These are all fantastic options, but don't get too carried away with any of them, or think that these secondary features are more important the primary feature of primer. They're add-ons; they may be fantastic add-ons, but they're still add-ons. The primary function of a primer is to cover blemishes and provide a strong support for foundation.​

The one add-on that we would suggest keeping an eye out for is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is believed to absorb the oils and the bacteria that clog your pores and cause acne. It's not a cure-all---sadly, nothing is---but you may want to keep an eye out for it in the ingredients list of your makeups. For some people, it makes a difference.

Non Comedogenic Primer Reviews​

Below, we've broken down primers into their strengths. Hopefully you'll be able to find a good match, based on what you're looking for. First up!

Studio Secrets Professional Magic Perfecting Base​

It may be a great option if... you're looking for a long-lasting drugstore primer for any skin tone that may make it less likely that you'll break out.

Studio Secrets Professional Magic Perfecting Base is an excellent what-you-see-is-what-you-get non comedogenic primer, and for a DS makeup, it's pretty impressive. It's lightweight and feels reasonably smooth; it's got strong coverage; and it lasts for a long time. It gets a check mark for everything we'd want in a simple primer.

Plus, it has what is perhaps the valuable attribute in a drugstore makeup: it'll last on your vanity. If you use it sparingly, it can be your go-to for a while. There are plenty of drugstore options that feel like they disappear as soon as you use them, so that's a nice little perk---especially when you consider how well it minimizes pores and covers splotchy skin.

Lastly---this is just a personal observation, but the pot is very attractive, in an old-school sort of way. Classic.

Mary Kay Foundation Primer​

It may be great option if... you want an affordable non comedogenic primer that's gentle and good for sensitive skin.​

Is Mary Kay drugstore? Is it not drugstore? In the end, it doesn't matter---Mary Kay Foundation Primer is an excellent primer that's effective and very affordable.

This formula is fragrance-free, oil-free, and dermatologist-tested for use on all skin types. If you've got sensitive skin, this is a time-tested product that's said to lessen creases, cover pores, and fill in wrinkles. It's not a superstar when it comes to SPF---if you're looking for a primer with strong SPF qualities, we'd suggest the MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Crème, below---but primers aren't really supposed to be sunblocks, so we can't really fault it for that.

Ultimately, it does what it's supposed to do, and does it well. If we were a teacher, and Mary Kay Primer was a student of ours, she'd get very high marks. Recommended!

Best Primer for Acne Prone Skin: Youngblood Mineral Foundation Primer​

It may be a great option if... you want an all-natural, super-effective primer created specifically with natural ingredients.​

Youngblood Mineral Foundation Primer gets our vote as the best primer in our list. Youngblood is named after its founder, Pauline Youngblood, who worked for many years as a medical esthetician. During her time in the skin care industry, she worked with people who had common skin ailments such as rosacea and acne, but she also worked with people who had just had more serious cosmetic surgeries and laser treatments. In her experience, the cosmetics options available to her clients were all way too harsh.

So she created her own line of products. They include natural ingredients, and they DO NOT include a lot of the harsher ingredients, like alcohol, parabens, petroleum, etc. In many instances, she's been able to use various substitutes---for example, instead of using talc, she's been able to use rice starch. Clever!

Her makeups still include some various hard-to-pronounce chemicals---it's almost impossible to create a cosmetic without them---but it seems like they're a much healthier alternative to a lot of the cosmetics that are out there. And, believe it or not, some of the weird-sounding ingredients you'll find in Youngblood products are actually good---"malachite extract" is one of the actual minerals in Youngblood Mineral Primer.

Her Youngblood Mineral Primer is fantastic. It's gentle, but it can be extremely effective---it provides a very solid base for foundation, while at the same time smoothing wrinkles, minimizing pores, and evening tone. It's silky smooth and it feels woooooonderful. Highly recommended.

Mineral Fusion Primer​

It may be a great option if... you want a primer that is skin-safe and will still give you a strong matte finish.​

There's a lot to love about Mineral Fusion Primer. First off, it's cruelty-free, which is wonderful. Second, the mattifying aspect of the primer is very strong, and may work for women with very oily skin. Third, it's great for people with sensitive skin. If you've got oily skin and you're acne-prone, this can be a very good choice.

There is, however, one not-fantastic thing about it: the pump isn't always reliable. It gets jammed, and because it is a primer, after all, your hands will be a little slippery and you'll have a hard time working it out of the package.

So why did we include it? Because it really is a fantastic product. If you have sensitive skin, want an excellent mattifying primer, and can handle some here-and-there frustration getting it out of the package(!), this can be a great option.

L'Oreal Paris Studio Secrets Professional Color Correcting Anti-Redness Primer​

It may be a great option if... you're looking for a drugstore green primer to combat redness.​

L'Oreal Paris Studio Secrets Professional Color Correcting Primers Anti-Redness Primer is the second L'Oreal primer on our list, and for a very specific reason: it reduces redness, adds a bit of "pop," and works well with any skin tone. It's not a miracle worker, but for a DS product, it's a very strong candidate. It may not be the absolute best primer for acne prone skin, but in our opinion, it's up there.

This is another primer where you really, really don't need to overdo it---use very small amounts, and it should last you a while. Some L'Oreal products are great like that, and this is one of them---just a little dab around your T-zone, your cheeks, and on the end of your chin. Work it in, but don't overdo it, or you'll look a little like you're carsick.

One note about this one: you may hear that this is a stand-alone primer---that you can wear only this primer, and be on your way---but we wouldn't suggest that. You'll definitely want to find a foundation to go on top of it, and then whatever else you want to use.

MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Crème​

It may be a great option if... you're looking for a non comedogenic primer with a lot of SPF protection.​

MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 30 is a primer, but it looks like a day at the beach, because the tube is bright and sunny and orange and resembles a bottle of suntan lotion. And it is, in fact, good for your skin---it's got a lot of skin-enhancing features, and it's made with green tea and pomegranate and Vitamin C.

It has some serious masking properties---if you've got rosacea and/or discoloration, it may work very well. The application is "medium matte," in that it doesn't provide a dull coverage, but it'll leave some glow to your skin. It's a fantastic under-foundation primer, and it's a great base for whatever else you want to apply to your skin---including powder. Not all primers work well under powders, but this one does. That's a nice plus.

That said, while this is a non comedogenic product, it DOES include silicones. If you're allergic to silicones, this is not your date to the big dance.

If you're OK with silicones you're looking for a product that's doing double-duty as a primer and a sunscreen, this is a wonderful bet.

Non Comedogenic Products: FAQs​

In one of the sections above, we included a brief description of the word "non comedogenic." Let's take a deeper look at it, because if you're are prone to getting acne, it can end up being a big buying factor for you, when it comes to picking out primers (and all forms of makeup and skincare products, for that matter).

When you see a product that has the word "non comedogenic" on it, it means that the makeup was created WITHOUT ingredients that are known to cause acne. In other words, scientists have found a long list of chemicals and compounds that cause acne, and whoever made the makeup product has created it WITHOUT those ingredients.

There's a misconception that "non comedogenic" means "acne-fighting." It doesn't fight acne, and it doesn't reverse acne if you've got it. It means that the product you're getting does not use ingredients that are known to cause acne.

So what are those ingredients? Acne.org has put together a big long list of them (and we've included many of them in one of the paragraphs below). Some of them will sound totally mysterious to you---unless you're a chemist, chances are you don't know what butyl stearate is---but some of them are much more common: cocoa butter is one; coconut oil is another. If you're wondering why cosmetics companies even use these ingredients, it's because that while they have properties that are bad for your skin, they're useful to makeup manufacturers in other ways---some may make it easier to form the makeup's consistency; others may give makeup a "sticky" property so that it adheres to your face. As you may have guessed, there's a lot of science, and a lot of chemistry, that goes into creating a makeup product!

So, now you know what "non comedogenic" means, here's...

The Big Question: Does It Actually Work?​

Kind of! Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Here's the thing: at present, there are no laws about what the word "non comedogenic" actually means. So a makeup company can put the word "non comedogenic" on a primer, or a foundation, or whatever, but the law doesn't require them to make that product in any certain way. There is no law that says, "A non comedogenic makeup product must include these 10 ingredients, and it must not use these other 10 ingredients." There are simply no laws like that right now.

So, makeup companies who use the word "non comedogenic" on a makeup product, all it means is that they've created the product in a way that *they* think will keep you from getting acne.

So does that mean that non comedogenic products are bogus?

Maybe, maybe not. You'll have to do some detective work and---we're so sorry to repeat this so many times---find what works for you. Many people use non comedogenic products like face wash, sun block, primer, and so on, and it helps them from getting acne; others seem to use non comedogenic makeup and skin care products, and still get acne.

That's the real issue at play---there's no single cause of acne. Some people get acne because they're hormones are fluctuating or changing. Others get it because of food allergies and diet decisions. Other people don't take care of their skin and get acne because of environmental reasons. There's no single cause of acne, and scientists---even when they do know a cause---don't necessarily know how to nullify the cause.

This is all a way of saying, you'll have to become a scientist yourself. Study the cause-and-effect of certain products on your skin. If you find that makeups with silicones cause a reaction on your skin, you know to stay away from them. If you find that using products with coconut oils causes breakouts, avoid coconut oil. You'll have to do some trial-and-error work, and see what happens. Hopefully, the products above will get you there.

​How to Wear Makeup and Hopefully Keep Your Skin Clear

We discussed this in our "Best Non Comedogenic Foundation" post, but here's a quick, basic review of how to use cosmetics and hopefully steer clear of acne. First we'll give a very quick description of how acne gets formed, and then we'll use that knowledge to show you some ways to keep it away.

So: your body is covered in skin, and your skin is covered in pores. Pores, as you probably know, are basically miniature holes. They allow substances to move from inside of your body to the surface of your body. For the most part, those substances are water (sweat) and hair (and while you can see a lot of the small hairs on your skin, a lot of them are microscopic and can't be seen).

One of the other substances that moves from the inside of your skin to the outside of your skin is an oil called "sebum." Sebum is important, because it keeps your skin flexible and strong, and it lubricates your hairs, to keep them flexible and strong as well.

So, those are the important factors. Here's how they interact to created acne. Acne is formed in two ways:

1) When there are blockages in your pores. When the sebum can't move from the inside of your skin to the surface of your skin, it gets stuck, and bacteria underneath the skin combines with it, and your body has an inflammatory reaction (that's why acne is very often red and sore). This results in whiteheads. These blockages can be formed because the body is creating too much sebum, or it can be created by external factors (usually called environmental factors), like---you guessed it---thick makeup that blocks your pores and keeps the sebum from moving to the surface of the skin. Ever put on a thick foundation or a thick sunblock and broken out? If so, that may be the reason.

2) When there are no blockages in your pores, but the body has an excess of sebum. When there's an excess of sebum, your pores get swollen, and the excess sebum leaks on the surface of the skin and combines with bacteria. This results in blackheads.

So why does the body produce too much sebum? It's been observed that sebum is over-produced during various parts of the life cycle: the body's hormones may produce too much sebum in people during their teen years; women produce more sebum than usual during pregnancy; and during periods of stress, people who are acne-prone may produce too much sebum and experience breakouts. Scientists are still learning why the body produces too much sebum, and they're still learning what to do about it.

The other issue that we discussed is when pores get blocked, and the sebum can't make it through the pores. THAT is something that people do have some control over, and that brings us to...

Bit of Advice #1: Pay Careful Attention to EVERYTHING You Put on Your Face. The most obvious culprit is makeup. Dermatologists have discovered that there are dozens of chemicals in makeup that irritate the skin in certain people, and that there are dozens of chemicals in makeup that block pores and cause breakouts.​

But that doesn't only apply to makeup---it applies to makeup remover, suntan lotion, face wash, and even your clothes and the materials you use to apply makeup. Whatever you're putting on your face is something you should consider. On any given day, we apply more materials to our face than you'd imagine. Be observant!

Bit of Advice #2: Be Particularly Careful with Foundation. A lot of acne-prone makeup wearers find that foundation causes them to break out. That's heartbreaking, because foundation is---let's be honest---it's wonderful. But it's true: the pigment in foundation can really do a number on your skin.​

You may find that sheer foundation is OK for you, because it doesn't have too much pigment, but that full coverage is a no-no because of its high amounts of pigment---or you may find that any kind of foundation will give you acne. It all depends on you and the characteristics of your skin---and EVERYONE'S skin is unique.

This is a post about primers, and primers can be a culprit too, so you should be watching for that, but definitely keep an eye out for foundation. They can bring you to Breakout City.

Bit of Advice #3: Always, Always, Always Remove Your Makeup Properly. It's a crazy occurrence---many women who are able to wear makeup without breaking out end up breaking out because they leave their makeup on for too long. When pores are covered for too long, sebum buildup ensues, and then it's breakout time.​

No matter how exhausted you are, try to be disciplined about removing your makeup, every single night. And---this also bears mentioning---don't do it half-way! Make sure you're taking the time (and it does take a little time) to truly remove whatever you've put on. Your skin will thank you!

Bit of Advice #4: Avoid Chemicals Known to Cause Acne. According to Sage Skincare, a line of non comedogenic skin care products, there is a long list of chemicals in makeup that cause acne. Here's a quick rundown of "the worst of the worst"---in other words, chemicals that may cause acne:​

  • Algae Extract
  • Red Algae
  • Hexadecyl Alcohol
  • Carrageenan
  • Isocetyl Stearate
  • Isopropyl Isostearate
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Myristyl Myristate
  • Isopropyl Linolate
  • Octyl Stearate
  • Oleth-3
  • Laureth 4
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Sodium Chloride (aka, salt)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Wheat Germ Oil

Always be sure to read the ingredients labels---if there's something on there that you know will make you break out, toss it!

Bit of Advice #5: Look for Good Ingredients. Here's a (very) quick list of ingredients that have been known to benefit the skin:​

  • Calendula Flower Extract
  • Tea Tree Extract
  • Witch Hazel
  • Willow Bark.

These may or may not make a difference on your skin, but they've been known for their restorative properties.

Remember---we always need to say this, so we're sorry for repeating it so often---nobody at Makeup Artist Essentials is a doctor or medical professional; in fact, science and biology utterly confound us. Consult your doctor for medical advice and/or treatment plans on how to deal with acne.

That's It for Primers!​

We hope that there's something on here that works for you. Remember: test! Find out what works for you, and then stick to it.​

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