The Best Mattifying Primer: A Review of Our Favorites
When you’ve got oily skin, chances are your entire approach to makeup is different than those lucky few who have non-oily skin. Cosmetics can be difficult to apply, can slide all over your face during the day, and can actually make your skin more oily than it would be normally—and all that can make your makeup routine a chore instead of a satisfying start to your day.
And that’s why we’ve put together this list of our picks for the best mattifying primer: they’re designed to tamp down some of the oil and lessen some of the shine that facial oils produce, all while smoothing out lines and wrinkles, and creating a base for your foundation (and whatever else you choose to use after it). It can be a powerful cosmetic, and can perform a bunch of different functions.
So below, we’ll start with a quick description of our favorite primers for oily skin, then we’ll provide in-depth reviews of each those picks, and then we’ll provide a quick clinic on primers: what it’s supposed to do, the types available, and how to choose one. After all that we’ll wrap it up with some skin care tips for people with oily skin, and you can also read about our picks for the best primer for large pores.
Mattifying Primers: Quick Picks
Here are favorite mattifying primers, and why we like them:
Rimmel Stay Matte Primer: a reliable go-to drugstore option offered in a wide range of skin tones and designed to reduce shine;
Maybelline Makeup Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Face Makeup Primer: another accessible drugstore option that's non comedogenic, that can be a good option for people with acne issues;
L'Oreal Paris Makeup Studio Secrets Face Primer: our last drugstore option, designed for long-lasting oil control, pore coverage, and line reduction;
Paula's Choice SHINE STOPPER Instant Matte Finish Primer: a high-end option for women with sensitive skin, and the only primer we've found that actually soaks up oil instead of covering it;
Laura Geller New York Spackle Mattifying Oil Control Under Make-up Primer: serious pore coverage and line/wrinkle coverage, that's actually designed to moisturize skin while mattifying;
100% Pure Mattifying Primer: the only primer we found that skips all the usual weird chemicals and features a long list of all-natural ingredients; and finally
So that's the abbreviated list—here are more in-depth descriptions of why we chose them:
The Best Mattifying Primer: Reviews, from Drugstore to High End
Let’s go deeper, shall we? We’ll start with…
Rimmel Stay Matte Primer
Our top pick for best primer for oily skin in the “Drugstore Makeup” category
Drugstore primers need to appeal to a wiiiiide audience, and that’s why we like Rimmel Stay Matte Primer: it’s offered in a clear variety to work with any skin tone (while also being made in ivory, porcelain, beige, caramel, and a range of other specific hues); it’s created in a long-lasting 8-hour formula, for students or professionals but also for going out for the night; and it’s—perhaps most importantly!—designed to minimize pores and reduce shine.
The other thing we like about the product is that it’s lightweight: it can be difficult to make a product that 1) doesn’t feel heavy and 2) covers the skin efficiently enough to reduce shine. Rimmel Stay Matte seems to do that, which is quite a feat for a drugstore cosmetic.
Maybelline Makeup Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Face Makeup Primer
A runner-up in the best mattifying primer “Drugstore Makeup” category
Maybelline is a huge company—they’re actually owned by L’Oreal, which is a super huge company—and they’ve got a huge list of products offerings. Some are hits and some are misses, but we like their Maybelline Makeup Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Face Makeup Primer.
A lot of drugstore makeups don’t specialize very well, and it can be hard to find cosmetics if you’ve got oily skin. That’s why we like this option: it’s non comedogenic (because chances are if you’re worried about oil, you may also be worried about acne), it’s fragrance-free (and fragrance is one of those ingredients that’s often bad for people with sensitive skin), and we’ve found that it actually works pretty well. It’s designed to be an after-your-moisturizer-but-before-your-foundation primer that covers pores, create a matte surface, and provide a platform for foundation: everything we’d want in a drugstore cosmetic.
L'Oreal Paris Makeup Studio Secrets Face Primer
Our choice for best primer for oily skin in the “good for all skin types” drugstore category
Remember a minute ago, when we mentioned that L’Oreal is an absolutely huge company? We weren’t kidding: they’ve been creating makeups for more than a century (they were founded in 1909!) and they sell cosmetics all over the globe. L’Oreal might have been around when “drugstore” was actually a new term.
There’s a reason they’ve been around forever, though, and that’s because they make accessible products, and their Studio Secrets Face Primer is designed for all skin types and is dermatologist-tested—while also delivering the goods: the primer is designed to minimize lines and pores (making an option for wearers young and old), control oil and shine, and last an entire day. That’s really all we could ask for in a drugstore product.
There are a lot of people who seem to equate a lesser-known name with quality, and we fall into that category sometimes, too—it can feel exotic to use a facial cleanser make in New Zealand that no one’s ever heard about before—but a lot of times the well-known names are a good bet, and that’s how we feel about L’Oreal products. They’re not too exotic because you can find them all over the place, but we’ve found them to be reliable, and we think this is a good pick for a drugstore primer that mattifies.
Paula’s Choice SHINE STOPPER Matte Finish Powder
A unique high-end option that actually sucks up oils instead of covering it, and a good bet for people with sensitive skin
Here’s our first high-end pick: Paula's Choice SHINE STOPPER Instant Matte Finish Primer.
Paula’s Choice is one of those brands that maybe isn’t the most famous in the world, but they seem to be one of those companies that engender a lot of loyalty from users. And what’s not to love? Every cosmetic made by Paula’s Choice is totally fragrance-free (and folks who have sensitive skin very often get irritated by the chemicals used for fragrance), created with skin sensitivity in mind (Paula herself actually started the company because she suffered from acne and eczema), and they’re cruelty-free, which is wonderful.
Our favorite thing about the SHINE STOPPER, though, is that it has a feature called “Microsponge.” Most mattifying primers and primers for oily skin simply cover oil, but the Microsponge is designed actually absorb the oils on your face in order to reduce shine and glare. That’s kind of a game-changer, and it really makes it drastically different from every other primer on our list. The only thing we’re not thrilled about is that you have to re-apply a couple of times during the day, but that’s not really that difficult. At the end of the day, you wash away the compounds that soaked up the oil, and that’s that.
It’s an interesting take on primer, and we’re curious to see if other makeup companies follow their lead.
Laura Geller New York Spackle Mattifying Oil Control Primer
Designed to provide pore-minimizing and line-reducing qualities while also moisturizing
Even before we get to review Laura Geller New York Spackle Mattifying Oil Control Under Make-up Primer, we have to take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of that name—“spackle.” Spackle is a material that house builders use to fill in cracks in plaster, and that’s exactly what you want a primer to do: fill in lines and wrinkles and pores and anything else that’s uneven, and make it even.
Like other high-end mattifying primers, it’s designed to do two things at once: even out pores and facial lines, while also providing a base for foundation, blush, and whatever you decide to use after it. Our favorite feature of the product, though, is that the recipe includes shea butter, to moisturize the skin. It’s a common misconception that oily skin doesn’t need be moisturized, so kudos to Laura for including that feature. This is, in our estimation, another of our picks for “best primer for oily skin.”
100% Pure Mattifying Primer
A great option if you’re looking for a good primer that features natural ingredients; our #1 pick for best mattifying primer
If you’re looking for a mattifying primer that’s 1) designed to be effective, but 2) not made from a whole long list of weird-sounding chemicals (and that’s a big problem with primers and foundations), then 100% Pure Mattifying Primer might be a good option.
The primer is designed to decrease shine and glare while also creating a nice platform for foundation, but what really makes the product stand out is its ingredients. 100% Pure seems like they go to great lengths to include ingredients that are as natural as possible, and their products have no artificial fragrances, artificial colors, or synthetic chemicals. It’s actually pretty difficult to make an effective cosmetic and not include synthetic chemicals, so we applaud 100% Pure (and we wish other makeup companies would follow their lead!).
This is a good option, in our humble opinion, if you’re looking for a mattifying primer that has a lot of natural ingredients in it (if you look on the ingredients list on the 100% Pure website, it’s got tea tree and green tea extract, eucalyptus, seaweed collagen, and aloe—nice!) and skips a lot of the harsher chemicals you find in most primers.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Aging Primer with Sunscreen
A mattifying primer with fantastic skin care qualities, good for mature skin (as well as young skin!)
La Roche-Posay is primarily a skin care company, and that’s why we love their La Roche-Posay Anti-Aging Primer—it’s designed to cover pores, smooth wrinkles and lines, and create a matte finish, all while creating a blank canvas for all the makeup that you want to use after it, but it’s ALSO a skin-care product with SPF 50, and that’s excellent (especially when you consider that dermatologists recommend that you use a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF). Why don’t all primers—and all foundations, while we’re talking about it—have SPF properties? That seems like something of a missed opportunity.
In addition to its mattifying primer properties, because La Roche-Posay starts out from a focus on skin care, so it’s got a lot of bonuses we like: it’s fragrance-free, preservative-free, non comedogenic (we love that; we’re suckers for non comedogenic products), and tested by dermatologists. Anthelios seems like a product that bridges that divide between makeup (which can be brutal on the skin) and skin care products (that often protect you but don’t do much else). It’s designed to be a nice mix of both—a primer that helps your skin, instead of hindering it.
This seems to be marketed “for mature skin,” but we don’t think that’s necessary—while it seems like a great fit for mature skin, it’s designed to be a primer for people of all ages.
And there you have it! Those are our picks for best mattifying primer. There are a few we liked but didn’t love and we’ve excluded those from our list, but if you’d like us to review more, send us an email.
Now, because we’re really an instructional site that teaches makeup, here’s our A-to-Z lesson about mattifying primers, along with some skin care tips to help you if you’ve got oil issues.
Primer: A Quick Intro
There are a couple of other posts where we go really, really deep into primer, but here’s an (incredibly) concise introduction:
Makeup primer performs a number of different tasks, but its main purpose is to prepare your face for makeup. It does that by smoothing the surface of your skin, giving you a nice canvas on which to apply makeup, and it provides a base for foundation and any other makeup products you want to apply. It also works to help your makeup stay on longer, and if your days are long—maybe you’re a student, or a professional working full-time—that long-lasting function can be just as important as its canvasing qualities.
Primers are made in creams, gels, and powders, and many are catered towards specific needs. While many of them are used solely to create a smooth surface for makeup, others are made specifically for oily control, dry skin, or to conceal acne. Some primers are even made to even skin tone, reduce the appearance of scars or red marks, or fill in lines or wrinkles.
Types of Primers
Many primers are manufactured specifically for different skin types, so let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular options:
Primers for Normal Skin
If you’re one of those lucky people whose skin is never too oily and never too dry, then congratulations! You one of the lucky few who has normal skin. Chances are, your pores aren’t too big, and you have little to no acne. If this is you, you have the luxury of exploring some primers that others may stay away from, but you may want to shy away from mattifying primers or overly moisturizing primers. Those are made specifically for people will oil/dryness issues, and as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you don’t have oily skin or dry skin, you probably don’t want to use products that may disrupt your skin’s balance. You can stick to a regular primer that is just going to keep your makeup in place, and even venture into more exotic primers (like illuminating primers, that are designed to brighten and give a dewy finish).
Primers for Oily Skin
Ever wonder where the word “mattify” comes from? It’s from the word “matte,” which is a surface that doesn’t reflect much light—in other words, a surface that isn’t shiny. A “mattifying” primer is one that keeps your skin from appearing shiny or greasy—and if you’ve got oily skin, chances are a mattifying primer is what you’re after.
Mattifying primers are designed to reduce the glare coming from oily skin, but they can be made to help with other problems too, like large pores or acne. When you’re reviewing products, keep an eye for primer varieties that have pore-minimizing properties, and also look for acne-fighting ingredients.
A lot of primers for oily skin types will include most, if not all, of these benefits into one, but always check the labels to make sure your primer is designed to handle the specific skin issues you face.
Primers for Dry Skin
In our experience, women with dry skin have the most difficult time finding a primer that works well for them, so you may have to do some exploring to find one that you like. Keep an eye out for primers that feature moisturizers and hydrating agents, and if you suffer from any sort of skin irritation, you may want to look for a hypo-allergenic/all-natural (or almost all-natural) variety. Luckily, there are way more all-natural varieties than there used to be (and there are way more gluten-free, vegan, cruelty-free options, too, and that’s a wonderful thing).
There Are, Of Course, PLENTY of Other Primers, and…
Normal, oily, and dry skin are simply the most common skin types found, and there are primers made for a variety of other skin situations: primers for aging, color correction, combination skin, dull skin, splotchy skin, you name it. They may be a little bit harder to find, but if it’s an issue that deals with the skin, chances are a cosmetic company is selling a product for it.
Some Primer Application Tips for Beginners
Even though primer is usually one of the first cosmetics you’ll use in your makeup routine, application can be a little bit tricky. Here are a few tips that can go a long way in giving yourself the perfect canvas for your makeup routine.
Clean & Moisturize
Rule #1 when applying primer: start with a fresh face. It’s difficult to apply any type of cosmetic to a dirty, oily face—and it’s bad for your skin, too—so wash away.
After you’ve given yourself a good scrub, reach for the moisturizer. Primer has a lot of functions but it basically acts like a barrier between your skin and your makeup, so your moisturizer needs to go on your skin first, or it won’t be able to penetrate your primer, and it’ll be useless.
Massage your moisturizer on your face first and wait for it to set it and dry, and then you’re ready for primer. The primer should lock in your moisturizer with your skin, and the makeup will sit on top.
Just the Right Amount
This is our Rule #2 for primer, but it’s really good advice for whatever type of makeup you’re using: don’t overdo it. The great thing about this stuff is that a little goes a long way, and while you may be tempted to use a ton of it—after all, more primer means a stronger base for your makeup, right?—that’s not the case, and it could actually make applying the rest of your makeup more difficult.
So, go easy, and start at the center of your face with a pea-sized amount and work your way out to the edges, distributing evenly. If you run out, use just a smidge (that is, a lot less than a pea-sized amount) to get the spots you’ve missed.
Primer Application Tools
A lot of makeup products require very specific tools for application, but when you’re using primer, you’ve got a lot of options: you can use sponges, brushes, or your fingers. Ultimately, everyone’s skin—and everyone’s preferred method of application—is different, and you’ll need to find what works best for your personally.
That said, here are some tips to keep in mind:
If you’re using your fingers… please please please make sure that your hands are clean and freshly washed before applying your primer. Rubbing primer onto your skin with dirty fingers is like locking all that dirt and grime onto your skin underneath all the layers of your makeup: no good.
Also, if you’re using your fingers, keep an eye out for streaks—using your fingers can warm the primer and make it easier to apply (a good thing) but it can also make application a bit inconsistent. As with all cosmetics, you want to REALLY watch what you’re doing.
If you’re using brushes or sponges… make sure they’re clean. Using dirty brushes is, perhaps, the biggest mistake made by makeup enthusiasts, and it can wreak havoc on your complexion: after many uses, brushes and sponges are not only chock-full of your old makeup products, they’re also full of your dead skin cells, and loads of bacteria. Rubbing unclean makeup brushes over your skin is 1) awful for your skin, and 2) gross.
So take the time to maintain your tools. Some makeup artists keep a cleaning schedule according to the type of brush—once a week for foundation brushes and concealer brushes, and once every two weeks for brushes you use on your eyes and eyelashes—but we’ve always found that those types of schedules always get confusing, so we try to clean everything once a week, even though that adds a little bit of time onto our maintenance routine.
(By the way—we started out as a website about makeup, but somewhere along the line, we realized we’re really a website about skin care. A consistent, healthy skin care routine is really the first task of any makeup artist, so don’t overlook it—and keep those brushes clean!)
Lastly, no matter what application tool you’re using, avoid the eye area and remember to give your primer a few minutes to set before you apply your foundation. This can be tough when you need to scurry off to work or school, but try to take the appropriate amount of time—it can make a difference.
Graduate to Eye Primer
Once you’ve mastered the art of choosing and using a face primer, you may want to take a look at some eye primers. They work just like a regular primer, except that their mission is to keep your eye makeup specifically in place, and they’re just as easy to use as normal primers: just use your fingers or a sponge or a brush to swipe it over your eyelid, give it a minute or two to dry, and then apply your eyeshadow or liner. It can add a little bit of time to your routine, but if you like using a lot of eye makeup—or if you find that settles or “droops” over time—an eye primer might help.
Oily Skin: Six Helpful Tips
Over the years, we’ve noticed something: when you talk to anyone who loves makeup and you start to discuss mattifying cosmetics, sooner or later, you’re going to start talking about your skin. You may start out talking about makeup, but usually the conversation ends up about skin—and oil.
So, because this post is mostly about our picks for best mattifying primers, we figured you might also want some guidance on how to take care of oily skin. We’ll start with one that seems pretty obvious, but it’s pretty important:
So, yes, this seems like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, a lot of people get this wrong. Here are a few reminders that a lot of people forget:
Tip #1: Ditch the Soap
Soap is the go-to when it comes to cleansing, and that message gets drilled into us from a very young age. Want to be clean? Reach for some soap and turn on the water.
For oily skin, though, soaps—especially bar soaps—can often be pretty harsh: they can feature high pH, and that can strip away a protective layer of your skin; it can remove lipids from your skin and dry you out, and that can lead to flakiness and itching; and many of the fragrances and dyes included in a lot of soaps can do a number on sensitive skin. Bar soaps do a good job in removing dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells from the skin, but they remove a lot of the good stuff, too.
So, gel or foam cleansers are usually recommended for men and women who have oil issues. Medicated face washes can also be a good option, but just be careful that the cleanser you’re using isn’t too harsh—harsh cleansers can strip your skin of its natural moister and actually cause more oil.
Tip #2: Don’t Overwash, Even if it “Feels Right”
This is the most common trap that people with oily skin fall into: they look at their face, see oily on their skin, wash their face, and then feel great when all that oil is gone. Then it comes back, and they wash it off again. And again. And again. And again.
Believe it or not, all that washing can actually stimulate more oil production, and that’s not what you want—especially if you’re trying to achieve a matte look.
So, many people put themselves on a once-a-day, twice-at-most face cleaning schedule. A regular cleansing regime—and not an over-and-over again regimen with harsh products that make you feel clean but dry you out—is better for your skin in the long run.
Tip #3: Skip the Scalding Hot Water
This tip—OK, we’ll be honest, this tip breaks our little hearts, because a scalding hot shower can be soooooo relaxing—but it’s bad for your skin.
Normal face washing, done with tepid-to-warm water—can remove excess oil from your skin, but face washing with extremely hot water can actually rob skin of protective oils that your skin needs in order to be healthy. It’s another situation where you think that stripping your skin of a great deal of oil would be a good thing, but it’s not—you need some oils to defend from pathogens and bacteria.
So if you’re at the sink, wash your skin with medium-to-warm water, and if you’re stepping in the shower, turn the dial down and take shorter showers. A hot shower once in a while is probably fine, but as an everyday thing, it can cause issues with your skin.
Tip #4: Remember that Cleansers are Not Makeup Removers
This is an easy one to forget: cleansers—even really good ones—are not meant for makeup removal.
Many of the cosmetics you buy are designed to last throughout the day, and they’ve got scads of water-resistant ingredients to keep them in place. Those ingredients that keep your makeup on your face tend to work really well, and even an effective cleanser can’t clear them from your face at the end of the day. Makeup removers have specific ingredients to get cosmetic products off your skin, and if you’re using makeup products—particularly long-lasting/waterproof/non-fading products—the only way to fully clear them away is with a makeup remover.
One other tip, before we move on: your makeup remover is not a substitute for a cleanser. Just because you’ve gotten the makeup off your face, doesn’t mean it’s clean! You’ve most likely still got dirt, debris, and dead skin cells on there, and you’ll need a cleanser to get all of it off.
Tip #5: Exfoliate (but Don’t Overdo It!)
You’ve probably heard that exfoliating oily skin is extremely important—and it is. Dead skin cells, loaded with dirt, bacteria, and (for lack of a better word) “gunk,” sit on your skin, and can wreak havoc on your complexion. They can lead to pimples, blackheads, rashes, and all sorts of irritation. Some lucky people don’t need to exfoliate regularly, but for the rest of us, it can be a very good idea.
We’ve written extensively about exfoliating, but here’s “exfoliating in a nutshell” if you’ve got oily skin: look for an exfoliating solution that 1) has salicylic acid (shown in some cases to be good for acne and oily skin), 2) is hydrating and moisturizing, and 3) is non-abrasive. And, as you may have guessed…
Don’t overdo it! There are some things in life that help you more and more the more you do them—but skin care is not one of those things. Excessive exfoliation will leave your skin ragged, and it’ll hurt. Some cosmetic authorities advise men and women with oily skin to exfoliate two to three times per week, but even that may be too much, so see how your skin reacts. If it feels raw, you may want to dial it back to one or two times per week (or maybe even once per week).
Tip #6: Don’t Over-Powder
Many people try to combat the issue of oily skin by using powders, and while they can certainly help minimize the shine effect produced by oil, using too much can irritate your pores and actually cause them to produce more oil.
If powders are a part of your cosmetics routine, you don’t need to cut powder out altogether, but try to limit its use to just the shiny spots, and look for breakouts. Also, keep an eye out for the ingredients list—powders (particularly foundations) that contain dyes, fragrances, parabens, and sulfates can irritate the skin, so keep an eye on that ingredient list.
Wrapping Up Our Discussion of Mattifying Primers
Primers are one of those cosmetics that are easy to overlook, but they can provide a fantastic base for your makeup—and a lot of side benefits, like SPF protection and moisturizing properties—for your skin. Wear them in good health!