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  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

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Best primers under $20, dermatology expert recommended

The best drugstore makeup primer = the most bang for your buck

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Oct 10, 2023 • 4 min read
Woman holding mirror looking at camera with purple background
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Oct 10, 2023 • 4 min read
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Let’s face it — makeup on a budget isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Even the best drugstore dupes of high-end primers often cut corners by adding harsh ingredients that might clog your pores. That’s why I reviewed the best drugstore primers based on their ingredients to figure out which are the best for oily skin, dry skin, and other skin types. (Spoiler alert: L’oreal primers take the cake.)

As always, all products reviewed are vetted by Curology’s dermatology providers and the CosDNA test. If you have highly sensitive or acne-prone skin, check out our no-breakout makeup post on primers.

How to use makeup primer

How to use primer stays relatively the same, whether your canvas is your face or an oil painting: apply a primer on a bare surface in order to form a smooth base. It’s easier for pigments to adhere to a base with an even texture and a sticky surface that grabs onto the products.

  1. Prep your skin by using a gentle cleanser and a light moisturizer.

  2. Apply sunscreen if your primer doesn’t have at least SPF 30.

  3. Let each product absorb until fully dry before applying the next. In other words, your face shouldn’t feel wet when you finally apply your primer.

  4. Exfoliate, if needed. If you think there’s a buildup of dead skin cells on your face, you may want to gently physically exfoliate.

Should you use primer?

A good makeup base should do two things. First off, it should fill in and smooth the texture of your skin so your products apply more evenly. Secondly, the best primers will help keep makeup on your face throughout the day.

Are makeup primers a skincare routine essential? Several years ago, primers took off as a makeup essential as the key to the application of full-coverage foundation. Full-coverage isn’t trending as much these days, but primers are bigger than ever.

Primers with the right ingredients tend to help a range of skin texture issues like acne, large pores, and wrinkles. Many primers use silicones (dimethicone, cyclomethicone, and other -cones), which are also often used in facial moisturizers. These ingredients form an occlusive barrier on the surface of the skin, which helps to lock hydration. Neat, huh?

I like wearing a primer daily because I think it helps with redness, as well as making my pores look smaller. But that’s just my experience! If you are acne-prone or have sensitive skin, make sure you check your primer with the CosDNA test before applying it all over your face.

…Thanks for sticking with me through my primer on primer. Now, here’s what you came for: makeup primer reviews.

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The best drugstore primer for oily skin

Physicians Formula #InstaReady Face Primer SPF 18


  • Matte finish reduces the appearance of oiliness and shine

  • Mineral-based formula with silica absorbs oil and hides redness without causing pimples

  • Smooths skin with dimethicone to create an even base for makeup

The best primer for oily skin and large pores

L’Oreal Infalliable Pro-Matte Makeup Primer


  • Matte finish reduces the appearance of oiliness and shine

  • Moisturizing formula reduces the appearance of pores

  • Dimethicone and glycerin form a sticky base for long-lasting makeup

The best drugstore primer for dry skin

NYX Bare With Me Hydrating Jelly Primer


  • The best hydrating primer of 2019

  • Hydrates and locks in moisture with water, glycerin, and butylene glycol

  • If you’re ISO a silicone-free drugstore primer, this is the one!

The best drugstore primer for large pores and dry skin

L’Oreal Infalliable Pro-Glow Makeup Primer


  • Silicone-based formula fills pores, making them appear smaller

  • Gives dull skin a glowy finish with titanium dioxide as a pigment

  • This primer also works well with combination skin

The best drugstore primer for mature skin

Reviva Labs Makeup Primer


  • Silicone-based formula for maximum makeup security

  • Contains Retinyl Palmitate, an OTC retinol that can help with anti-aging concerns such as fine lines and dark spots

  • Moisturizing ingredients such as squalane help to keep skin looking smooth and hydrated

The best drugstore primer for wrinkles

Catrice Prime & Fine Fine Instant Line Smoother


  • Blurs fine lines on the face and around the eyes

  • Can be used as a makeup or eyeshadow primer

  • Silicone keeps the makeup on your face while evening skin texture

Affordable, accessible skincare

Hey beauty sleuth, are you as label-obsessed as I am? If so, then you’ll probably agree that skincare products without harmful ingredients should be affordable and easy to find. That’s why I think you’ll love Curology, which pairs you with a dermatology provider in order to ship bespoke skincare right to your door. Sign up for a free trial and choose between our 3-step set or just the custom cream for $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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