No-breakout makeup: face primers

A review of the best makeup primers for sensitive skin, all skin types included

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Aug 20, 2019 · 4 min read

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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.

Makeup primer was once a total essential for anyone with hopes of concealing their skin woes. But in the past few years, primers have hit the mainstream thanks to two surprising cultural forces: 1) the clean skincare movement and 2) RuPaul’s Drag Race. No longer just a makeup base, primers also often claim to have other skin benefits, like evening skin tone or texture.

That said — if you’re acne-prone or have sensitive skin, I don’t blame you for being cautious about what you put on your face. That’s why I caught up with Curology’s dermatology providers in order to find the best makeup primers that won’t break you out.

Looking for no-breakout drugstore primers? Read our review.

Primer, explained

Here’s my primer on primer, for those who want to know: primer is a type of makeup that lays a base, prepping the skin beneath for makeup. Primers typically use ingredients like silicones to create a slightly adhesive layer that sticks to rest of your products.

A good primer for the face closes the gap between what’s cosmetic and what’s skincare by creating an occlusive barrier. When used along with a good 3-step skincare routine, this can potentially keep moisture in the skin while keeping everything else out.

Woman with eyes closed and blue top with white stripes and blue earrings

The best primers for acne-prone and oily skin.

How to find acne-safe makeup

Technically, most makeup doesn’t cause acne — but certain ingredients can clog pores, which helps acne-causing bacteria grow. Get to know the basics of reading cosmetics labels so you know what to look out for.

When it comes to skincare ingredients to avoid, you can check most products for free online with the CosDNA test. If you suspect your current primer is breaking you out or causing irritation, check for these ingredients:

  • denatured alcohol

  • ethylhexyl palmitate

  • oleyl alcohol

  • isostearyl isostearate

  • isopropyl myristate

  • myristyl lactate

  • glycine soja oil

These were the most common comedogenic ingredients I found while researching for this makeup primer review.

The best primer for oily skin

Flesh Beauty Shimmer Dimmer Mattifying Stick

($18.00/0.15 oz)

  • Matte finish reduces the appearance of oiliness and shine

  • Helps your makeup stay on longer

  • Certified cruelty-free

  • Overall, the Shimmer Dimmer is the best primer for sensitive/acne-prone skin, due to its non-comedogenic fragrance-free formula

The best primer for dry skin

NYX Bare With Me Hydrating Jelly Primer

($17.00/1.41 oz)

  • Hydrating primer with water as the main ingredient

  • Moisturizes with aloe vera, glycerin, and butylene glycol

  • Best mattifying primer for combination skin

  • Certified vegan and cruelty-free

The best pore-filling primer

Milk Makeup Luminous Blur Stick

($36.00/1 oz, Milk Makeup)

  • The best primer for minimizing pores, scarring, and other texture issues

  • Mineral pigments give a glowy finish that brightens up dry or dull skin

  • Non-comedogenic, silicone-free, and oil-free formula

  • This (currently) breakout-free blogger uses it every day!

The best color-correcting primers

IPKN Color Correcting Primer SPF 15

($28.00/1.35 oz)

  • This green primer cancels out redness, thanks to color theory! To complete the effect, just apply your favorite flesh-colored cosmetics on top so you don’t look like the Wicked Witch of the West.

  • Mineral-based primer absorbs oil and hides redness without causing pimples

  • Contains niacinamide, which may help to reduce the appearance of dark spots when used over time

  • While this product can give your sun protection a boost with SPF 15, 95% of dermatologists recommend at least SPF 30. Always practice proper sun safety!

PUR Cosmetics 4-in-1 Correcting Primer Dark Spot Corrector

($33.00/1 fl oz)

  • The orange tint of this product helps to even out the appearance of brown or purple tones in the skin such as dark spots and circles Just apply a liquid concealer in your skin tone on top so you don’t look like you escaped the explosion at the Cheetos factory!

  • Contains retinol, which may help reduce the appearance of sunspots when used over time

  • The product claims to be “4-in-1,” but I think it’s more accurate to say it’s 2-in-1: good for both signs of sun damage as well as aging (after all, the two go hand-in-hand)!

  • The PUR website claims this product contains aloe vera — which, if it does, great! — but I didn’t detect any traces of the plant in my analysis. If there’s any aloe vera in this product, it’s in a trace amount — i.e., don’t expect to reap the benefits of aloe vera skincare.

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Beauty hacks > hack beauty

I know that shopping for products can be overwhelming, especially with so many different options available. That’s why Curology always keeps it simple with the ingredients we know are safest for your skin. Choose between the complete set or just our custom cream for just $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling. Start your free trial today and see why Curology is the easiest beauty hack of all time.

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Stephanie Papanikolas

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