Tried and Tested: Primers for Oily Skin

oily skin primer review

Do you find that your foundation slips or goes patchy on your nose and forehead, where your skin is oilier? There are some brilliant primers for oily and combination skin out there – used after moisturising (or straight after a hydrating serum, as you prefer) a good primer will create a smooth base for your makeup and help to balance and control oils so that your foundation sticks around for longer.

As I’ve been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for about the past eight hundred years and so have a face that’s as dry as a prune, I set my friend Charlotte the task of testing out four different primers. Here’s her feedback…

oily skin primer

Zelens Velvet Primer, £42 from Cult Beauty here*. This oil-free primer claims to help control shine and create a protective barrier between the skin and the elements. All whilst being virtually weightless. It’s packed full of powerful antioxidants, making this more than just a primer – it’s a high-tech face protector with makeup-staying benefits. What did Charlotte think of it?

“This one is my favourite by far. It feels so nice and luxurious to apply and almost feels like satin on the skin. The staying power is pretty good too. I can go for the majority of the day without having to re powder and even if I forget, I don’t end up shining like a light bulb by the time that 6pm comes around. The only thing I would say is that the tube is quite small so not sure how great value for money it is as I can see myself using it up quite quickly.” (Note, it’s 30ml, which is the same as the Estee Lauder one below but yes, the tube looks much smaller!)

Estée Lauder Matte Perfecting Primer, £30 from FeelUnique here*. A classic – pore-blurring, skin-smoothing, oil-controlling primer with an oil-free formula. I have to say that this one is an old favourite of mine – I used to use it when filming under hot studio lights to stop shine and keep my makeup from melting off! There’s actually a newer version of this, which I have – I will do a comparison post when I get a chance. At first glance it looks to be very similar, which is no bad thing. Charlotte’s verdict?

 “This one was my second favourite. It had the texture of a night cream and was quite thick but it took no time at all to apply. Staying power was OK – wasn’t quite as good as the Zelens one at keeping shine at bay but not a bad little primer.” (The new primer is called The Mattifier and is £25 here*.)

primers for oily skin

Suqqu Treatment Primer – usually stocked at Selfridges here* but it’s showing as unavailable. I have tried this primer and I liked it a lot – soft and silky, slightly pinkish in tone and with an SPF that you’d never guess was there. I don’t actually think that this one is for oily skin at all (sorry Charlotte, my bad!), but in true Suqqu style, it’s almost impossible to find details online. What is the “treatment” part of it? What kind of skin is it formulated for? I have no idea. I shall endeavour to find out, though it has sold out at the only UK stockist so perhaps there’s little point! Moving on…what did Charlotte make of it?

“I had never tried anything by this brand before so was intrigued. A little went a long way with this so I imagine it could last you a while. I didn’t find this one very mattifying though and it seemed to have a bit of a shimmer to it which I wasn’t a massive fan of. It might be quite a nice option for an evening out though.”

oily skin primer review

bareMinerals Blemish Ready Mattifying Prep Gel, £22 at LookFantastic here*. A very lightweight, non-drying gel with added anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories, I did rather like this the few times I tested, mainly for the ease with which is spread over my skin. But it but it didn’t seem to have the staying power of the others. What did Charlotte make of it?

“This one was so disappointing. It claims to be a mattifying prep gel but I’d started to go shiny again within a couple of hours. It feels quite oily when applying too so doesn’t bode well for the mattifying capabilities! I was disappointed as I love the bareMinerals brand.”

Looks as though there are two clear winners, here, in the mattifying primer race; Zelens and Estée Lauder. I must remember to test out all of the “pore-filling” primers I have lined up, too – they make for very good close-up before-and-after photographs!

If you’re after a primer-and-base-in-one, then I couldn’t be more won-over by the Effaclar BB Blur from La Roche-Posay. It’s oil-controlling, pore-blurring, skin-mattifying, and if I have to put any more hyphens into this paragraph then I’m going to cut my own fingers off with pliers.

Read the full review of the BB Blur here.

More skincare products for oily skin…

© 2018 A Model Recommends®: all opinions are my own and any sponsored or paid posts will always be clearly marked as an AD in the title. I accept press samples and receive product and services to review as part of my job. *Outbound links are affiliate links, which means that I receive a very small percentage of any sale made. This does not affect my content in any way and does not cost you anything, but you are most welcome to Google the products on a new page if you prefer. Please see here for full "about" section and disclaimer. A Model Recommends and Ruth Crilly are registered trademarks.



  1. March 17, 2017 / 8:50 am

    So thankful for this review! Looks like we can say goodbye to patchy and cakey makeup forever(oily skin woes)

    With love,
    Iann Ethel

  2. March 17, 2017 / 8:56 am

    Estée Lauder goes in top of my list now. A friend recommended the Makeup Forever Mattifying one as her favorite, have you had the chance to try this one?

  3. Karen
    March 17, 2017 / 9:57 am

    I have pretty good skin, African-American, kind of reddish chestnut, color. Dr Brandt Pores No More is my favorite. There’s no SPF, so there’s no flash back. It goes on top of makeup, and looks great. I can even use a bit around my nose when I don’t wear foundation. I like Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer. Has an SPF, works great, but not on top of makeup. Also, more expensive. I’ll try the 1st one you mentioned.

  4. Emma
    March 17, 2017 / 11:17 am

    Interested to read these reviews as someone who has oily/combination skin. Any idea where I could find out the ingredients list for the Estee Lauder one? The Zelens one will be no good for me as the second ingredient is dimethicone which makes my skin break out something horrific. Actually a very common problem – it seems the silicones either helps absorb the oil and make you look fabulous, or simply block your pores so you break out…I’m in the latter category. I only found it out when I tried out the Effaclar BB blur on your recommendation. Love the effect – but it just does not agree with me at all :( Now if someone could find me some silicone free primers/BB for oily skin (is there such a thing?, I’m still hunting) I’d be a very happy lady :)

    • Sally
      March 17, 2017 / 7:24 pm

      Hi Emma,
      Laura Mercier and Nars primers are silicone free. I have the same issues as you describe and have recently switched to a Laura Mercier primer, the annoying bumps on my forehead are now gone. I’d also recommend chantecaille foundation – silicone free and goes on like a BB cream.

      • Emma
        March 19, 2017 / 11:41 am

        Ooh thanks Sally,I’ll look those up!

    • Dee B
      March 17, 2017 / 10:56 pm

      Have you tried Smashbox primer water? I couldn’t believe the first time I used it how much my make-up stayed on the central line from forehead to chin. I haven’t used anything else since, love it.

  5. March 17, 2017 / 11:39 am

    I tried the Bare Essentials one before too and was so disappointed. They used to be really good for oily skin but I feel like they’re oil control products have been lacking a lot in the past few years, which is really unfortunate.

  6. Val
    March 17, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    Damn, your post comes a day too late. I bought my first primer yesterday after lots of research online as lately, my foundation seems to always be a bit cakey (combo dry skin). So I was after something that’d help with the application and staying power.
    I chose Shiseido in the end so will see how that goes. Looks like EL could have been a good option as well.

  7. Caroline
    March 17, 2017 / 2:41 pm

    I am in the early staged of pregnancy and my oily skin has virtually vanished! In fact, it was my non-oily skin that made me wonder if something was going on.
    Am sure I’ll need to refer back to this at some point though, post-pregnancy! :(

  8. Miss Kitty
    March 18, 2017 / 12:10 am

    I bought Dr Brandt’s Pores No More primer a few weeks ago and I absolutely love it. It doesn’t fill in my pores (which are large) but it is one of the best oil controlling primers I have tried. I can actually get a full day’s wear out of my makeup now, without having to reaaply! Look forward to reading about your pore filling products, as this is a holy grail I am still trying to find…

  9. Emma TH
    March 21, 2017 / 8:55 am

    Does anyone have any recommendations for cheaper mattifying primers i.e. from Boots or Superdrug?! I am an oil slick but watching budget at the moment…

    • Edge
      March 28, 2017 / 1:58 pm

      Yes, Collection’s witch hazel one. V siliconey but cheap so if it’s not a hit you wouldn’t be heartbroken. I really like their peachy coloured illuminating one too, but it does nothing for oil.

  10. April 19, 2017 / 1:23 pm

    I personally like zelen velvet primer. Works well for me. Thanks for sharing this post :)

  11. April 26, 2017 / 11:27 am

    I tried it. It worked well on my oily skin. Thanks a lot for posting and helping me out.

  12. Michelle
    December 22, 2017 / 6:52 pm

    I have always have to buy oily skin products because my skin is so oily, but I found a product that is for oily skin, and has anti-aging properties I have been using the Made from Earth Skin Correcting Toner and now have smooth, dry and soft skin. The effect is it plumps up wrinkles, making them less obvious. My dermatologist pronounced my skin “glowing!”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.