Give your make-up extra staying power with these top picks

Primers – they’re the beauty equivalent of velcro in our experience. Designed to give make-up valuable grip to see it through high temperatures or humidity, they can be a secret weapon for those of us with oily skin to make our handiwork all the more budge-proof.

We speak to the pros to find out what ingredients to look out for on our labels and their top application tips for a masterclass in how to keep midday make-up slippage to a minimum. Plus, whether you’re looking to give your base greater staying power, blur large pores or mattify, there’s something for every need, skin tone and budget in our pick of the best primers out there.

What is a primer?

"Primer is a product that can be used under make-up, lipstick and mascara to create a smooth canvas and ensure flawless application," explains make-up artist (MUA), Mira Parmar. It’s the secret weapon in many MUA’s kit for achieving a photo-ready finish to stealthily even out skin texture and prevent base from creasing and fading.

What’s more, there’s a wide range of formulas out there to suit any skin type, even oily skin when sometimes the thought of putting more product on your face can be worrying. From gels, creams and liquids to glowy and matte finishes, it’s never been easier to find your perfect match.

What should you look for in a primer for oily skin?

"If you’re looking to control shine, try a lightweight, mattifying primer," recommends MUA Lauren Murphy. These types of formulas also work great when worn without foundation (perfect for ‘no make-up, make-up’ days) – just dot onto shine-prone areas and you’re good to go.

Mira favours matte finish, silicone-based formulas ‘to provide a flawless base and minimise the appearance of pores’. These provide a super-smooth surface that gives a base satisfying glide when applied on top.

If you’re wary of anything too heavy, go oil-free or try ones labelled as ‘non-comedogenic’. However, personal preference is key here, so it’s worth asking a Boots beauty specialist in store if samples are available so you can try before you buy. 

There are also primers that have surprising (and welcome) skincare benefits. Ingredients like calming niacinamide, clay, tea tree oil and salicylic acid can be helpful if you’re conscious of clogged pores. Whatever your choice of formula though, always remember to thoroughly cleanse at the end of the day to keep skin feeling fresh and to help avoid congestion.

Top primer application tips

Prep with skincare

"Be sure to use a good moisturiser under your primer to ensure a smooth base," Mira recommends. This will help skin look and feel healthier.

Pair your formulas

"Make sure your primer and foundation match in consistency," says Mira. "If you’re using a silicone primer, then use a silicone-based foundation. If you’re using a water-based primer, then use a water-based foundation." Mixing them can cause pilling (‘bobbles’ of product appearing on the skin).

Allow drying time

Time is another key part of your pilling-prevention plan. "Thirty seconds after your morning skincare routine, apply an even layer of your primer with your fingertips or a brush and leave it to settle for 30 seconds before applying make-up," recommends Lauren.

Go slow

"Start light and build up if you need to, as a little goes a long way,’ says Mira. ‘Using too much primer can lead to patchiness, pilling and cakeyness.’

Apply where needed

‘For oily and combination skin, my top tip is face mapping primer products to address your skin concerns," says Lauren. "If you only have an oily T-zone, apply a mattifying primer to this area only and use a hydrating or illuminating primer on the rest of your face for added hydration and glow."

10 of the best primers available at
Best for value

Try: 17. Matte Base Perfection Oil Control Primer

• Size: 30ml

• Vegan

Containing sebum-absorbing silica, as well as sweet almond oil, this budget-friendly pick leaves oil-prone skin shine-free but nourished.

Best for congestion

Try: Revolution Conceal & Fix Mattifying Primer

• Size: 30ml
• Vegan

• Cruelty-free

• Contains salicylic acid

This primer provides benefits that go beyond the surface thanks to decongesting salicylic acid and lightweight formula. Skin will look smoother and stay matte throughout the day. 

Best for combination skin

Try: L’Oréal Paris Infallible Resurfacing Primer

• Size: 35ml

This gel primer works a treat for helping dial down a shiny T-zone. Blurring and mattifying, it melts into skin, leaving it feeling velvety soft.

Best for very oily skin

Try: wet n wild Photo Focus Face Primer Matte

• Size: 25ml

• Cruelty-free

• Fragrance-free

Stop a super-shiny T-zone in its tracks with this oil-sapping primer. Fellow Boots customers love how a little goes a long way, too, making it an especially great bargain buy. 

Best for a lightweight feel

Try: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Mattifying Primer True Matte

• Size: 30ml

• Oil-free

MUA Lauren rates this primer for its lightweight texture. "Its blend of blue agave extract and blurring powders help create a smooth base for foundation for a flawless finish and controlled shine throughout the day," she says. Think of it as your Fenty filter in a bottle.

Best for cream-to-powder

Try: Shiseido Synchro Skin Soft Blurring Primer

• Size: 30ml

• Non-comedogenic

We love this primer not just for its weightless feel, but for its impressive light diffusion technology that subtly blurs away the appearance of pores and minimises excess oil. It leaves skin glowing, rather than shiny.

Best gel cream

Try: XX Revolution Quick FiXX Mattifying Primer

• Size: 30ml

• Vegan

• Cruelty-free

This gel cream, enriched with witch hazel and pink clay, is a refreshing pick for hot summer days. It’s the perfect way to heatwave-proof your make-up and mattify skin when the sun comes out.

Best pot primer

Try: e.l.f. Matte Putty Primer Universal Sheer

• Size: 21g

• Oil-free

• Vegan

• Cruelty-free

Containing kaolin clay and white charcoal, this pick mops up excess oil like a dream. Skin is left shine-free, while make-up is free of creases.

Best for a soft, matte finish

Try: Nars Soft Matte Primer

• Size: 30ml

For skin that looks matte minus any flatness, reach for this. It boasts Climate Balancing Technology, which is designed to work with the climate you’re in, helping skin retain hydration in dry climates and absorb excess oil in humid ones – perfect for any holidays you might have coming up. Clever stuff.

Best for skincare

Try: Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base

• Size: 50ml

This primer/moisturiser hybrid plays double duty thanks to the formula containing vitamins B, C and E and shea butter. "It’s perfect for balancing oily skin and ensuring smooth make-up application," says Mira. No wonder it’s her top pick.