Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?

flawless skin

I’m telling you, 2010 is the year of the primer.

On the heels of my post about 7 ways to stop shine on your face, I got an email from a reader—we’ll call her R.—wondering if I could recommend a primer specifically for flawless-looking skin.

Here’s an abridged version of our convo:

I was wondering if you might be able to help me find a good face primer.

What I want is what everyone wants: to look flawless. My main concern is hiding visible pores, but at the same time not clogging them up so I can avoid break outs—I don’t have a problem with acne, but I do get the occasional nuisance. I also have a bit of a problem with oil slicks in my T-zone, primarily my chin, so I need something that won’t add to the problem.

I’ve been using Benefit’s That Gal and I’ve been happy with it, but I just ran out and thought maybe there was something better out there. I use a powder foundation (Benefit’s Hello Flawless) if that makes any difference in picking a primer. I’m not looking to spend a ton of money on it; something close to the price of the Benefit product is great, which I think is a little under $40 CDN.  A few names have come up already: Bare Escentuals, Smashbox, and Too Faced.  Any advice?  Other products are welcome!!

And here’s what I think:

R., you are in luck because I JUST did a feature story in Glow magazine on this very subject (how to make your skin look flawless)! I think it’s still on newsstands so definitely check it out!

biotherm aquasource Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?Anyway, I know you asked about primers specifically, but just quickly—before we get to those—I wanted to touch on skincare. I’m not sure what you’re using now, but in my research for the story I discovered that many brands are coming out with skincare products specifically aimed at giving you flawless skin. We gave it the name “high-definition skincare”: products that address little imperfections like large pores, dullness, redness and uneven skin tone. (And the large pore thing is particularly cool, because until now we’ve really only seen this problem addressed from the perspective of acne.)

neostrata toning solution level 2 300x300 Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?A few cool new skincare products to try: Biotherm Aquasource Skin Perfection High-Definition Perfecting Care Moisturizer; L’Oréal Paris Skin Expertise Ideal Skin Genesis Complexion Equalizer Day/Night Moisturizer; L’Oréal Paris Skin Genesis Pore Minimizer; Vichy LiftActiv CxP Total; Dr. Brandt Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner Blackhead and Oil Remover

The other thing about large pores is that while their size is mostly determined by genetics, if they get clogged with dead skin cells, sebum, sunscreen, dirt and makeup, they can LOOK larger. The derm I spoke to recommended exfoliating once a week (more often during the summer). New exfoliating products to try: StriVectin Overnight Resurfacing Serum or NeoStrata Toning Solution Level 2.

benefit that gal 300x300 Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?Okay! Now we can talk about primers.

As R. mentioned, she uses Benefit That Gal. While I’ve never used the product myself (I’m sure if must be buried somewhere in my beauty bins), there are lots of positive reviews online. But R.? I think you can do better. Why? Because That Gal is a brightening primer, so it’s mostly going to perk up dull skin—but not address your main concerns, large pores and shine, as well as some of the other options out there.

What you want to look for is an oil-free primer with two things:

A) oil-controlling or shine-absorbing properties, and

B) the ability to blur imperfections like large pores

Hourglass+Mineral+Veil+Primer Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?Here are a few primers that do both: Make Up For Ever All Mat; Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer Light; Cover FX Clear Prep FX Matte Foundation Primer and Anti-Acne Treatment; Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer SPF 15

Personally, I LOVE the Hourglass one and so far it’s been the one that’s delivered the most flawless and long-lasting finish. It feels quite silicone-y going on, so you’d definitely want to use foundation over top, but it doesn’t make you greasy or shiny AT ALL.

cover fx clear prep fx primer 234x300 Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?I’d put Cover FX’s one in a close second—even though it says it’s for acne, I don’t find it overly drying and it seems to keep shine at bay for a long time.

Lots of people love Smashbox’s primer, but I’m a bit on the fence about it. I didn’t find that the oil-control lasted as long on me and it felt even more silicone-y than the Hourglass primer. I haven’t tried the primers from Bare Escentuals or Too Faced.

Last thing: if you’re really married to your Benefit primer, you COULD layer in a mattifier instead. The difference between a primer and a mattifier is that mattifiers are specifically for oil control, whereas primers can address a range of different concerns (such as brightening, firming, hydrating or yes, oil-control). You wouldn’t use a mattifier with an oil-control primer—that would be overkill—but you could use a mattifier with a primer that does something else, like That Gal, for example. While primers are meant to go underneath your makeup, mattifiers can usually go under or over top of makeup.

Mattifiers to try: NeoStrata Oil-Free Mattifying Fluid; Nuxe Aroma Perfection Anti-Shine Fluid

alison raffaele transparent finish powder 281x300 Reader question: Can you recommend a primer that will make my skin look flawless?If you do get shiny during the day, blot with one of those blotting papers or a translucent (not coloured) powder (it won’t make you cakey). I LOVE Alison Raffaele Transparent Finish Powder.

I hope that helps! Anyone else got any primer recommendations for R.? What have YOU tried? What worked, what didn’t?


Monday, May 31/2010 at 2:33 pm

great post! I don’t know how I got by before I discovered Nuxe’s Aroma Perfection Anti-Shine Fluid. unfortunately, on the worst day ever to forgo a mattifier, I FORGOT to wear it today!!!


Monday, May 31/2010 at 3:42 pm

Great post. I can vouch for CoverFX’s primer, have used and loved it.

Wondering if you can sound off on an aside to this post, related to pore-cleansing: What do you think of those small rubbery pore-scrubber pads out there? (Usually you can grab them near check-outs in beauty departments…) Do they work, or do they only further aggravate skin?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, May 31/2010 at 4:47 pm

Thanks guys!

@Anupa – Do you mean the brushes or the things like the ones that come with the L’Oreal 360 degree cleanser?

I’ve never seen the latter sold separately, but I’m not in drugstores all that often these days! If I had to choose I’d go with a little scrubber brush doodad. The Body Shop makes a great one and so does Quo. They seem to be much more thorough than the rubber things, but are gentle… basically a great option if you can’t afford the granddaddy of exfoliation, my beloved Clarisonic!

As far as aggravating skin – if your skin is normal, I think they should be fine to use once a day with your regular gel or cream cleanser (at night, to remove all the dirt and makeup). I use my Clarisonic every day and have never had a problem. In fact, I did an interview the other week with The Body Shop’s skincare expert and she said that cleansing with a brush completely changed MANY of her clients’ complexions! Eg. more radiant, less breakouts, less dry, etc. Quite a testimony!


Monday, May 31/2010 at 11:40 pm

I find my skin gets oily in the summer and I love Bare Escentuals prime time oil control face primer which I follow with the matte version of the BE mineral powder foundation and it works great for my sensitive skin and its under $30 and lasts for months


Tuesday, June 1/2010 at 1:42 pm

Yep – like what’s sold with the L’Oreal 360 Degree Cleanser. I’ve seen them sold separately in a few places and probably received mine via a package at the office. It feels quite gentle, and looks like it can get in there so I’ve been tempted to use it lately to supplement my nightly cleansing. From your response, looks like it’s probably best to just try it out for a week or so and see if I notice a “more radiant” complexion! Merci!


Tuesday, June 1/2010 at 2:31 pm

Hey! It’s “R” :) Thanks so much for the reply!!

—Skin Care –
My skin care routine is all The Body Shop. Tea Tree cleanser and toner, followed by the Seaweed moisturizer on my cheeks (they’re drier than the rest of my face) and the Tea Tree moisturizer on my T-zone. I subscribe to Glow but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so I’ll definitely check out your article and look into the “high definition skincare” stuff!

– Primer –
I caved and bought a new bottle of “That Gal” last week, so I’ll try the mattifier idea until the new bottle runs out. Now I have even more time to find the right solution :) I like “That Gal” cuz I can really see a difference in how long my foundation wears. I tried the Smashbox one and I, too, am on the fence about it. It made my skin feel great, but it didn’t do much to make my foundation last … probably because I use a powder foundation. The Hourglass primer is getting some great reviews, but I don’t really like the pricetag attached to that one — $52 USD is probably close to $70 CDN. And I’m worried that the CoverFX one might be overkill for my drier cheeks … which is where some of my visible pores are that I want to hide.

– Mattifiers –
The Nuxe and NeoStrata lines: did I see them at my local Shoppers Drug Mart?? The Nuxe product sounds like it might work, at least until I can find that one-step primer. So I’d put this on AFTER the primer but BEFORE my foundation ??

I COULD just be doomed at the end of the day because of my combination skin. Drier cheeks, oily T-zone, visible pores in BOTH areas … Maybe I just need to scrap EVERYTHING, skin care and all, and start all over. Ahh!!!!!

Oh what we do for beauty …


Tuesday, June 1/2010 at 7:53 pm

Hey! Great posting! I’m on the hunt for the perfect primer and will test some of these out.

I read the above comment about the Clarisonic. I was lucky enough to win one!! I actually found I couldn’t use it every day as my skin was very sensitive and breakouts were popping up more than usual along with dry skin patches. Maybe it was the product I was using but it was the ones that came with it… I have been using twice a week now but want to have radiant skin every day!

What do you recommend to use with the Clarisonic? I’ve been a Neutrogena Deep Clean cream cleanser gal for about 10+ years now.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, June 3/2010 at 9:51 am

@Anupa – okay I’m curious now. I’ll have to look for these next time I’m at Shoppers. Will you let me know if they work for you?

@Gimped – a.k.a. “R.” – No worries that you caved! If you love That Gal then there’s no reason you can’t use it… just layer it with a mattifier to get the invisible pores effect that you’re after. (And sorry for recommending the Hourglass one – I forgot you wanted something under $40 – I always forget how much stuff costs!).

The NeoStrata one is definitely in your price range… can’t find how much the Nuxe one is but it shouldn’t be much more expensive than that. And yes, I’d put it on after your primer but before foundation…

Oh and I JUST got a mailing about a new Benefit product you will want (since I know you love Benefit!). Maybe you want to wait till this comes out. It’s called The Porefessional and is an oil-free balm to minimize the appearance of pores. $34 and available in July… I haven’t tried it yet but it says you can wear it over or under makeup.

@CC – Interesting about the Clarisonic. Which brush head are you using? It comes with two – regular and gentle… so maybe switch to the gentle if you haven’t already. I wouldn’t say you need to use it everyday either – twice a week or even once a week is great if that’s all your skin can handle. As for cleansers, I just use mine with any gel cleanser so I don’t think that really matters… even something really mild like Cetaphil would be good. Just make sure you don’t use anything exfoliating with it – that would be overkill.

I’d see if using it less often and with the gentle brush makes a difference. Hopefully it will be less aggravating to your skin. Let me know how it goes!


Chelsea C
Saturday, October 2/2010 at 3:37 pm

I also have been on the search for the perfect primer. Being a gal with oily skin and having used the Cover FX Skinprep, I purchased the Cover FX Clearprep. I won’t purchase this product again. It didn’t provide a matte finish (which was the look I wanted) and it didn’t keep the oilies at bay. I was also worried about the 1 % Salicylic Acid in it (as I blend my primer up into the under eye area). I like wearing primers. I find that with a primer my mineral powder foundation looks almost flawless. If I use a tinted moisturizer (Cover FX Skintint) it provides a better coverage if I apply a primer first. Like many MUA say, it prepares the canvas. I currently have in my arsenal of primers a Sample of Smashbox Photo Finish Light, Laura Mercier Oil Free, Smashbox Photo Finish, Cover FX’s Clearprep and Skinprep and Korres Oil Free (and 99% Natural) Primer. Not too sold on any of them yet. I think I was looking for the miracle primer that will make my face stay matte. So to finish my long winded comment off, I purchased the Neostrata Matifying fluid last night. I applied it after my Clinique City Block Sheer (spf 25). Its been an hour and I don’t have a drop of shine. I am very impressed. As I touch my face, I just feel silky soft with no oil. So perhaps I found that miracle “combination”.

And Thank You for this wonderful and informative site! I like your compassion towards beauty and health. Plus you are an actual “expert”.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, October 4/2010 at 4:15 pm

Aw thanks! You made my day! (Although I don’t know if I’m so much an expert as just a girl who has tried a shiz-tonne of stuff and talked to a kazillion makeup artists… haha)

As for primers – thanks so much for all your input. It’s good to hear what works and what doesn’t. I’ve had good luck with the Cover FX and NeoStrata but not Smashbox (I haven’t tried the Korres or Laura Mercier).

HOWEVER – I have one more suggestion for you, it’s a product I discovered after I wrote this post. (I suppose I should dedicate an entire post to it one of these days, that’s how much I love it!) It’s the Shu Uemura Under Base and it is by far the most mattifying, oil-destroying primer I’ve tried. Apparently it’s not new but the PR sent me some to try this year. If your skin is on the oily side, I highly, highly recommend getting your hands on a sample to try it.

If you get some please come back and let me know what you thought!


Chelsea C
Tuesday, December 7/2010 at 6:39 pm

I haven’t been able to get into Vancouver to look into purchasing the Shu Uemura Under Base, as you recommended; however, I forgot that I had The Flawless Face kit from Laura Mercier. It includes her Oil Free Primer. I don’t think there are any “cones” in it (from the description that I read at Have you tried this primer or heard anything about it? I just applied it over my many layers of face creams….jokes…but really it sank in fast and didn’t have that slippery feel that Smashbox Photo Finish and Skinprep FX has. I am thinking that this texture is the the silicones. On a different note – I received a sample of the Urban Decay Primer and Yikes, it was like glue. I got the biggest white pimple on my nose (which I have been free of since being a teenager). Back to Laura Mercier’s primer…So now that I have this primer on I am going to apply foundation on one side of my face and MAC MSF Natural on the other. Lets see how things go.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, December 23/2010 at 12:29 pm

Oh good to know re: Laura Mercier – I haven’t tried that one. And didn’t realize Urban Decay made primer for the face… I just have their eye primer.

How did your test work out with the 2nd different sides?


Chelsea C
Thursday, December 23/2010 at 6:14 pm

Regarding my test….the foundation side went on nice and smooth and once set with setting powder, I looked flawless. This would be the going out for the evening look. The other side of my face would be my goto look for every day – a mineral powder, and in this instance MAC MSF Natural. The powder went on nice but not as smooth as with the foundation (and I do realize that they are of different textures and provide different coverage). About 2 hours later, I looked a bit shiny on the mineral coverage side and the liquid foundation was still put. I think a person just has to try different things to see what works for them. And different combinations of products will work differently on different people. Like they say, no two people are alike. On a different post we were talking about powder primers (could have been this post…) if I apply my Matte FX by Cover Fx prior to any mineral powder application, I do get a nice finish and the oilies stay at bay for most of the day. But I am still on the search for the perfect primer to wear under liquid foundation (and mineral powder). I was in Sephora last week and was speaking with a rep and told her that I have oily skin and have tried many of the oil free and some of the more natural primers and haven’t been totally impressed. She asked if I tried the Bare Escentuals Oil Free Prime Time. I hadn’t so once again I opened up my wallet and bought it on the spot. I am not familiar with this line but I understand its a mineral powder line. I tried it on my clean and moisturized skin and when I rubbed it in it got all flakey. Then when I buffed my mineral powder in, it flaked some more. So I tried it again, without any moisturizer on, it didn’t flake right away but if I touched my face it would flake/ball up. I applied a mineral powder with Quo’s skunk brush and it didn’t ball up but a more denser Kabuki brush caused the flaking. Then a different day I tried it over top of my Clinique City Sheer Sunblock (after waiting 10 minutes for the Sunblock to “sink” in) and I got the flakeys again. The next time I tried placing the Sunblock on top and flakeys again. This Prime Time is very weird. I checked out a few of the reviews online and a lot of the reviewers said the same thing. It would flake/peel/ball-up when you try to apply your product over top. I even waited a 1/2 hour before applying anything on top. It did however keep my T-Zone shine free. I will keep using this product but I won’t purchase it again.

Has anyone else tried the Bare Escentuals Oil Free Prime Time primer? What was your experience? Any tips…..

Monday, November 29/2010 at 9:44 pm

Finding the perfect foundation primer can be such a pain, especially when I use only organic cosmetics! Grrr..

I was wondering if you could throw me a bone and share some *organic primers/mattifiers that ACTUALLY work.

I’ve tried the Prime Time one by Bare Escentuals and I felt that it made my face oilier! Grrr once again!



Chelsea C
Tuesday, November 30/2010 at 11:37 am

Hi Sarah. I too was on the hunt for a more organic natural primer and that’s when I tried the one by Korres (I found mine at Sephora). It is silicone free, sulphate free, GMO free, phthalate free, antioxidant-rich and 99% Natural. To be honest, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was so used to using things with silicones that this didn’t have the coverage (pore and line filling) that I liked. It is a nice product but not for me. Lately, I have been using it under my eyes (as I am using the ClearPrep by CoverFX for my face which has Salicylic Acid in it – which is not good for under the eye area) . Check it out at the Sephora Website and Korres.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, December 3/2010 at 7:15 pm

I would love to find an organic, silicone-free primer as well Sarah! The formulators really need to get on that, stat.

There is one from this company called Exuberance Beauty that I have heard of – they are sending me a sample so I will report back on whether it works. There is also the Korres one… but I’ve heard (like Chelsea mentions below) that the performance is a bit iffy.

Have you tried this one from Jane Iredale? I love all her products so it has me curious…

Which primers have failed you? I need to make a list as this is an awesome topic for a post…


Chelsea C
Tuesday, December 7/2010 at 7:34 pm

I just checked out the Jane Iredale site and their primer. It’s a powder base primer just like the one by Cover FX – Matte FX. During the summer I swear by this “powder primer” when I wear Cover FX’s Mineral FX or by its self for the “mattifyingness” of it. Prior to September, Mineral FX was the only Mineral Powder foundation that I used. If I didn’t apply the Matte FX first the mineral powder would look blotchy after awhile. Even their beauty experts suggest that you apply the Matte FX prior to applying the Mineral FX……

Step 1. Use BritePrep FX to prime your skin for foundation application.
Step 2 (for oily skin only): Use Matte FX as a primer to naturally absorb oil.
Step 3. Using the provide sponge, buff all over the face, gently dusting any excess product.
Step 4. Use a concealing brush (try #110 or #120) to pat Mineral FX on areas/spots that require more coverage.

On a different but same note…..I recently started using MAC products. Just to give them a try. I have quite enjoyed the MAC Mineralize Skinfinish (MSF) Natural (I have 3 shades now). Prior to this I was a devoted fan of the Skintint FX by Cover FX (it’s a tinted moisturizer) and setting it with Setting FX. But I have been a little vain lately and wanted a fuller coverage, which the Skintint and Mineral FX couldn’t accomplish. A few make-up bloggers had good reviews of the Revlon Colorstay foundation so I have been giving that a try. I either set it with the Setting FX or the MAC MSF. But most days when I am a “mom on the go” I buff the Matte FX on then the MSF with one of my denser Kabuki/bronzer brushes and I get great coverage without getting too dark. I know some girls reapply this powder as a blot powder but it’s not meant for that. It is buildable color. If/when I get oily I dab my face with tissue or the Clean & Clear oil blotting sheets. MAC makes a blot powder too but it has color in it, which I am iffy about. I will stick with my Matte FX. So, my point is …..Matte FX is a great “powder primer”; however, its not good at disguising pores/filling in lines. I would assume that the Jane Iredale product has the same effect. Plus Cover FX is much cheaper and Canadian! That’s my 5 cents! Yes, I am a little long winded!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, December 23/2010 at 12:31 pm

Hey this is great info, thanks. I think I was using the Matte FX wrong – re-applying as a blot powder instead of just using under makeup. I need to give it another go now that I’ve purchased Jane Iredale’s mineral foundation. (I assume using a powder primer under a liquid foundation would not work!)


Chelsea C
Thursday, December 23/2010 at 6:18 pm

You can use the Matte FX as a blotter but it does work wonders as a “primer” for your powder mineral foundation. I have tried it under my Cover FX tinted moisturizer – Skintint FX and no problems but I haven’t tried it under any other liquid foundations. I think its a little like “apples and oranges”. The quest continues.

Tuesday, December 28/2010 at 2:29 am

What do you think of sunscreens that act like primers? Such as Shiseido Extra Smooth.

Do you use a moisturizer under primer? Do primers also mattify skin? Do you use a primer every day?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, January 1/2011 at 1:20 pm

Hi Kara, I do like primer/sunscreen combos as sunscreens tend to make skin greasier… so it’s nice to be able to save that extra step with an all-in-one. Shu Uemura’s Under Base is pretty much my summer go-to now (not sure I’d discovered it when I wrote this post)… my only issue with it is that it’s got a lot of chemicals and the sunscreen is not natural. (I prefer titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.)

Whether I use a moisturizer under primer depends on the season. In the summer, usually no because my skin is on the oilier side. I will in winter though. I also switch primers depending on the weather. The Shu one is SUPER oil-controlling so it’s something I save mostly for summer.

Not all primers will mattify skin – many are just designed to help makeup go on smoother and hydrate skin. So if you’re looking for mattifying properties make sure it says that on the label.

I wore the Shu primer all summer but in the winter I don’t use primers every day… if I can I like to give my skin a break from the silicones (I have a fear which may or may not be irrational that the silicones can clog my pores). I don’t wear foundation every day either – but I always, always wear a primer when I do.

I hope that helps/makes sense!


Thursday, November 8/2012 at 10:32 pm

Hi, I have incredibly dry and uneven skin and would love to use a primer but I’m allergic to silicone – when I use foundations/primers with silicone in them, I break out in small spots all over my face. Could you recommend some silicone free primers that might help smooth out the appearance of my skin and also make my makeup last?



Cathey Treider
Saturday, January 5/2013 at 4:01 pm

I am an older woman who has always worn a lot of make up, “in full drag” as my daughter refers to it! LOL! I ‘m looking to update my look a little . . . any helps for older skin . . .just good general info for us old ladies. I like your page and how it is set up, and plan to start following you!
Cathey Treider
Dallas, Texas


Monday, February 18/2013 at 7:54 am

Would you please recommend ANY skincare/cosmetic products that may address large pores/blemishes but do not contain salicylic acid? I am allergic to it and would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks a million!


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