How To Fight Acne — Even When You're Wearing Makeup

The secret is in the primer.

Originally Published: 
The best primer for acne prone skin is one that protects your skin from breakouts.

Primers are a necessary evil in the standard beauty routine. They're necessary because they lock in your base, help with oil control, and provide a smooth, crease-free finish. But sometimes, they can clog your pores — which leads to breakouts, especially when you have sensitive skin. That's why finding a primer for acne-prone skin is optimal for prevention. “A primer is a thin moisturizing serum that is the first step in a skin care routine,” Ellen Marmur, M.D., president and founder of Marmur Medical, explains, recommending water-based formulas. “Always look for hyaluronic acid and glycerin to moisturize and heal the skin without clogging pores." According to Heidi Waldorf, M.D. of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics, those ingredients "act like a sponge to pull moisture into the skin and hold it, and will hydrate the skin and reduce scale without aggravating your skin."

Aside from soothing, your primer should work in tandem with your skin care products, too. “The ideal product should encourage exfoliation in the pores while hydrating the skin, and will not be too irritating,” says Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, Medical Director of Radiant Skin Dermatology and Laser in New York City. Anything with an AHA, like glycolic acid, works for the skin because they don't cause too much irritation, Dr. Dele-Michael continues, which is ideal, since makeup is meant to enhance, not inflame.

Ahead, see the best primers for acne with dermatologist-approved ingredients to help reveal your best skin (and look) yet.

Best Primers For Acne-Prone Skin

"For those with oily skin, a mattifying primer with clay can absorb excess oil," Dr. Waldorf says. "The magnesium aluminum silicate in this product does that."

Working with Japanese superfoods such as green tea, rice, and algae, this primer from Tatcha keeps skin smooth and glowy all day with clean ingredients that help minimize clogged pores and breakouts.

Free of sulfates and packed with skin-friendly ingredients including hemp-derived cannabis seed, blue agave, and aloe, this silicone-free and oil-free formula from MILK is a winner — not to mention it’s vegan and cruelty-free.

"This primer has willowbark extract, which naturally contains salicylic acid. The acid provides gentle exfoliation to clarify the skin and reduce sebum buildup, and supports the body’s natural cell renewal process," Dr. Dele-Michael notes. "The ancient African tree bark extract assists with minimizing pore size, shine, sebum, and inflammatory acne."

According to Dr. Waldorf, the sulfur in Blemish Rescue is-anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, making it one of the best primers for acne-prone skin. And the phytosphingosine is fatty alcohol, which binds water to maintain the skin's barrier against harmful elements.

This cooling, airy mousse primer from Origins is designed to visibly minimize pores and features ingredients such as the anti-irritant wildflower willowherb.

Built with an incredibly lightweight formula in mind, FENTY BEAUTY’s primer won’t clog up your pores and is well-suited for sensitive and acne-prone skin types.

Dr. Dele-Michael recommends this primer for the "hyaluronans that convert to hyaluronic acid in the skin to increase skin hydration."

This hydrating, vitamin-enriched, and vegan primer from Smashbox is infused with Vitamins B, C and E, along with antioxidants that will keep your skin fresh and soft.

Tea tree oil, an essential oil that minimizes blemishes, is the hero ingredient of Pore Refiner.

If you're going for a radiant finish instead of matte, Skin Love Glow Elixir still fights acne as it's a water-based formula, packed with vitamin E, honey, algae, and peony extract.

This one's a personal favorite: I was a non-primer user until this product. I struggled with horrible hormonal acne and needed a primer because my skin was dry and my foundation looked cracked and cakey. This product never irritated my skin or accentuated my blemishes. The texture is light, non-greasy, and you can't even feel it on your skin.

A tinted primer knocks out two steps in one. The light coverage conceals acne scars, blemishes, and uneven skin, while the SPF in it is "always a good idea," Dr.Dele-Michael notes.

The avocado in the formula soothes irritation, and the safflower seed hydrates.

Veil Mineral is oil-free (which is ideal for any acne-fighting product), mineral based, and has SPF 15, which is necessary year-round.


Dr. Ellen Marmur, president and founder of Marmur Medical

Dr. Heidi Waldorf, founder of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics

Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, medical director of Radiant Skin Dermatology and Laser in New York City

This article was originally published on