Everything You Need To Know About Face Powders

From application techniques to the setting vs. finishing vs. HD debate.

I’d bet money that if you reached into your bag right now, you’d find a powder compact in there.

Am I right? I thought so! Powder is a fixture in almost every beauty lover’s life, but it’s become an increasingly complicated subject. HD powders, finishing vs. setting, tinted, or translucent, brush or puff...it’s easy to get confused.

In the first installment of my two-part powder series, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know: the different types, how to apply it, and why you need it in your makeup arsenal.

OK, Alle. Why do I need it?

So many reasons! While everyone wants to glow, nobody wants to look greasy, and powder is a great mattifier.

Powder atop your liquid or cream foundation helps to set it so that it won’t migrate into any lines or slide down off your face. Certain powders can also reduce the look of fine lines and pores.

Powder is also a great base upon which to apply blush, contour, bronzer, or shimmer. You can apply those things straight on top of your foundation if you like, but everything lasts longer when powder is in the mix.

You can also use powder to set cream eyeshadow, turn down the volume on blush that’s too bright, give a slippery lip color more staying powder, AND, in an emergency, as a replacement for dry shampoo.

What’s the difference between finishing powder, HD powder, setting powder, pressed powder and loose powder?

To begin: pressed and loose powders are sisters, not twins.

Loose powder comes in a jar, has smaller particles (and therefore a finer consistency), and usually give lightweight coverage. They’re also messy and hard to transport, so these guys are meant to stay at home.

Pressed powder comes in a compact and contains ingredients used to turn the product into a semi-solid. These are usually things like silicones and waxes, so if your skin is annoyed by that stuff, you may have a hard time with pressed powder. Because the particles are slightly bigger and contain these stick-together ingredients, applying too much pressed powder can result in a cake-y appearance. Using a little as a touch-up throughout the day, though, is quick and easy.

The difference between setting powder and finishing powder is a little nebulous. Many companies use these terms interchangeably, so it’s partially a matter of marketing.

Setting powder is what we think of as classic powder--it goes on after your foundation to get rid of shine and "set" it so that it lasts a long time. It can be tinted to match your skin or translucent.

Finishing powder is generally used AFTER setting powder to blur fine lines and pores, giving you an extra-perfect look. It’s best for situations where you’re going to be photographed a lot, rather than an essential step for everyday makeup. These powders are white.

If you’re going to be dealing with powerful cameras and flashes, you'll need to be careful with finishing powders. If you use too much or don't blend well, you can look like you fell face-down in a bucket of baby powder. This is because the light from the flash can bounce off certain ingredients, causing the dreaded chalky-white FLASHBACK.

But for normal life, applying a finishing powder as a setting powder won’t have terrible consequences if you use a little and blend it well.

HD powders are usually finishing powders. They are so named because makeup artists working on TV and movies that shoot in high definition found that other powders read as too heavy on film.

Should I use a powder the same color as my skin, or one that’s translucent?

Your call. Powder that matches your skin tone can add a little extra coverage and help conceal any spots or scars that you may have. It can also look thick, especially as you reapply.

Translucent powder matches all skin tones when blended well. It’s great for killing shine and doesn’t add a ton of extra product to your skin as you touch up throughout the day. However, if it isn’t blended properly, you can end up with the dreaded FLASHBACK.


Can I wear powder on bare skin?

Sure! Translucent powder will kill shine, and tinted powder will also give you a little evening-out power. If you want more coverage, look into powder foundation instead.

HOW do I use it?

Ask six people how they apply their powder and you'll get six different answers. Personally, these are the only "puffs" that I am a fan of.

I find that puffs for powder don’t allow for thorough blending and are hard to keep clean. I strongly prefer (and recommend) brushes.

Here’s how I apply and blend my powder:

Begin with your powder of choice and two brushes: A fluffy one, and one with dense bristles. A kabuki brush is perfect.

Apply your SPF, primer, foundation and concealer (shown below in picture 1). Tip some powder into the lid, then dip your big, fluffy brush into it. Tap to remove the excess (2), then apply to your face, starting from the center and moving in big circles toward the outside (3). Voila! Matte and lovely! (4)

Now take your clean, densely bristled kabuki brush and gently blend the powder into your face. Use small circles. This will make sure that even if you’re using finishing powder, you never have a ghostly cast in pictures.

Apply your blush, bronzer and highlight over top, and you’re done!

To reapply during the day, carry a pressed powder compact and a kabuki brush. Mine is from Medusa's Makeup, and I like it a lot--it’s small enough to fit in any makeup bag and it does a wonderful job of blending my powder. It's also pink.

Now that you’re all converts to the powder way of life, tune in next time for THE BEST POWDERS IN THE WORLD. Product reviews, yay!

What powder compact is in your bag? Are you a brush or puff person?

Was anyone else surprised at the differences between pressed and loose powders? I know I was, even though afterwards I was like “Wait, of course they’re different.”

Do you have any more powder questions for me?