In those horrible high school days, when I just started wearing makeup and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I could never figure out why my foundation would always seem to melt away by the end of the day. Sometimes it’d smudge, or cake awkwardly above my lip.
When I discovered that my makeup routine was missing the totally essential step of using face powders, I felt a bizarre mixture of relief at finally finding the secret to perfect, long-lasting foundation and shame for not having known it earlier.
In this article, I’ll give you all the details about translucent powders, so that your setting powder game can be on point. I explain what setting powders are, and break down the best methods and tips on how to use face powder.
In this article:
What Is Setting Powder?
Setting powder, occasionally referred to as face powder or translucent powder, is a makeup powder with very little to no pigment. Its main role is to keep liquid and cream foundation in place, give the skin a slightly more matte finish, and make face makeup not smudge or melt off throughout the day.
Using a setting powder will make your makeup more waterproof. Setting powders can come pressed into a compact or loose in a jar with a shaker top.
Beyond just setting the foundation into place they make the whole makeup application process a breeze by ensuring that powder products like blushes and contours blend more easily, and by slightly perfecting the look of the skin overall.
How to Apply Setting Powder
Depending on your skin type and the outcome you want to get, there are different ways to use setting powder, which we discuss below.
The Basic Way – Normal/ Combination Skin and Medium Coverage
This is the technique I use to apply setting powder to my normal/ combination skin that gets a little shiny throughout the day. It gives the skin a naturally matte look that isn’t too heavy, and lasts perfectly on average days.
I find that it is the best technique for those with normal and combination skin types, especially with a more traditional setting powder like the Laura Mercier translucent powder.
- Apply Your Makeup
Apply your foundation, concealer, and other cream makeup products as you normally would. Try to keep the layers of foundation as thin as possible, to avoid caking and creasing.
- Shake It!
If you’re using a translucent powder, shake the container very lightly, and then turn it over so that the powder sits on the larger part of the container (the one with the holes), and so that you can use the lid to tap off excess product.
- Tap off the Excess
Swirl your powder brush (either a kabuki brush or a large yet stiff powder brush) through the powder, and then tap off the excess, or twirl it along the lid. You want to make sure not to have too much powder on the brush.
- Apply It
Using a tapping motion, apply the setting powder to your skin starting with the areas that will likely require the most help staying set throughout the day – along the center of the forehead, nose, chin, and cheeks. Reload the brush with powder as necessary, although try not to overdo it.
- Apply to Smaller Areas
Use a small, fluffy powder brush and the same kind of tapping motion to apply setting powder to smaller areas of the face, like below the eyes and around the nostrils.
- Wipe off the Excess
If you suspect you may have overused the powder, use a clean, fluffy powder brush to wipe off the excess product. Buff it against your skin in circular motions – this will remove unnecessary powder but will also perfect your makeup and give you a smoother finish.
- Finish off
Finish off the rest of your makeup as you normally would. Afterwards, you can use the same brush you used for applying powder to blend out blush and contour and give them a more natural look.
The Baking Method – For Very Oily Skin and Full Coverage
By using the “baking” technique you are guaranteed foundation and concealer that will not budge under any circumstances. The technique is called baking because initially a very heavy amount of setting powder is applied to the skin, and then sits on it for a few minutes to “bake.” In the end, most of that excess powder is wiped off.
Baking is too heavy for most people, and it is generally not recommended for those who have dry skin. This technique is especially popular with drag queens who need their heavy foundation to stay in place through long performances, during which they sweat under heavy lights and layers of stockings.
The average person will only need to bake the parts of their skin where they get oilier, like in the T-zone, or places where their makeup creases very easily like under the eyes. This technique works better with powder puffs or with makeup blenders.
- Apply your foundation, concealer, and other cream makeup products as you normally would. The thinner the layer of product, the better the final result will be.
- Dip a damp beauty blender or a powder puff into your setting powder of choice, and lightly tap off the excess.
- Apply the powder to your skin by pressing the puff or sponge against it. You will notice that a lot of powder stays on your skin – much more than actually looks good. This is totally fine, you can let it sit there.
- Lift the powder puff off the skin, and go on to the next spot, working in sections. Re-apply setting powder to it as often as seems necessary.
- To apply the powder under the eyes, use the thin end of the beauty blend, or fold your powder puff in half. Press the powder gently into the skin.
- Wait around five minutes, to allow the setting powder to “bake,” or fully sink into the foundation. During the wait time you can start doing your eye makeup.
- Using a clean powder brush buff away the excess powder using circular motions. This will refine the look of your skin and prevent your makeup from looking cakey.
- Finish the rest of your makeup as you normally would.
Dewy Finish – For Dry Skin and Light Coverage
For those with dry skin, it is really easy to overapply powder. Some people with dry skin choose to skip setting powder altogether, although it often means that their foundation doesn’t stay in place.
This is the technique you want to use to set foundation on dry skin, or if you want to set your foundation but keep it looking dewy. It is best used with a less mattifying setting powder, like the Bobbi Brown or Becca setting powders from our list of all the best setting powders.
It might not feel like enough powder at some points, but believe me, it’ll be plenty.
- Begin by applying your foundation, BB cream, or concealer as you normally do. A thinner layer is better, and it is recommended that you opt for a more dewy, moisturizing formula. You can apply a strobe cream beforehand for maximum glow.
- Since you want a more diffused powder application it is better to use a very fluffy brush. Swirl it into your setting powder of choice, and tap off the excess. If there is still visible powder left on the brush, then wipe it off lightly on a tissue – don’t worry, it’ll still be enough.
- In quick and light tapping motions apply the setting powder to your skin, until you’ve covered your whole face. Begin with the areas where foundation tends to rub off the quickest, like the center of the face, and work your way outwards. Do not reapply powder to the brush – there is enough on it.
- When you’re done, your foundation will be set but your skin will still look glowy and radiant. Finish off with the rest of your makeup as you normally would.
Setting Powder Tips & Tricks
- Use a brush very lightly loaded with setting powder to blend out blush and contour. This will give an effect as though the blush is natural, rather than sitting on top of the skin.
- Use a setting powder that is a little lighter than your skin tone, or has a more dewy or glowy finish to set a cream highlight on the apples of the cheeks and center of the forehead. This will give your skin a natural strobed effect.
- Tap a bit of setting powder over your lips after you’ve applied lipstick. This will make your lipstick matte and increase its longevity.
- When applying heavier or darker eyeshadow, apply a thicker layer of setting powder under your eyes and along the tops of your cheeks. This is called a “powder guard.” Any bits of eyeshadow that fall under your eyes will fall into the powder, instead of staining your skin. When you’re finished swipe all of the powder away, and the bits of fallen eyeshadow will disappear with it.
- If, even after you’ve brushed off excess powder, your skin still seems to look a little dry or powdery, then mist your skin with water or with a hydrating toner. This will refresh the skin and give it a more hydrated, dewy finish.
- If you find that even with setting powder your foundation still melts off by the end of the day, then make sure to use a makeup setting spray, like Urban Decay’s All Nighter Setting Spray from Sephora.
- If you want additional oil control, apply powder to your skin twice, using what is called the Wayne Goss method – once in a thin layer before applying foundation, and again after you’ve applied foundation. This technique doesn’t work for everyone, but there are people out there who swear by it so I thought it deserved a mention.
Photos via @annabellefleur, Instagram