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Top It Off | Face Powders

~| 8 minute read |~


An iconic makeup picture is a woman sitting at her desk applying powder to her face with an oversized puff. Think 1940’s style. Something about applying powder to the face seems so romantic and timeless to me. Through the years, trends have changed but powder compacts have always found their way into women’s makeup bags.


In this post:

  • Purpose of powder
  • Two types of powders
  • A note about baking
  • Application styles


Powders have been a crucial part of makeup for as long as makeup has been worn. One of the main reasons for its popularity is because it is the best way to set makeup to prevent fading and creasing. Liquid and cream products tend to migrate throughout the day so using a bit of powder to lock it in place increases longevity and keeps the face looking fresh. Powders help cut down on shine and can help reduce light reflecting in unfavorable areas like under the eyes, on the sides of the nose, or on the center of the forehead. Certain powders help reduce the appearance of pores and can achieve an airbrushed look in minutes. Setting your face with a light dusting of powder can also help the blending of any other powder products you’re going to use as they won’t catch on any wet foundation and stick. A rule of thumb is to apply creams and liquids before powders because the powder finishes a look and it can be hard to blend a cream blush/contour/bronzer/highlight atop a powdered surface.

Powder comes in pressed and loose forms, each with their unique characteristics. Loose powder is finely milled and tends to offer minimal coverage, if any. The application of loose powder can be tricky but it’s ideal when you don’t want to see powder on the skin. It is normally packaged in a container with a sifter so you’re not getting a brush full of powder every time you dip in. Sometimes the sifter is made of plastic with tiny holes so you tap powder into the lid before opening. Other sifters have a thin layer of fabric stretched over the center, which you press your brush into to pick up the powder below. Most loose powders are not travel friendly because of this sifter system but a cotton wad placed under the lid is a trick to keep the powder from becoming a complete mess.

Pressed powder ranges from minimal to heavy coverage due to the emollients added to hold it together in the compact. A small mirror under the lid and mini application tool (brush or sponge) are sometimes included with pressed powder. Its easy application makes pressed powder ideal to throw in a handbag for on the go touchups. Powders with sunscreen ingredients are a great way to keep your skin protected without having to remove or smear your makeup by reapplying lotion halfway through the day. Having sunscreen in your makeup does not replace a proper sun protectant, but can be a convenient way to top it off.

The amount of powder used and its placement depends on personal preference and skin type. If your foundation and/or concealer stay quite wet or you get quite oily, then setting with powder would be a good idea to improve longevity. This will also help minimize your makeup from transferring. If however, your foundation/concealer dry down or you have a more dry skin type, you can get away with what I can strategic powder placement.

At the very least, I use a small amount of powder under the eyes to prevent my under eye concealer from creasing. The skin around our eyes is the thinnest skin on our body and unless we never blink, roll our eyes, or look anywhere but one direction, there is going to be some degree of makeup movement and breakdown here. Powder can help keep this breakdown from happening so easily. If I use too much powder here it can create an unflattering texture under my eyes, which defeats the purpose of applying concealer there altogether. Other common areas to powder are the bridge of the nose, around the nostrils, the chin, and the forehead, as these areas tend to throw the most shine.

You may have heard the term baking in reference to powder. Baking is a common technique live performers use to lock in their intense stage makeup. To bake, one would pack on as much loose powder as possible in a specific area -often under the eyes- and let it sit on the skin for at least a few minutes before sweeping away the access powder. Having such a thick layer of powder on the skin makes it impossible for that area to breath, trapping the heat from your body between the skin and the powder, resulting in a baked foundation/concealer. Baking has taken the makeup world by storm and is what makes Instagram pictures look so flawless. I am fond of “smaking” (small baking = smaking) a toned down version of baking, for photography. Cameras are rather unforgiving and a little extra makeup translates better in pictures. That being said, I personally don’t care for baking in everyday makeup as it tends to look artificial and thick on the skin. But that’s just me.

The tool you choose to apply your powder is completely up to you. I don’t find fingers to be the most effective tool available for this step in my makeup routine. Depending on the day, on the look I’m going for, and which brush is clean, I’ll use either a tapered face brush or a paddle brush to apply my powder. I do not buff in my powder because I don’t want to disrupt the foundation and concealer underneath. The softer the brush is, the better. I gently place or stipple the powder where I want it. If you’re going to set your whole face, a large powder brush is the quickest way to get it done. A sponge is another option, and one I reach for more when “smaking” because I can control exactly where the powder goes. Then there’s the powder puff, which has withstood the test of time.

What’s your favorite application tool? Do you have a go-to powder in your collection? Let’s chat in the comments!