I Thought Setting Powders Were Useless, But These 17 Changed My Mind

To be totally honest, most days, I try to get away with wearing as minimal makeup as possible. It’s not that I don’t love makeup, I really do, but when I’m running around in the morning trying to get ready for work, I don’t have much time to put on a full face. I could wake up early to leave more time to have a leisurely morning, but let’s just chalk that up to laziness and the need for more sleep.

Even my full-face look when I’m going out is pretty minimal by most standards. So I never really gave a second thought to setting powders. In fact, when I used to think of them, I’d picture a big pouf of chalky white powder on my grandma’s vanity. While I love her, it wasn’t quite the look I was going for.

But after doing some investigative beauty research into setting powders, I realized maybe it’s a necessary step to making my makeup look flawless and to control unwanted shine. “A setting powder adheres to your concealer, tinted moisturizer, or foundation to reduce shine, create a smooth working surface for other powder-based product, and it helps to hold your makeup in place,” says celebrity makeup artist Lisa Aharon, whose clients include Gwyneth Paltrow, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Anna Kendrick.

Aharon says setting powders are her first recommendation for people who are fighting an oily complexion or having the issue of foundation or concealer settling into fine lines. All those benefits sounded like things that I definitely wanted. When I spend time doing a whole look, it gets pretty frustrating when my makeup is a total mess after a couple of hours. But again, I was worried about a caked-on look, so Aharon shared some application tips.

“Use a smaller brush—like one that you’d typically have for your blush,” Aharon recommends. “A smaller brush will give you more control with powder distribution. Unless you’re applying powder-based makeup products afterward or have a very oily complexion, concentrate it only on your T-zone. When you dip your brush into the powder, don’t use too much, and tap the excess off before applying to your face.”

And as for choosing a setting powder, Aharon suggests looking for talc-free, finely milled formulas that will leave a smooth, blurred finish. They’re also less drying. “If your skin is fair to medium/tan in color, choose a universal shade,” she says. “But if you’re a tan to deep skin tone, use one with darker pigments. Some of the translucent powders can leave dark skin tones looking ashy.”

Need some more recommendations? Take a look at some of the best setting powders I’ve found, with help from Who What Wear editors.

Beauty editor Erin Jahns says this one from MAC is one of her forever favorites. The powder gives a natural satin finish and contains vitamin E.

Laura Mercier’s setting powder is a cult favorite and for good reason. The lightweight formula sets makeup for 12 hours while absorbing oil and reducing shine. It comes in two different shades: Translucent for fair to medium and tan skin tones and Translucent Medium Deep for medium-deep to deep skin tones.

Another favorite of Jahns’s, Charlotte Tilbury’s setting powder is extra breathable and ultra-fine so it doesn’t leave a cakey finish. Ingredients also include rose wax and almond oil to keep your skin hydrated. 

This finely milled translucent powder works to minimize the appearance of pores, fine lines, and wrinkles. Basically, it makes your skin look so smooth. 

This one’s a recommendation for associate beauty editor Courtney Higgs. The translucent powder contains five forms of coconut and cocoa powder to give you a soft-matte finish for up to eight hours of coverage.

RMS Beauty’s powder comes in four different shades: “Un” (or invisible), Fair, Medium, and Tan. The vegan and hypoallergenic formula will soften skin and absorb excess oil.

Recommended by Jahns, this powder is made specifically to set under-eye concealer, while brightening dark circles. It can also reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Glossier’s setting powder leaves a matte finish while still adding dimension. It’s also talc-, fragrance-, and paraben-free.

Higgs calls this one “super OG.” The powder is micro-milled and is translucent with just a hint of color.

Fenty Beauty’s setting powder comes in eight different shades so you can match it to your skin tone. The lightweight and superfine powder reduces shine and blurs the appearance of fine lines and pores.

Another favorite of Higgs’s, this light-diffusing powder contains Tsubaki oil, a nourishing Japanese oil, and squalane, a natural olive oil derivative—both work to moisturize and soften the skin. It also helps reduce under-eye dark circles. It comes in three different shades: fair, medium, and dark.

Not only will you be able to set your makeup and get a smoother look with this powder, but you’ll also get some extra sun protection with SPF 25. It doesn’t contain talc, parabens, sulfates, or phthalates.

Available in five shades—Translucent, Ivory, Pale Ivory, Golden Tan, and Warm Peach—Anastasia Beverly Hills’ setting powder goes on smooth and absorbs oil. It gives all-day coverage so you don’t have to worry about messy makeup.

Higgs also gave this recommendation via a makeup artist she worked with on another story. It’s made with micro-fine pearls to brighten the under-eye area—a must if you’re working on just a few hours of sleep. It works on all different skin types: normal, dry, combination, and oily.

Made with Amazonian clay, this ultra-fine powder will absorb oil and set your makeup with a matte finish. It also works hard to hide your under-eye circles.

Nars’s setting powder will make your foundation last a lot longer throughout the day—no need for touch-ups. It also contains ingredients like glycerin and vitamin E to protect your skin from dryness. It’s available in two shades: Translucent (fair to medium skin tones) and Sunstone (medium-deep to deep skin tones).

You don’t have to worry about aggravating your skin with this setting powder. It contains ingredients like green tea leaves and vitamins C, E, and F to soothe skin and protect against free radicals and other environmental damage. Choose from two shades: Light and Deep. Next up, makeup artists agree: These are the best under-eye concealers for the 40+ crowd.

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