Basics Baby: Setting Powder VS Finishing Powder

Imagine if the school principal blames the student for not being able to teach the teacher effectively. Yes, both student and teacher are in the same setting (the classroom) but the principal penalized the student for not executing the teacher’s job. Pretty unfair, isn’t it? I know it’s a little far-fetched but this very analogy appears to be a common occurrence when it comes to reviewing setting and finishing powders. (I’ve seen countless negative reviews of finishing powders that fault the product for not setting the makeup.) So let’s first address the big question. Are setting powders and finishing powders the same thing? Well, aside from the fact that the term powder exists in both their names, a setting powder and a finishing powder are designed to serve absolutely different purposes. However, many have provided problematic reviews of the products due to error in the measurement criteria which stemmed from a lack of awareness of their different functions.


What is a setting powder?

Setting powders, which come in both loose and pressed forms, are made to set your makeup specifically liquid and cream bases such as your foundation and concealer. Applying a setting powder over those helps to retain the products’ longevity on your skin. It keeps it in place and prevent the products from sliding or transferring after hours of wear and sebum production. Immediately upon application, setting powders reduce shine but provide neither coverage nor tint. It’s specifically designed to hold foundation and concealer in place and prevent them from rubbing off. Setting powders can also be used for touch ups as it contains some oil absorbing properties. It is usually preferred over a compact powder foundation as it is a sheerer and lighter form of powder, therefore perfect on top of liquid foundations.

There are various methods to applying setting powders. You can use a variety of setting brushes to lightly tap on areas that require setting, powder brushes to lightly dust the product over your whole face or go for a beauty blender to either push the powder into the skin or leave it on for a few minutes (i.e. baking) before dusting the excess off.


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One of the most coveted and a cult favorite of not just makeup artists and celebrities but also most makeup lovers out there is the Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder. A silky powder with sheer coverage, this holy grail setting powder is weightless and long-lasting, absorbing oil and reducing shine all day. What makes this powder a hot pick is its slightly denser than usual consistency that allows for smoother and even application and blending, and its translucent shades that truly works on all skin tones, from the fairest to the deepest.

Other trusted setting powders in the market includes the RCMA No Color Powder (loose), Kat Von D Lock-It Setting Powder (loose), COVER FX Perfect Setting Powder (loose), Dermablend Loose Setting Powder and NARS Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder.


What is a finishing powder?

Finishing powders (which also come in both loose and pressed forms) as the name suggests, is created to provide your complexion with a specific finish. It can impart a soft-focused, blurring effect on the skin, best for minimizing the appearance of imperfections. It can also lend a brightening effect on the complexion with its light refracting properties or provide a luminous, pearlescent finish to skin texture.

A finishing powder is meant to be applied at the end of your makeup routine, on top of all your other makeup including bronzers, contours, blushes, and highlight. Techniques include dusting the face with a light layer of the finishing powder, or buffing the finishing powder into the skin so as to mesh the entire makeup look together, producing an airbrushed finish. Finishing powders are generally not as often used as setting powders as they are much less a necessity. Setting powders are crucial to hold your base makeup but finishing powders are more of a bonus to give you a more flawless and ethereal finish, thus usually reserved for special occasions or for when you have a lot of photo-taking going on.

Similar to a setting powder, it does not provide coverage. However, depending on the finish that it intends to give, finishing powders may come with a tint. Some finishing powders that are made to give you a bronzed, sun-kissed effect may contain a light golden tint while those meant to give an opalescent finish might contain a soft pink tint. Powders with a yellow tint help to further conceal redness while powders with a light peach tint can highlight a radiant complexion.

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A highly recommended finishing powder is the Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish Skin-Perfecting Micro-Powder. A breathable micro-fine powder with soft-focus nano particles that blur away lines and imperfections, this finishing powder leaves your skin with a bright and illuminating finish. What’s best about this powder is how it resists any caking, dusting or sitting in lines, therefore it is one of the best powders for touch-ups.

Other popular and trusted finishing powders include the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder (pressed) that comes in six different shades/finishes and the MAKE UP FOR EVER Ultra HD Microfinishing Powder which comes in both loose and pressed versions.


Are setting powders and finishing powders interchangeable?

Though there are no rules to makeup, I’d have to say that certain makeup products are made to be used and applied in a specific way. You will not likely receive your desired results if you use setting and finishing powders interchangeably. Baking or setting your makeup with a finishing powder may not lead to prolonging its longevity on your skin. Similarly, a setting powder may not provide you with a finish you desire.

So is it fair to criticize a finishing powder for not being able to do the job of a setting powder? I would think not.


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