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Setting Vs. Finishing Powder: The Ultimate Guide on How to Use Both for Flawless Coverage

Photo by Pondsaksit/Getty Images

We're so often spoiled for choice when it comes to beauty product options that are available on the market. With millions of brands to choose from, a seemingly simple decision can quickly spin out into a full-on beauty crisis (cue that “confused math lady” meme). After making important decisions like figuring out which type of foundation is best for your skin, and deciding between a liquid liner or a pencil liner, perhaps one of the biggest beauty conundrums is understanding the difference between setting powder and finishing powder.

For those ready to finally get a handle on how and when to use these two products, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about what both of these powders can do, and which products we recommend. 

About the Expert: 

Alexa Rae Johnson is an NYC-based makeup artist who has worked with celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Bethenny Frankel, Sara and Erin Foster, Juno Temple, and many more. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Vogue Italia, Hamptons Magazine, Beach Magazine, The Cut, and the New York Times. 
Kathy Zikas is the lead makeup artist and co-founder of Curled + Contoured, a full-service hair and makeup team based in NY and Miami.

So, What is Finishing Powder?

Put very simply; setting powder is used to extend makeup longevity, while finishing powder is used to enhance your makeup, says Kathy Zikas, lead makeup artist and co-founder of Curled + Contoured. Finishing powder can help “add color, glow, or pore-blurring [effects], sort of like a camera filter,” adds Zikas. 

"Finishing powder is meant to change the appearance of the texture of the makeup and skin after it is all done," says makeup artist Alexa Rae Johnson. "This powder may be marked as 'HD,' which means it is formulated for use with a high definition camera. A small dusting is meant to be used on top of makeup to blur skin's texture (including blemishes, pores, fine lines, etc), when on film."

Think of finishing powder like an IRL version of FaceTune: it should be used as the final step in your makeup routine to provide an airbrushed finish. If you accidentally went a bit overboard with your bronzer, blush, or contouring, finishing powder can also help to even things out and blend everything together.

Typically, finishing powder is a translucent powder with a super fine texture. It can come as a loose powder or as a pressed powder. Finishing powder can also offer either a mattifying or luminous effect. If you have oily skin, a matte finishing powder can help tone down shine. If you have dry skin, a luminous powder will top everything off with a nice glow or a natural shimmer.

When applying finishing powder, you can use a flat-top brush or a domed powder brush—it really comes down to personal preference. After dusting powder onto your brush, gently stamp and pat the brush across your whole face.

What About Setting Powder?

"Setting powder's purpose is to hold makeup on all day and night," says Johnson. "This powder soaks up excess oils in the skin as well as in liquid foundation products in order to hold liquid makeup on for a longer amount of time. Essentially this is what prevents you from turning into an oily mess with foundation dripping down your face after a couple of hours of wear."

Simply put, setting powder sets your makeup, simple as that. With the right setting powder, touch-ups can become a thing of the past. It's primarily applied on top of liquid foundation and concealer to lock wet products into place so that they don’t transfer (to your hands, hair, phone, etc.). We break down more of the ins and outs of setting powder in our complete guide to this key beauty product.

What’s the Difference Between Setting Powder and Finishing Powder?

"Finishing powder will not set makeup, and if you use too much of it or if you use finishing powder as setting powder, you may actually get a gnarly white cast when flash photography is used," Johnson says. As an example, she points to the notorious makeup mishap Nicole Kidman experienced on the red carpet in 2009. 

"Setting powder can be layered on top of makeup many times to control oil throughout the day and would never show a cast or react with the camera poorly," she says. "The only thing to watch out for would be the product caking up, or looking thick and heavy and settling into lines or wrinkles."

The good news: "You can absolutely use both products together," Johnson says. "All liquid products before any powders, then setting powder to lock it all in, and a light dusting of the finishing powder over top."

"I would say everyone could use a setting powder in their makeup bag—especially those with oily skin or those looking to soak up unwanted oil and sweat in the summer months. I use setting powder on every single client, even those with super dry skin. I just have to be more sparing with it to prevent caking. Finishing powder is a great addition for those who are going to be on camera and want to have their skin look filtered and flawless."

That being said, there are now many setting powders that come with some finishing powder perks. However, it's important to note that this isn't a given. So if you're hoping for a setting powder that offers a little something extra, be sure to read up on the benefits to be sure that it perfects and sets your makeup.

Which Finishing and Setting Powder Should I Use?

Now that you know the difference between the two, it’s time to find a powder that's right for you. As is the case with pretty much all beauty products, there's a lot of variation depending on the makeup look you’re going for and your skin type. To get you started in your search, check out these five picks.

1. Best Finishing Powder + Setting Powder Combo:

FENTY BEAUTY Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Setting Powder

FENTY BEAUTY Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Setting Powder
Courtesy of FENTY BEAUTY

Looking for a setting powder that also comes with some finishing powder perks? If this mega-multitasker is good enough for Rihanna, it's good enough for us. While the silky loose powder extends makeup wear, it also instantly blurs the appearance of pores, fine lines, and imperfections, giving your skin a little extra boost. 

2. Best Drugstore Finishing Powder:

MAYBELLINE Fit Me Loose Finishing Powder

MAYBELLINE Fit Me Loose Finishing Powder
Courtesy of MAYBELLINE

Here's another setting powder-finishing powder hybrid at an even more affordable price point. This mineral-based formula is designed to mattify the skin, create a super smooth texture, and set foundation for up to 12 hours. It's also dermatologist and allergy tested, making it a great pick for those with sensitive skin.

3. Best for Combination Skin:

BEAUTYBLENDER BOUNCE™ Soft Focus Gemstone Setting Powder

BEAUTYBLENDER BOUNCE™ Soft Focus Gemstone Setting Powder

If you want a setting powder that can mattify all your oily zones, hydrate any patches of dry skin, and blur large pores and imperfections, you've just met your match. This powder formula uses a mix of good-for-you ingredients to add that perfect final touch. Hyaluronic acid and aloe moisturize, sustainably sourced mica to absorb oil, and gemstones create a soft-focus, prism-like effect that gives skin a flawless finish.

4. Best Color Correcting Setting Powder:



Originally popularized by film and theater actors and brought to the masses a la Kim Kardashian, this banana powder is a lifesaver of a product (with an admittedly confusing name). No, this setting powder doesn't actually contain banana. Yes, it is the light yellow color of the tropical fruit. While it may seem jarring in the container, when you use a fluffy brush to blend this powder into the skin, it can actually do wonders to brighten up dark circles and counteract redness while also extending the life of your look. 

Ipsters love this particular powder for its clean, matte finish and for how well it can brighten and set under-eye makeup. This product is also vegan, paraben-free, and made with natural ingredients so you can feel good about looking great.

5. Best Translucent Powder:

CIATÉ LONDON Extraordinary Translucent Powder

CIATÉ LONDON Extraordinary Translucent Powder

While this hybrid powder does set makeup, its abilities fall more toward the finishing side. Talc helps to absorb excess moisture and prevent caking while mica makes your skin look luminous. The superfine texture works to provide a lightweight application that won't settle into fine lines and can easily blend out any imperfections in your makeup application. When reviewing this dual-use face powder, one Ipster wrote: "It doesn't leave any white cast and sets my makeup well. Lasts throughout the workday!"

6. Best for Oily Skin Types:

TARTE Smooth Operator™ Amazonian Clay Finishing Powder

TARTE Smooth Operator™ Amazonian Clay Finishing Powder

To all the oily folks out there, this finishing powder is for you. Ipsters have found this loose finishing powder to be particularly helpful with controlling shine. Its mattifying powers come from Amazonian clay, a hydrating ingredient that also works to remove surface oil and reduce the appearance of dry spots. The microfine texture means it smooths and blurs any imperfections with ease. 

And even if you’re not super oil-prone or don't need oil control help in certain areas (looking at you, pesky T-zone), this is still a solid option for all skin types looking for a matte finish.

7. Best for Beginners:

LAURA MERCIER Translucent Loose Setting Powder

LAURA MERCIER Translucent Loose Setting Powder

With a super-smooth, extremely blendable texture, this product is ideal for people just getting used to using a setting powder or those who can’t be bothered to stress over expert application. “It’s a classic,” writes Ipster @sugarsweetnyc. “A light dusting does the trick for smooth, even-looking skin. I use this over my foundation and concealer.” 

While it's beginner-friendly, this setting powder's smooth matte finish and 12-hour wear time also make it a favorite among makeup artists and seasoned beauty junkies alike. This is technically labeled as translucent, it does have a bit of color to it. The “Translucent” shade is ideal for fair, medium, and some tan skin tones. For medium-deep to deep skin tones, try the shade “Translucent Medium Deep.”

8. Best for Baking:

BELLÁPIERRE COSMETICS Translucent HD Finishing Powder

BELLÁPIERRE COSMETICS Translucent HD Finishing Powder

Here's another powder that’s primarily a finishing powder with a little bit of setting magic built in. This mica-based finishing powder smooths, mattifies, and is recommended especially for those looking to “bake” their makeup

Ipster @esca567 summed up our feelings around this product perfectly, writing: “YOWZA IS THIS AMAZING OR WHAT!?!? My skin looks so velvety and set after applying just a small amount of this powder. It blends perfectly into your skin without leaving a visible sheen of white. I am in love with this product because a little goes a long way and the results are fabulous.” And if that isn't enough, as always with BELLÁPIERRE products, everything you'll find in this pretty powder is vegan and all-natural.

9. Best for All Skin Types:

GIVENCHY Prisme Loose Finishing Powder

GIVENCHY Prisme Loose Finishing Powder
Courtesy of GIVENCHY

Zikas loves this finishing powder for her clients. “It blurs, color corrects, and can also be used as a light setting powder,” she says. It comes in six different shades, and each shade contains four different colors that perfectly complement each other to blend into one light-catching finishing powder to top off any look. 

10. Best for Dry Skin:

DERMABLEND Loose Setting Powder

DERMABLEND Loose Setting Powder
Courtesy of DERMABLEND

Adding powder to dry skin can seem like it’s counter-intuitive, but Zikas says it’s not as matte as some of the other powders on the market and it actually has a “bullet-proof” staying power for all-day wear. It comes in three different shades, depending on your skin tone. Pat it all over your finished makeup and leave it on for two minutes before gently brushing it off. 

Ready to discover the best products for your go-to makeup look? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated November 16, 2022 12:00 AM