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Setting Powder vs. Setting Spray: Which One Is Best for You?

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We put a lot of time and effort into creating our makeup looks. So it only makes sense that we also hope that they'll last all day long. Unfortunately, we've likely all discovered firsthand that that's not always the case. Whether it's oil-prone skin or a humid afternoon, makeup can sometimes quickly fade or slip around depending on your skin type or environment. 

Thankfully, there are a couple of key products that can lock your makeup look in place: setting powder and setting spray. These two makeup preservers do pretty much exactly what their names suggest: set makeup. What a great hairspray does for hair, setting powder and setting spray do for makeup. 

But what's the difference between these two beauty products? And how do you know which one is right for you? We dive into all of that and more below. 

About the Expert: 

Elle Leary is a professional makeup artist who has worked with celebrity clients like Debby Ryan, Vince Vaughn, and Emily Mortimer as well as for notable publications like Teen Vogue, InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar, and Marie Claire. For the last several years Leary has also created content and offered fashion and beauty commentary for the Grammy Glam Squad. Explore more of her work on her Instagram @ellelearyartistry.

Setting Powder 101

Setting powder is a finely milled powder that may be translucent or tinted to match your skin tone. Designed to be used at the end of makeup application, it keeps makeup locked in place using ingredients like talc, cornstarch, and silica.

While setting powder isn't the same as a pore-minimizing, skin-perfecting finishing powder, it does often come with some final blending and smoothing benefits, creating a soft, airbrushed finish.  

Who Is Setting Powder Best For?

Setting powder is a great go-to for anyone, but it can be particularly helpful for those with oily skin or combination skin. The powder can help to absorb excess oil around the T-zone, keeping your look matte or radiant rather than shiny. 

It's also ideal for anyone who likes to bake their makeup, a makeup technique that involves applying a generous amount of setting powder to areas of the face that you'd like to highlight. After allowing the setting powder to “bake” on the skin for 5 to 10 minutes, the excess is dusted off, resulting in a poreless, crease-free, and matte look. 

How to Choose a Setting Powder

When it comes to narrowing down your search for a setting powder, there are a few key decisions you'll have to make: 

1. Loose powder or pressed powder

Loose setting powders often contain less oil than pressed powder, sometimes making it a better fit for those with combination or oily skin. Loose powder also tends to work best if you're baking your makeup, as it's easier to quickly apply a lot of product, while pressed powders may be more prone to offering a radiant or luminous finish and are also a bit easier to take with you on the go. 

2. A matte or luminous finish

Like your foundation, setting powders can feature different finishes. Formulas designed to keep oil in check will likely create a matte finish. And while matte finishes may be common for setting powder, they aren’t the only option. Some formulas are designed to set makeup and boost your skin's natural glow. These formulas may feature illuminating ingredients like mica or pearl.

3. Translucent or tinted

You also have the option of choosing between a translucent powder or a powder that matches your skin tone. Translucent powders are super easy to apply and are often great for beginners. Skin-toned tinted setting powders can be a great option for darker skin tones or anyone who wants to add just a touch of warmth to their makeup look (nowhere near as much as a bronzer, though).

"A lot of makeup artists will use a translucent setting powder just to finish off the look, take down shine, or lock in the foundation and any other cream products they might’ve used," says makeup artist Elle Leary. "Others might use a tinted setting powder to change the color of the foundation or to make it match more appropriately."

While tinted powders may look like foundation powder in the container, they don't provide the same amount as much coverage—if any at all. So while tinted powder can subtly warm up a look, don't worry about this final touch overshadowing all your meticulously crafted blush, contour, bronze, or highlight. 

How to Apply Setting Powder

Since setting powder sets your makeup, it should be applied as the final step in your routine—only second to a touch of finishing powder if you're also planning to use that. It should also be applied while your foundation is still slightly tacky. 

"When applying setting powder, make sure you use a large buffing brush, buffing in circular motions around the face to really melt the powder into the skin," says Leary. As a final touch, she says she likes to spray a little bit of a moisturizing or hydrating toner over buffed setting powder to really disguise any visible cakiness from the powder.  

3 of the Best Setting Powders

When it comes time to find the right setting powder for you, there are a lot of options out there. So many, in fact, that we've compiled a list of 19 of the best setting powders here. But narrowing that list down even further, here are three setting powders we love:  

1.  Best Pressed Setting Powder:

CHARLOTTE TILBURY Airbrush Flawless Finish

 CHARLOTTE TILBURY Airbrush Flawless Finish

Looking for a setting powder that will perfect and boost glow? Give this bestselling pressed powder a shot. The super-finely milled powder feels so silky smooth on your skin while it blurs the appearance of fine lines and offers a pearly, luminous finish. This pressed formula also includes sweet almond oil to keep skin healthy and hydrated, making it a good go-to for anyone with combination skin or even slightly dry skin. 

2. Best for Oil Control:

TARTE Smooth Operator™ Amazonian Clay Finishing Powder

TARTE Smooth Operator™ Amazonian Clay Finishing Powder
Courtesy of TARTE

This setting powder/finishing powder hybrid harnesses all the oil-controlling benefits of Amazonian clay, a natural multitasker that minimizes the appearance of large pores, absorbs excess oil, and balances out combination skin. Brush the finely milled powder all over for a pore-minimizing matte finish that keeps oily skin in check and your foundation looking freshly applied all day long. 

"This stuff is amazing," writes Ipster ccleigh91. "I use it every day after I finish my facial routine and it's definitely become part of my permanent make-up routine. It's soft and light and really does help keep my makeup looking fresh all day."

3. Best for Dark Skin Tones:

FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Setting Powder

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

Here's the thing about translucent powders: They don't always look fully invisible on dark skin tones. If you've found that to be true for you, don't give up on this makeup-preserving product just yet. Rihanna is here to save the day. Her brand's setting powder comes in eight different shades so you can finally find the perfect match for your complexion. As it seamlessly disappears as you buff, it also blurs the look of pores and fine lines for a smooth, matte finish.

Setting Spray 101

Setting spray is an invisible, fine liquid mist that you spritz onto the skin as the final step in your makeup routine to set an entire face of makeup. While there are mattifying sprays out there, setting spray tends to create more of a natural or dewy finish with less visible texture refinement. 

Who Is Setting Spray Best For? 

As it's easier to apply setting spray to the whole face, it's great for setting a full face of makeup instead of just face makeup. It can effectively set everything from mascara to eyeshadow to eyeliner to lipstick. 

Setting spray may be a better option for those with mature or dry skin, as powders sometimes have a tendency to draw attention to wrinkles, fine lines, and dry patches. Some setting sprays even feature hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe to moisturize the skin in addition to setting makeup. 

Setting spray can also be a great setting makeup product for those with darker skin tones who may have struggled with finding a setting powder that is truly invisible on their complexion. Setting spray is truly invisible and can seamlessly blend into any skin tone, no matter how fair or deep.

Leary notes that in many circumstances, she'll use both setting powder and setting spray to finish a look. "You might finish off your foundation look with a setting powder that’s translucent or tinted, and then finish off the whole look after you have done bronzer and blush and setting powder with a setting spray," she says. "I love combining the two techniques if you have a long night where your makeup needs to stay on for a very long time, like a wedding, perhaps," says Leary.  

How to Choose a Setting Spray

When it comes time to find the right setting spray for you, you'll mainly want to pay attention to what skincare benefits it includes (if any) and what type of finish it creates. 

For those with dry skin, keep an eye out for formulas that feature ingredients like hyaluronic acid, aloe, vitamin E, etc. Other setting spray formulas may feature pore-minimizing ingredients like niacinamide or anti-aging ingredients like antioxidants and blue algae.

It's common for some setting sprays to feature light-reflecting particles that can illuminate the skin, further amplifying a dewy type of finish. Alternatively, some formulas (like the drugstore fave NYX Makeup Setting Spray) mattify the complexion, creating a shine-free finish. Be sure to read up on what type of finish the setting spray you're looking at creates to ensure that it aligns with your skin type; for example, oily skin types may find that dewy setting sprays make their skin look a bit too shiny. 

How to Apply Setting Spray

If you're someone who likes to keep your makeup routine short and sweet, you'll love how quick it is to apply setting spray. Simply hold the bottle eight to 10 inches away from the face, close your eyes and mouth, and mist an even layer all over your face. And voila, that's it. 

Pro tip: To really extend the life of any eyeshadow look (and make it more vibrant), try spritzing your eyeshadow brush with setting spray and loading the pigment onto a dampened brush.

You can also spritz a bit of setting spray onto a foundation brush or blending sponge to boost the long-wear benefits even further. 

3 of the Best Setting Sprays

1. Best for Super Easy Application:

MORPHE Continuous Setting Mist

MORPHE Continuous Setting Mist

While some setting sprays require you to spritz a number of times around the face, this formula offers a continuous mist (like you might experience with a hairspray). The continuous air-powered spray helps to deliver a super even and controlled application. This setting spray creates a radiant, glowy finish and even offers a boost of hydration thanks to vitamin E and botanical extracts. 

"My all-time favorite setting spray," one Ipster writes. "I don’t usually use setting spray, but I do like this one," says another. "The smell is pleasant and it helps to keep my makeup on longer without the greasy/oily feel."

2. Best for Long Wear:

URBAN DECAY All-Nighter Setting Spray

URBAN DECAY All-Nighter Setting Spray
Courtesy of URBAN DECAY

The idea of setting spray is essentially to make all makeup longwear makeup, but when you really need your setting spray to go above and beyond, this award-winning formula has your back. It's designed to keep your makeup smudge-proof, transfer-proof, and expertly locked in place for up to 16 hours by actually lowering the temperature of your makeup (the lower the temp, the less likely it is to melt off). It has even been shown to boost the vibrancy of your makeup, making this a particularly great pick anytime you're creating a colorful makeup look

3. Best for Dry Skin:

MILK MAKEUP Mini Hydro Grip Setting + Refreshing Spray

MILK MAKEUP Mini Hydro Grip Setting + Refreshing Spray
Courtesy of MILK MAKEUP

For those with dry skin, try looking for a setting spray that really goes in on those hydrating benefits—like this formula that features a host of moisturizing superstars like blue agave extract, hyaluronic acid, aloe, and niacinamide, cannabis seed oil, and moringa seed oil. Shake the bottle before spritzing to activate the setting spray dual-phase system that sets makeup for 12 hours while also locking in moisture and creating a breathable, glassy glow.

Want to discover all the best products for your skin type? 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
Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated November 15, 2021 12:00 AM