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Setting Powder: The Makeup Hack You Never Knew You Needed

A white woman applying powder with a brush; a stack of three powder jars; a jar of setting powder surrounded by loose powder
Sephora/Lawless Beauty/ILIA

Want to elevate your makeup game to pro level? If so, setting powder is your new secret weapon, and we’ve got the scoop on how to make it work for you.

One of the most frustrating things about applying makeup is when you put so much effort into crafting a look, only for it to smear, crease, and wear off too quickly. Setting powder is the solution you’ve been looking for. With the right product and a few quick tips, you can perfect your makeup looks in no time.

What Is Setting Powder?

ILIA Soft Focus Finishing Powder and three jars of Seal the Deal setting powder.
ILIA/Lawless

Setting powder is pretty much just what it sounds like: a powder that’s applied on top of makeup to “set” it for longer wear. They’re usually a loose powder, as opposed to the pressed foundation-type powders. They’re also mostly translucent, with little to no tint.

Due to their fine texture and translucency, setting powders are designed to be almost invisible, and enhance your overall look rather than add to it. When you apply a setting powder, you’re taking care of multiple potential makeup concerns at once.

First and foremost, setting powder essentially bonds to the rest of your makeup and helps it last longer. When you’re headed out for a long day or night, a quick swipe of setting powder can help you avoid that moment a few hours later, when your makeup starts to look smudgy or wear off.

It’s also a great way to combat the dreaded shine. Whether you use a liquid foundation that leaves a bit of a glowy finish, or you’re just trying to avoid that inevitable oily look that crops up after a few hours, setting powder helps you preserve a more matte finish.

Also, because it’s lightweight and translucent, it doesn’t give you a cakey, overdone look. Instead, it helps you keep a natural, even dewy look, while also toning down shiny spots.

There are plenty of options out there for setting powders, from tinted to translucent. For a true matte finish, you might like Seal the Deal by Lawless, particularly in the Classic Translucent shade. It also comes in two other tints—brightening and golden—to cover a range of skin tones and needs.

For a product that blurs more than mattifies, and allows a bit more of a glow to shine through, try ILIA’s Soft Focus Finishing Powder. This talc-free, hydrating formula will set your makeup and reduce shine without producing a finish that’s too matte, like some other products.

How to Apply Setting Powder

Two white women applying makeup with a puffy brush
Sephora/Fenty Beauty

Setting powder should be one of the final steps in your makeup routine, but it probably won’t be the very last. While everyone’s makeup steps are a bit different, in general, the following should work well for most people:

  1. Apply any primer product you use.
  2. Apply your foundation, whether it’s a powder, liquid, or cream.
  3. Apply a concealer if you use one.
  4. Before your other products fully dry on your face, dip a fluffy, full-bristled makeup brush in your setting powder, and then tap it to shake off the excess.
  5. Gently sweep the brush across your face, using light, even strokes.
  6. Apply your blush. The setting powder will help it go on more evenly for a subtler appearance.

Using the right brush is important to apply setting powder effectively. Unlike regular foundation, you just want a light, loose layer, so you need a brush that can achieve that without smudging or caking.

Look for a fluffy, full foundation brush that can pick up the loose powder for a light, even application. We recommend either Sephora’s PRO Powder Brush #50, for its domed, sculpted shape, or this Powder Buff Setting Brush 170 by Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, with its soft, flexible bristles.

Although setting powder is most often used to set your foundation, you can also use it to set your eye makeup. It can help prevent your eyeshadow from creasing or your eyeliner from smudging. Just be sure to apply it before your mascara.

How to “Bake” Your Makeup with Setting Powder

“Baking” is one of the biggest trends in makeup right now, and setting powder is the key ingredient. When you bake your makeup, you’re essentially supercharging the setting step, particularly around the areas of your face that tend to crease, like under your eyes.

Although it might sound intimidating, baking is actually pretty straightforward. In the video above, makeup artist, Nina Ubhi, walks you through it. Generally, you’ll follow these basic steps to bake:

  1. Apply your foundation and concealer.
  2. Apply a thick layer of your setting powder over the areas you want to cover (under your eyes, on either side of your mouth, on your chin, and/or forehead).
  3. Let it sit (bake) for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Using the same brush or sponge you applied your setting powder with (don’t add more powder to it, though), swipe away the powder that’s on your face. You should be able to just quickly brush away any excess, for a smooth, even texture.
  5. Apply the rest of your makeup (bronzer, blush, and so on) as normal.

It might sound old-fashioned, but using a setting powder can perfect and seal your makeup. If you’re tired of your carefully applied look smudging or smearing off just a few hours into your day, a setting powder is the solution!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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