Something I come across quite often is the confusion between setting and finishing. What they mean, what the products do and how to use them.
If you were to reach into your make-up bag right now, chances are there’s a powder of some kind, right?
Be it loose or pressed, labelled as setting or finishing you’ll definitely own at least one of the critters.
Powder is one of the oldest forms of face make-up and we still use it by the ton even today, but now there are more options to choose from than ever before. Naturally, it’s easy to get a bit overtaken by it all! I’m going to set out the differences between the two types of product.
Setting products lock your make-up into place and make sure it stays where it’s put . No one wants their concealer to settle into the fine lines under their eyes or their foundation to slide off their face. No one wants their blush to disappear before they’ve made it to work!
Setting powders are the powder that goes on top of your foundation and concealer and locks them into place.
It is applied with either a powder puff or a powder brush using a press-and-roll motion. The under-eye area is best set using a small fluffy brush, tapping it gently into place. I really like the Real Techniques setting brush for this but you could go even smaller depending on your eye shape and size.
Setting powder provides a smooth surface on which to apply and blend our other products like blush, bronzer, highlighter and eyeshadow.
Setting powders can be colourless or tinted to match a particular skin tone.
Personally I always choose colourless; why go to the effort of perfectly matching your foundation just to cover it with powder that doesn’t match?
A colourless setting powder can also be used to set cream eye shadows, set camouflage creams, defuse a blush that’s too bright or which has been applied with a heavy hand and can also help give lipstick more staying power when applied over a tissue.
A tinted setting powder can be worn alone without foundation to mattify the skin and gently even out the tone. This is how women in the past wore powders but now we have far more colour and texture choices.
Examples: Laura Mercier Translucent, RCMA No Colour*, Urban Decay De-Slick*, Ben Nye Neutral Set, Kryolan Translucent*.
* = one of my favourites
Pressed or Loose Powder?
Loose powder is finer milled and provides more lightweight coverage however it’s not very portable. Pressed powder requires binding ingredients to get it to stay in the pan which makes it a less fine product overall. Some people’s skin doesn’t always react well to the binding ingredients either. My suggestion is to use loose for the original application while at home and pack pressed for touch ups throughout the day as needed. My favourite pressed powder is shown here in the purple compact, Urban Decay’s De-Slick.
*Tip* If you need to add more setting powder later in the day, blot with blotting papers before reapplying to prevent cake-face.
Unlike setting powders which go on our foundation and concealer base to mattify and keep that in place, setting sprays go on right at the end of the routine to keep everything in place. Powder, blush, eyeshadow – all that jazz!
They contain a hairspray like acrylate (often but not always PVP) that stops your make-up from going anywhere. Some people get on fine with these sprays while others don’t really get on with them due to the nature of the ingredients. You might need to try a couple before finding the right one for your skin.
The strongest formulations are those by professional brands such as Ben Nye and Green Marble. These are fantastic products and also work well to seal water based face and body paints but they’re not recommended for everyday use due their very high alcohol content.
Many sprays are now claiming to be setting sprays but if the formula doesn’t contain any ingredients that will hold onto your make-up (acrylates) then they’re not going to do the job and belong in the finishing category. Marketing loves a buzzword!
Examples: Ben Nye Final Seal*, Urban Decay All Nighter*, Make Up Forever Mist + Fix, Avon Setting Spray, Green Marble, Skindinavia
* = one of my favourites
Finishing products give the final finish or look you want the skin to have. They go on top of your setting powder and all other make-up products like contour and blush. These always go last in any make-up routine.
Finishing powders can help to smooth out texture and fine lines but aren’t good at locking make-up into place. They can add effects such as a glow or radiance to the whole face. As with setting powders these are available both in both loose and pressed formats.
Examples: Sephora Bright Set, ILIA Soft Focus Finishing Powder, Bobbi Brown Brightening Finishing Powder, Laura Mercier Candleglow Sheer Perfecting Powder, Hourglass Ambient Light powders,
*Hint* Avoid using HD powders if you will be under flash photography as it will cause flashback or ‘ghost face’.
HD powders weren’t designed for photography but for HD film/TV in which regular make-up shows up as too heavy. Many celebrities and their make-up artists have found out about flashback from HD powders the hard way (see Angelina Jolie at right.)
You’ll notice the terribly labelled HD powder pictured above from NYX which they are selling as being specifically for photography – clearly the brand don’t care and just want to sell you a buzzword… If it’s HD it must be better right?
Finishing sprays help take away the powdery look that all the other products in a routine can build up to create. They can bring back the skin-like qualities and add dewiness or glow. Your make-up is not going to last longer though – sorry!
Examples: MAC Fix+, Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Marine Boosting Mist
I hope this has helped separate out some of the differences for you.
If you ever can’t discern what a product is supposed to do from the description, try taking a look at the ingredients. Loose HD powder for example is pure silica with no or very few other ingredients. You can always ask on here as well, I don’t mind helping get to the bottom of things!