Setting Powder vs. Finishing Powder: Here’s How They’re Different

setting powder vs finishing powder category

Confused about the difference between setting powder and finishing powder? That’s completely understandable. At a glance, the two products look virtually the same (they either come in a loose powder or are pressed into a compact) and they seem to be used interchangeably. However, they are indeed two different products that yield two very different results. We’ll explain.

What is setting powder?

A setting powder does exactly what its name implies: it sets your makeup. Setting powders often contain ingredients like talc and silica, which absorb excess oils from your skin and from any base products you use like liquid or cream foundations and concealers. In doing so, they help to reduce shine and lock your makeup in place so it’s less likely to rub or wear off.

What is finishing powder?

A finishing powder, on the other hand, is used to add a finishing touch to your makeup. You can think of it as the makeup equivalent of an Instagram filter or blur tool in Photoshop. (In analog terms, it’s like sitting in front of good lighting.)

The purpose of a finishing powder is to soften any hard lines (from going overboard with your blush, for example) and to minimize the appearance of pores or any texture in your skin. As the last step in your makeup routine, a finishing powder helps to blend everything together, so you get a more airbrushed effect.

What's the difference between setting powder and finishing powder?

The main difference is that a finishing powder is used to smooth things out, while a setting powder is used to make things last. So, if you’re primarily concerned with uneven texture (whether that’s from fine lines, acne scars or enlarged pores) or if you really just prefer the look of that airbrushed Instagram-filter skin, try adding a finishing powder to your routine. If you’re simply trying to get longer wear from your makeup, a setting powder can help.

Now some of you might be wondering if you can use the both of them together, and the answer is yes, in which case, you’ll want to apply the finishing powder second. (Remember: Finishing powder always goes on last.)

We’d also recommend applying the powders sparingly, making sure to tap off any excess before brushing them onto your face, and targeting where you put the setting powder (i.e., just along the oiliest parts of your face like your forehead and nose) rather than blanketing your entire face in it.

What are the best setting and finishing powders to shop?

We’ve included some of our favorite formulas below, along with tips on how to use them.

1. Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder

A cult classic, this finely-milled loose powder comes in three shades (translucent, translucent honey and translucent medium deep) and goes on sheer, soaking up excess shine without making your skin look flat or cakey. The forgiving formula sets your makeup in place for up to 16 hours, which explains why it remains a favorite amongst top makeup artists like Mario Dedivanovic.

2. Dermablend Loose Setting Powder

For our oily-skinned friends out there, take note of this top-rated setting powder. Known for its ability to lock makeup in place so that it doesn’t smudge or transfer (which is especially welcome these days with the protective face masks we’re wearing), the translucent formula uses micronized talc to set your foundation and concealer, while mattifying shiny skin. The dermatologist-approved powder is also safe for sensitive and acne-prone skin. (Tip: For best results, apply a generous amount, let it sit for two minutes, then buff off the excess.)

3. Fenty Beauty By Rihanna Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Setting Powder

Fearful of flashback? Rih has you covered. This silky powder comes in eight flattering hues that seamlessly blend into your skin, setting makeup into place without caking or settling into fine lines. (Tip: If you have a lot of acne or discoloration, try pressing and rolling the powder over your skin rather than simply sweeping it on to get a more even finish.)

4. Nars Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder

Despite its name, we’d categorize this as a finishing powder more than a setting powder. While it does help with the longevity of our makeup, we find that it really shines at softening any pores and giving our skin a subtle glow thanks to the algae extract and Polynesian seawater in the formula. (Note: It’s also available as a loose powder.)

5. Hourglass Cosmetics Veil Translucent Setting Powder

Less is more when it comes to using powder and Hourglass makes it easy to put this into practice thanks to the nifty sifter that’s built into the packaging. Simply flip the compact upside down to dispense the perfect amount of powder onto the top. The talc-free formula has light reflective particles (like mica and diamond powder) to blur any pores or fine lines, while imparting a soft-focused glow. (Tip: For the most natural-looking finish, focus the powder on the sides of the nose, mouth, chin, and forehead, rather than applying it all over.)

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Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...