Setting powder has long been a staple in most make-up bags, despite getting significantly less love than some other hero products. While it’s unparalleled in its ability to set make-up and prevent oiliness, the drawbacks of creasing, flashback in photos and an overly matte finish are undeniable. That said, the best setting powders can fix make-up, control shine, conceal breakouts, and are far easier to work with than thick, creamy textures. For example, make-up artists usually advise that those who wish to try contouring for the first time use a powder contour, not a cream kit, as it’s easier to layer and buff to seamless perfection, and there’s little more effective against an oily T-zone than a sheer veil of the translucent stuff.
But with the advent of “glass skin” and our general preoccupation with looking dewy at all times, powder has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps it’s down to unwelcome associations with “baking”, the technique invented by drag queens and popularised by the Instagram make-up set, which involves using hefty amounts of powder to affix make-up. Or maybe it’s just a natural casualty of the pursuit of round-the-clock radiance. Happily, powder formulas have advanced at a rate of knots in recent months. BECCA Hydra Mist Set & Refresh Powder is formulated with 50 per cent water and glycerine, meaning that, despite resembling a loose powder, it feels more cooling than chalky once applied. Likewise, By Terry Hyaluronic Hydra Powder is infused with skincare favourite hyaluronic acid. The HA microspheres attract water and so help to “blur” and “fill” imperfections, without looking ashy or settling into creases. It’s gossamer-light, so don’t be perturbed by the opaque white colour, as it settles to a soft-focus effect on all skin tones.
Glossier Wowder is delivered in a Korean-inspired cushion compact, with the powder sitting beneath a sheer layer of netted film. Simply press and swirl your brush over the centre to pick up a light dusting of the kaolin clay infused formula (that’s to mop up oil), and dust all over. Meanwhile, Vitamin E helps to keep the powder feeling silky rather than dry on the skin – nobody wants a patchy effect. Beauty Pie One Powder Wonder looks almost sparkling in the pressed compact, but buffs onto skin with a believable luminosity that helps to tackle dehydration and the appearance of large pores, making it ideal if you need all-day hold but still want a candelit glow.
Of course, the “go big or go home” option is surely Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder Glow. A brand already beloved by make-up artists for its classic translucent setting powders, this latest offering sits somewhere between the original formula and a highlighter. Infused with pearl pigments and micro-refined silica, it offers an incredibly light-reflecting finish that still grips onto make-up for dear life.
Aside from the additions of microspheres and luxurious-sounding crushed gem particles, one thing that makes 2020’s powders better is the notable absence of talc. Apart from the health concerns around the inclusion of talcum powder in beauty, many cosmetic chemists have chosen to remove it from their products altogether as the finish is resolutely chalky. In the ’90s, super-matte was considered chic, but now that dewy skin is in, talc is fast becoming a thing of the past in beauty circles. Instead, additions like silk, peptides and collagens (like the hydrating and firming complex found in It Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores Pressed Powder) offer a healthier-looking fix that still helps tackle shine.
The powder revolution is in no way limited to base, as a slew of recent lip launches demonstrates. Giorgio Armani Lip Magnet gives a featherweight wash of colour over the lips with a finish that resembles the effect created by that classic make-up artist trick: blotting a richly pigmented lipstick. Likewise, MAC Powder Kiss lipsticks offer a softly diffused, just-been-kissed look, while Chanel Lip Powder Duocombines a hydrating balm with a loose pigment powder for effortless texture.
Blurring but not masking, hydrating but not greasy, and shine controlling while still offering a healthy glow, powder can finally sit in that sweet spot between functional and fun. And remember, when it comes to powder – if in doubt, buff it out.
See Vogue’s edit of the best setting powders below…
Pat McGrath Labs
A swish of this setting powder will leave skin glowy and radiant, while getting rid of any unwanted shine. It feels feather-light and imparts a soft-focus veil over skin thanks to amino acid pigments that work with your skin rather than against it.
Buy at Selfridges $50
Since Glossier is a brand dedicated to dewy skin, the launch of Wowder was somewhat unexpected. The loose, light-reflecting powder won’t leave you without a glow though, it’s designed to set make-up whilst maintaining a radiant complexion.
Buy on their website $27
Perfect for top-ups on the go thanks to the mirror inside the compact, IT Cosmetics’s Bye Bye Pores Pressed Powder blurs imperfections and is enriched with a blend of peptides, silk, collagen and antioxidants.
Buy at Selfridges $26
Thanks to microspheres in this silky smooth powder, expect any surface imperfections blurred without the hefty “powdery” finish, and skin to remain shine-free for longer.
Buy at BeautyBay $32
If an oily T-zone is your nemesis, look to MAC’s classic Blot Powder for long-lasting matte. With a good shade range and an impressive shine-combatting formula, it offers decent coverage without looking caked-on or flat.
Buy on their website $24
Bobbi Brown’s Sheer Finish Loose Powder is lightweight enough that you can barely tell you’re wearing it, plus, its oil-free formula is enriched with vitamin E for comfortable wear. Great for setting make-up that you need to last all day.
Buy on their website $30
A glow isn’t the first thing you’d associate with powder, but Chanel has somehow created a formula that reduces shine while retaining radiance with its Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Powder. Natural-looking, flattering and the best setting powder for when you need to add a subtle hint of warmth to a pale complexion.
Buy on their website $40
Promising to diffuse light over skin to boost radiance, this loose powder from the queen of red carpet make-up is formulated with tsubaki oil and squalane to nourish and strengthen skin. Plus, it smells like rose.
Buy on their website $33
Hourglass’s Ambient Lighting Powder is a cult classic for good reason – you can fake a full night’s sleep with the luminous, diffusing, flawless finish it creates. It’s like having your own Instagram filter in your make-up bag.
Buy at SpaceNK $45
A finely-milled and lightweight powder, Laura Mercier’s Translucent Loose Setting Powder Glow acts as the perfect finishing touch for make-up. Highly pigmented, only a small amount is needed each time, so one pot will keep you going for ages.
Buy at Cult Beauty $30
Blurring, radiance-boosting and pore-diffusing, this all-in-one powder is suitable for all skin types, and won’t ever settle into creases.
Buy on their website $26
Formulated with the brand’s patented Miracle Broth, which is made up of hydrating marine ingredients, La Mer’s finishing powder might be expensive, but it certainly does the job well. It’s translucent enough to be imperceptible on the skin, so you can look forward to the most flawless finish.
Buy at SpaceNK $75