Setting Powder: The Secret Weapon to Red-Carpet-Like Perfection

Ariel Bailey
By: Chief Beauty Advisor  |  Ariel Bailey

Think of foundation and setting powder as love and marriage; foundation creates the face you fall in love with when you look in the mirror, but setting powder makes sure it will last. This translucent or lightly tinted powder is designed to give your makeup staying power.

Do you need it? Well, it’s a mainstay for stylists charged with keeping the complexions of celebrities and models shine-free when those stars walk the red carpet. We think it’s an indispensable addition to anyone’s makeup kit. Read on for the 411.

What Is Setting Powder?

Setting powder is the base you apply right after you put on foundation but before you begin delineating your features with contour, blush or bronzer. As its name implies, it fixes your foundation in place so that your foundation won’t cake or rub off.

The main ingredient in setting powder is talc, a naturally occurring mineral. Some high-end setting powders also use a processed cornstarch from which sugars have been removed.

Many powders include a silicon-based polymer called dimethicone, which has a slightly emollient effect, and glycerin, a plant-based compound that keeps moisture in the skin. Vitamins and botanical oils may also be used. Tinted setting powders owe their hues to pigments, which are mostly derived from minerals and botanicals.

As with any cosmetic, it’s important to read the ingredient list when you’re experimenting for the first time with an unfamiliar setting powder and to ask questions if any of the ingredients are unfamiliar to you. Google can be your best friend here. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to stick with an organic setting powder.

A Brief History of Powder

Powder has been a cosmetic staple since ancient times. The Romans used heavy metals like lead and arsenic to blanch their skin and covered that with a dusting of finely ground orris root. The Chinese used rice powder.

The ideal female face in medieval times was exceedingly pale with plucked eyebrows and a receding hairline. To achieve this look, women often powdered their faces with flour and used lye as a freckle remover. Queen Elizabeth I of England, who’d survived a disfiguring bout with smallpox, used a makeup base composed of flour, pulverized lead and vinegar to conceal her pox scars.

Although preachers thundered from the pulpits about the moral dangers of face paint throughout the Victorian era, women used powder in secret anyway and even added rouge. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century, though, that powder became widely and publicly accepted as an indispensable part of the beauty regimen.

Setting powder is the base you apply after foundation.
Setting powder is the base you apply after foundation.

Tips and Tricks

Here are a few pointers that will turn you into a pro when you’re using setting powder:

Loose vs. Pressed Setting Powder

Loose powder is typically packaged in jars whereas pressed powder comes in a compact. The particles in pressed powder are slightly larger than those in loose powder. Pressed powder also contains additional silicone and wax ingredients that can clump on your face when the powder is applied too liberally. It’s best to reserve your compact for touch-ups.

Setting Powder, Finishing Powder and HD Powder

Although these three terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different products. As noted previously, setting powder is the product you apply on top of your foundation but beneath your blush and contour makeup. Finishing powder is the translucent dusting you apply on top of that.

HD powder, on the other hand, is a mineral-based product that was first formulated for use by actresses, models and other celebrities whose livelihood depends upon looking flawless under harsh arc lights. The silica and mica particles in HD powder prevent unsightly camera flashback. Camera flashback is the white blotches that appear in photos when a camera flash bounces off ordinary foundation and setting powder.


Do you really want your complexion to be worthy of a trip down the red carpet? Try applying enough setting powder so that you can actually see the layer of powder on your skin, and then sit for half an hour or so. This process is known as baking.

The heat of your body will actually melt the emollient ingredients in the setting powder so that they bond more closely to your skin, thereby creating a pearly, opalescent look. After a half hour, dust off the excess setting powder. Mr. Spielberg! I’m ready for my close-up.

Check out more of our articles for additional beauty tips that will have you shining like a red-carpet star.

Ariel Bailey
Chief Beauty Advisor
Ariel was fed up with all the nonsense information out there. So, she has dedicated over 25 years and written 100's of articles to help millions of people be properly educated from products, to latest innovations, and to anything else beauty related.

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