When it comes to foundation, most of us are decidedly team liquid or team powder. We’re firmly committed to one of the two formulas, and we rarely go play for the other team. So, where do you side?
It’s not just a matter of preference that should dictate which team you’re on, says Gabriel Almodovar, Maybelline New York global makeup artist. Whether you’re a powder girl or a liquid fan should come down to your skin type. For those of us with dry skin, powder foundation can cling to dry flaky spots. Not cute. On those with an oily complexion, the dewy factor of a liquid formula can go greasy all too quickly—probably not the look you’re going for. “Ideally, you'd use a powder foundation if you have oily skin,” Almodovar says. When used correctly, you’ll have a satin-y matte finish that will last all day, he says.
So, aside from the fact that, well, it’s a powder, what makes powder foundation different from other formulas? Unlike liquids and creams, powder foundations don’t get absorbed into the skin, but rather sit on the surface. Thus, the coverage tends to last a bit longer than other formulas, Almodovar says. It’s also what can make powder foundations appear heavy on your skin, but with the right application (we’ll get to that), you can keep your look light and fresh.
We asked Almodovar for a primer on powder foundations: how to pick the right one, and wear it the right way. Then we dusted on a ton of different formulas, all in the name of research, to bring you our short list of the very best powder foundations out there.
Ready to rock your powder foundation? Here are a few fun facts you should know before you buy.
Choose the right texture
Powder comes either pressed or loose. The difference? Loose tends to be more lightweight. The pigments are finer, so they’re more blendable. If it’s full coverage you want, go with a pressed powder compact. Another plus for pressed powders: “Loose powders can get very messy,” says Almodovar. If you take your makeup on the go, then a pressed compact is a smart choice. However, if you like the lighter look of a loose powder, look for one that comes in no-spill packaging with a built-in brush.
SPF is good(but don’t rely on it)
Like other types of foundation, powder formulas often contain sunscreen ingredients such as titanium dioxide. Sneaking sun protection into your makeup is always a good idea, but if you’re going to be outside for long periods of time, it shouldn’t be your main source of protection. Layer a traditional sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF 30 underneath your base. However, powders foundations with SPF do make for easy sunscreen re-application. Give your skin a fresh dusting before you run errands during your lunch break--or anytime you may spend a prolonged amount of time outdoors.
Bells and whistles can make a big difference
It seems like a pretty straightforward cosmetics category, but powder foundations are getting more high-tech and sophisticated. Many of them are now formulated with optical blurring pigments (which make fine lines non-existent), skin care ingredients like wrinkle-smoothing peptides and skin-clearing salicylic acid, and non-greasy hydrators to keep your powdery finish looking fresh, not dry. These little add-ons can make your skin look pretty darn good.
Stick with powder for the rest of your makeup
This is important. “Liquid and creams don’t blend well on powder,” says Almodovar. Try to rub a cream blushover a powdered cheek and you’ll likely get pills. If you’re using a powder base all over your face, opt for powder blush, contour, highlighter, and eyeshadow, he says.
How to wear it
There are a few different ways to apply powder foundation, depending on your coverage needs. Here, Almodovar breaks it down for us:
For medium coverage: Use the applicator that comes with the compact (often a sponge) to tap the powder all over your face, or wherever you need it most. “Then follow up with a fluffy brush to blend what needs to be blended and brush off the excess from the skin,” he says.
For full coverage: You can either lay on a thicker layer of powder using the sponge applicator. Or, you can start with a liquid foundation and top it with your powder foundation. Doubling up gives you more coverage and the powder helps set the liquid so it doesn’t make your skin look oily, says Almodovar.
Click through to see which formulas top our list of best powder foundations.
Why we love it: The finish on this pressed powder (available in eight shades) is semi-matte, which means it doesn’t look super-powdery. It looks like real skin. It comes with a dual-sided applicator that controls the intensity. Use the beige side to apply the powder as foundation. Use the black side when you just a sheer dusting of powder, or to layer over—and set—your liquid foundation.
Why we love it: Finding the right shade of powder for your skin tone can be tricky, especially if you have a medium or dark complexion. A too light powder will look chalky on your skin. This compact comes in a whopping 35 different shades made to work with on different ethnicities, so there’s bound to be a hue that works for you. Plus, the powder can be applied dry or wet for more coverage—both result in a matte, shine-free finish.
Why we love it: With this highly-pigmented pressed compact (available in five shades), you get full-coverage foundation that doesn’t look or feel heavy on your skin. A swirl of the brush gives you an airbrushed look. Hydrating ingredients mean it won’t crease or settle into lines or pores throughout the day, and the addition of peptides and antioxidants will make skin look smoother over time. That’s something to celebrate, huh?
Why we love it: If you have oily, acne-prone skin, this powder can help sop up oil and clear breakouts over time. That’s because it’s infused with salicylic acid, which helps keep pores clear of acne-causing oil and dead skin. It comes in eight matte shades.
Why we love it: It’s the Goldilocks of powders. The silky formula is not too heavy and not too light. It’s just right for skin that needs medium coverage. Plus, it comes in 12 shades—a wide range for drugstore makeup.
Why we love it: You get the lightweight look of a loose mineral foundation in easy-to-tote packaging. The lid has a built-in kabuki brush. Dip it into the sifter, tap to remove excess powder, and swirl on your skin in circular motions. You can build up from sheer to full coverage. The 12-shade makeup also has SPF 19, along with vitamin E, an antioxidant, to protect skin from damaging UV rays.
Why we love it: This pressed powder, which comes in five shades, has a demi-matte finish, which looks slightly more luminous on skin (but not shiny) than a full-on matte. Plus, the formula contains optical-blurring pigments to smooth over large pores and fine lines, giving skin a soft-focus, flawless look.
Are you on team powder or team liquid? Tell us in the comments below!
About the Author:The daughter of a hairdresser, Krista Bennett DeMaio likes to say she has beauty in her blood. She has well over a decade of beauty editorial experience. The former magazine-editor-turned-freelance writer has covered all things beauty from anti-aging skincare to NYFW runway trends. Her work has appeared in national publications and websites including Women’s Health, Redbook, Shape, Dr. Oz The Good Life, bhg.com, and prevention.com. She lives in Greenlawn, New York with her husband and two interns, er, daughters.