A dossier on everything powder—from how to choose it to how to use it.
Whether you were intrigued by Natalie Portman’s polished turn as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, watched Emma Stone sing, dance, and act as aspiring actress Mia in La La Land, or fawned over Taraji P. Henson’s embodiment of Katherine Johnson, a female mathematician working at NASA, in Hidden Figures, one thing these women share (aside from Oscar nominations) is near-perfect complexions. All showed off flawless onscreen visages—thanks to the perfect base.
Fittingly, powder is a major power player for these leading ladies (regardless of whether they are in character), and it likely is for you, too. Here, makeup artists Kirin Bhatty (who tends to Kate Upton, Freida Pinto, and Jenny Slate) and Jeffrey Baum (clients have included St. Vincent and Soko) explain how to make powder your go-to beauty essential. As Baum says, “Powder maintains and preserves your look all day long.”
HOW TO FIND YOUR FORMULA
How to decide between loose and pressed powder? Consider the time of day you are using your powder and what you want the final look to be.
“Loose powder gently cleans up the skin,” says Baum, who uses it on his clients at the start of their days. “It doesn’t usually stand on its own, so it’s not an aggressive mattifier.” He stresses that loose powder is meant to be used with a complementary foundation or a workhorse concealer—the former for more coverage, the latter for less. However, Bhatty admits, “Loose powders are designed to be completely inconvenient because they are messy and they spill,” so don’t carry them around in your makeup bag.
Unlike its loose counterpart, pressed powder is much more convenient to tote around, says Bhatty. “Pressed powder is like having your own little touch-up buddy along for the ride because it’s in a compact,” she says. “It will help with oil absorption and high shine that builds up during the day.”
Finding the right shade of foundation can sometimes feel like it requires a chemistry degree—undertones, anyone?—but Bhatty and Baum agree there is a little more flexibility with matching powder shades, especially when you are using a loose accoutrement in the mornings.
Fair to Medium
“Paler complexions can get away with using a transcluent powder, which I love,” says Baum. He swears by Laura Mercier’s Transculent Loose Setting Powder, which can create both a dewy and a matte look, depending how you build it on—more powder means more coverage. He adds, “Translucent powder is not aggressively flat, and you can do a lot with it. If you make a mistake and apply too much in an area, you can blend it out a little bit more.” The brand’s Candleglow Sheer Perfecting Powder is his pressed choice for touchups throughout the day.
Medium to Dark
Pigmented loose powders, like Smashbox’s Halo Hydrating Powder, is Bhatty’s pick for medium to dark coverage. “It is really beautiful, but there is a sheerness to it,” she says. “It does have a tone, but it doesn’t make you appear washed out or like you have anything caked on.” For a pressed powder, Bhatty suggests NARS’s Pressed Powder for its diversity in darker shades.
A gentle hand is key for applying powder. “You really want to avoid using too much,” says Bhatty. “A little goes a long way.” Rather than breezing very quickly across the face, Baum uses Laura Mercier’s Velour Puff methodically. He encourages thinking about the different facial features when applying. Additionally, he suggests using Laura Mercier’s Finishing Eye Brush or Chanel’s Pinceau Blush Brush #4 for problem areas. “Let the brush live on that one spot or area, even if it’s just two moments,” he says. For example, “I’ll take the blush brush and put it next to the nose, if it’s always getting shiny or if that’s a problem area on my client, to cover up more and absorb more oil. It’s just like using blotting papers.”
As the weather changes, you will benefit from having two different shades: one for summer and one winter. “Have a range,” advises Bhatty. “You’re out more in the summer and it definitely shows on your face, but that same powder won’t work in the winter when you are looking and feeling grayer.”