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Finishing vs. Setting Powder: Yes, There's A Difference & Here's How To Use Them

someone using setting powder / translucent powder
Image by LUMINA / Stocksy
June 3, 2021
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Makeup has a ton of vocab (including but not limited to strobing, baking, cut crease, and we could go on). For today's lesson, allow us to introduce a rather confusing subject: finishing versus setting powder. 

If you're thinking, Uh, aren't those the same exact thing? then you've come to the right place. Sure, it's not the biggest deal if you stuff up the terms in everyday conversation or lump them together as "powder," but know that they do have slightly different purposes, so you don't want to use them interchangeably. If you use a setting powder to finish your makeup, you might wind up with a heavy-matte look; and if you use a finishing powder to set your products, they might sweat off midday. 

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They do look similar upon first glance, so what's the difference between these powders, and (here's the kicker) how should you use them? Makeup artist Criss Scortezz recently explained it all in a TikTok, and we took notes.  

Finishing vs. setting powder.

Let's start with setting powders: Considering their main gig is to set your makeup and keep it from sliding down your face midday, they usually have a matte finish. Think of the powders you may use atop a blemish to keep your concealer in place or the ones you may dust across your T-zone to keep it shine-free—the formulas absorb moisture and keep you from looking oil-slick. (We love this one by Kosas.) 

These also typically come in a loose, finely milled form; dip in a makeup brush, tap off the excess, and press the powder onto your skin. "Some [setting powders] can be pressed, but most of them will be in a loose powder," says Scortezz. 

Finishing powders, on the other hand, are the last step of your makeup routine—to "finish" your makeup, as the name suggests. Unlike looser setting powders, they're often pressed and translucent (like this Ethereal Perfecting Powder). "They will always have a very slight glow to them," Scortezz adds. "The purpose of them is to emulate the look of skin, so it's going to give you a really natural sheen—a glow from within, dare I say?" 

The application also differs quite a bit: With setting powders, it's more of a press-and-roll situation, with either a makeup brush or beauty sponge. You don't want to buff on the powder or your makeup might pill. Finishing powders require a light dusting—grab a fluffy brush and keep a featherlight pressure as you sweep. 

So which should you use? 

Well, it depends on your end result: If you're looking for a powder to absorb oil and keep your base products from budging, apply a setting powder to the specific areas you want to soak up the shine. And if you want to finalize your look with an all-over glow? Dust on a finishing powder to help the makeup appear polished and expert-level. 

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The takeaway. 

Yes, finishing powders and setting powders are different—the former provides a final veil over your makeup, while the latter helps set certain areas in place. They may look similar as you're browsing for products, but you don't want to use them interchangeably.

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