Like Ketchup with chips, and English Breakfast tea with milk, setting powder takes foundation to the next level of complexion perfection. This invisible cosmetic sets liquid bases, keeps them in place for hours (if you buy the right one), absorbs excess oils, blurs lines and can even render pores near invisible.
Despite all that, the humble setting powder had been misunderstood and maligned for decades. That is, until the Kardashian’s and alike revived it by sharing how they would “bake” their faces post foundation by patting on copious amounts of loose powder and leaving said powder on to “bake”, before dusting off to reveal a matte photo-ready finish.
However, while there was a newly found interest in this forgotten make-up must have – those who prefer an understated, natural look, failed to get in on the setting powder act.
But there are a plethora of options – those that mattify, those that offer major glow, versions fused with youth-boosting actives or offer extra coverage, plus translucent colourless varieties and more. This means there really is a setting powder to suit everyone’s skin tone, type, and desired “finish” too.
We put an assortment of setting powders to the test, and these are our favourites.
How we tested
From public transport and the office to busy bars, walking the dog and running for the bus – we tested each setting powder for a minimum of six hours to see how each one fared under everyday circumstances.
The best setting powders for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Fenty Beauty pro filt’r instant retouch setting powder: £24, Fentybeauty.com
- Best for oily skin – Vichy dermablend setting powder: £18, Boots.com
- Best for dry skin – Milk Makeup blur + set matte loose setting powder: £28, Selfridges.com
- Best for under eyes – Huda Beauty easy bake loose baking & setting powder: £29, Cultbeauty.co.uk
- Best clean formula – Honest beauty invisible blurring loose powder: £25, Cultbeauty.co.uk
- Best pressed powder – Charlotte Tilbury airbrush flawless finish powder: £35, Charlottetilbury.com
- Best for pore minimising – It Cosmetics bye bye pores poreless finish airbrush powder: £24, Itcosmetics.co.uk
- Best budget buy – NYX Studio finishing powder: £9, Superdrug.com
- Best for anti-ageing – Shiseido synchro skin invisible silk loose powder: £39, Shiseido.co.uk
- Best waterproof – Urban Decay all nighter waterproof setting powder: £25, Urbandecay.co.uk
Fenty Beauty pro filt'r instant retouch setting powder
Best: Shade range
When it comes to shade options, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty leads the charge. And this powder comes in eight versatile shades that should work for absolutely everyone. Note that the shade named banana is not actually a traditional colour correcting universal shaded “banana powder” – we were caught out here and had to change for a more suitable colour for our skin tone.
Once we had the right colour, we found because the powder is pigmented, we preferred a lighter version under the eyes and then our true toned version for the rest of our face. What we were really impressed by though was the powder’s ability to leave our skin looking super smooth, blurring everything it touched from pores and scaring to lines.
It mattifies too, which our oily skin needed. In fact, we’d go as far as saying it’s the goldilocks of setting powders as it didn’t overly matte, it left our skin looking radiant, it didn’t pool in lines and creases and didn’t need reapplying either – which is handy because the packaging while aesthetically pleasing is big and bulky. And of course, as it’s been created by a megastar we weren’t surprised that flashback on camera was not a problem at all.
Vichy dermablend setting powder
Best: For oily skin
If you’ve got oily skin, the right skincare will help keep sebum production in check. But as you’ve likely experienced, even the best skincare and a mattifying foundation can sometimes find it hard to keep shine at bay for an entire day. That’s why setting powder is an oily skin’s BFF, and this version in-particular has become a cult classic.
It’s a translucent powder that looks white in the pot but when applied to most skin tones, from light to dark, this was undetectable – unless you overdo it in which case it can look a little ashy on dark skin. It’s incredibly lightweight thanks to the finely milled nature of the powder, doesn’t look cakey and offers a matte yet natural looking finish.
Since oily skin is prone to breakouts, it’s worth noting that this one is non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t contain any pore clogging ingredients. Plus, it’s also hypoallergenic, making it suitable for sensitive skin too. Its only drawback is that to keep the finish light, we found this one needed a top up every three to four hours.
Milk Makeup blur + set matte loose setting powder
Best: For dry skin
A matte finish on dry skin may sound like a major no-no, but if you want a powder that’s going to blur lines and set your base without sucking all the moisture out of your skin then this is worth a try. The formula contains moisturising hero ingredient, hyaluronic acid, as well as avocado powder, another moisturising ingredient that’s packed with protective antioxidants. Combined, these help give a nice plump, smooth finish to the look of our skin and didn’t dry it out either – making this setting powder a good matte-look option for dry skin types.
We also found that a little goes a long way, and those with drier skin won’t tend to need to reapply, so while it’s on the pricier side, for cost-per-wear you get your money’s worth. As with all of Milk Makeup products, the formula is 100 per cent vegan and cruelty-free, so you can feel pretty good about using it, but while it comes in three adaptive shades, we’d argue they need to add one more dark shade to the range for it to truly be suitable for a spectrum of skin tones.
Huda Beauty easy bake loose baking and setting powder
Best: For under eyes
Huda Beauty fans rave about this powder, but since OG beauty influencer Huda is known for her love of baking, we’re not surprised that when it came to her own make-up range, she would create something this impressive.
Huda advises that you can bake (aka apply a generous layer of powder) under the eye, T-zone, laughter lines, outer corners of the mouth, and chin, leave on for 3-5 minutes and then gently dust away the excess – which is exactly how we tested this. The mesh fabric within the pot allowed for the perfect amount of powder each time we used it, and it also meant it wasn’t messy to use at all.
What we liked about this powder was that lines around the eyes were smoothed without looking cakey, thanks to the light silky texture of the powder. And, while the formula kept shine at bay on the face it had a luminous finish that brightened and revitalised our eye area. Concealer around the eyes stayed put all day – so no pooling in lines and creases like with other setting powders, and when it came to being flash photography ready this didn’t leave a white cast. It also gets major points for its inclusive colour range.
Honest beauty invisible blurring loose powder
Best: Clean formula
Like her Honest cleaning products Jessica Alba’s Honest beauty offering has no ingredients that are known to cause potential health and environmental harm. This means they contain no parabens or harmful chemicals, and are pregnancy safe and cruelty free.
This powder looks like a second skin, and feels like one too thanks to its finely milled formula. Rice starch mops up excess oil to keep skin looking matte in all the right places, while silica and corn starch blur lines and pores for an A-list finish. The packaging gets a major thumbs up as it not only has a screw top lid, but a second lid that snaps to close, plus a layer of mesh below to ensure you don’t lose a ton of powder when opening it – clever.
There is only one shade, and while we found it was translucent and worked on our warm skin tone, we are not too sure it would work on deep Black skin. Nonetheless, we were impressed by the fact that we didn’t need to reapply it throughout the day.
Charlotte Tilbury airbrush flawless finish powder
Best: Pressed powder
We’re obsessed with this powder – there’s a reason we have been using it for years. The rest of the country agrees too, as it’s currently the number one luxury pressed powder in the UK. This multi award-winning micro powder smooths and blurs for a soft-focus finish, and minimises shine without making your skin look lifeless. Pores are almost undetectable, but it’s not just for oily skin types, as it contains hydrating rose wax and almond oil to ensure skin doesn’t ever look dry and dehydrated.
The shiny gold packaging is uber glam and slim enough to fit into any handbag, even an ultra mini one. This is important as our oily skin needs to reapply this to our t-zone around every four hours, so leaving it at home is not an option. However we found it was worth the “hassle” of reapplying, as the way it blurs, mattifies and adds radiance is hard to beat.
There are four shades available, and they work for fair to dark skin tones, though we’d love to see more shade options in the future.
It Cosmetics bye bye pores poreless finish airbrush powder
Best: For pore minimising
While it’s actually impossible to shrink pores – as their size is determined by genetics – you can reduce the appearance of them. Collagen boosting ingredients help your collagen push the walls of the pores closer together so they appear smaller, and exfoliating acids keep them clear of “stretching” dirt, and oil, while a setting powder can blur the skin making them less visible.
This powder covers all the bases. It’s a formula packed with collagen boosting antioxidants, peptides, and collagen itself – making it a skincare/make-up hybrid.
This universal shade setting powder can be a bit fiddly to use, but we found tapping the powder into the lid and dabbing our brush into it rather than the pot, helped make less of a mess while making the process quicker too.
Once on, we were amazed by how it instantly smoothed over the visible pores we have on our cheeks, and how the translucent silky powder didn’t feel heavy despite how effective it was at soaking up midday shine. Even though we have oily skin, on cold, dry days, we found we only needed a very light dusting of the product on our forehead, as otherwise our skin ended up looking and feeling a little dry and tight.
NYX Studio finishing powder
Best: Budget buy
Microfine particles, one universal shade, and a luminous finish is what you can expect from this budget buy powder. We found it set our foundation well, smoothing the skin, and blurring lines and pores and didn’t gather in lines and creases. But don’t use too much as you will look ghost like, and even if you do get the application amount just right (which took a couple of tries for us) you may find flashback in photos is commonplace – making this one not ideal if you’re big into taking lots of snaps on nights out.
We found we didn’t have to reapply this setting powder, which is handy as using it can be a pretty messy endeavour – but well worth it if you have oily skin as it mattifies where needed.
Shiseido synchro skin invisible silk loose powder in matte
Best: For anti-ageing
This powder has been formulated with youth-boosting, antioxidant rich, wild thyme extract and a high-tech protective polymer with anti-adhesive properties that helps keep pollution from adhering to skin. Why is this important to know? Well, simply put, it stops skin cell damage and collagen breakdown to help keep your skin youthful.
We found that this powder was so finely milled that there was no caking or highlighting of dry patches or pores either, and it helped blur lines too for an incredibly natural finish. It comes with a puff pad applicator, but we preferred to use a big brush all over the face and the puff on oilier areas as it helped apply a more concentrated amount of powder.
The micromesh made it easy to use, but we did find we had to use it a couple of times in the course of a whole day to keep our complexion matte where needed. For those who don’t want a matte finish this also comes in a radiant version (£39) which helps give luminosity to dry, dull skin.
Urban Decay all nighter waterproof setting powder
Best: Waterproof setting powder
Just getting on the tube in rush hour is enough of an ordeal to need a waterproof setting powder, not to mention first date nerves, gig venues with no air-con, or offices that can never get the temperature right. Luckily, we found that this weightless powder helped us keep our cool and protected our make-up against sweat, and an unexpected downpour – but we did have to reapply when getting hot and bothered with a mask on.
It’s both mattifying and illuminating, so skin doesn’t look flat, but pores are blurred as are lines, and our acne scaring was less visible too. There is one translucent “shade” which makes it suitable for most skin tones but we felt that the shade got warmer on the skin overtime, so this might not be appropriate for very fair skin tones.
While the Urban Decay powder is currently out of stock, it will be making its comeback on 31 January.
The verdict: Setting powders
For those with very oily skin who want to keep shine at bay and pores well-hidden for hours, we’re obsessed with the It Cosmetics bye bye pores poreless finish airbrush powder.
However, our overall best buy would have to be the Fenty Beauty pro filt’r instant retouch setting powder, for its inclusive shade offering, skin smoothing prowess, photo-ready finish, and its ability to eliminate shiny T-zones while imparting a touch of radiance in all the right places.
For offers on make-up and other beauty products, try the links below:
- Boots discount codes
- Lookfantastic discount codes
- Feel Unique discount codes
- Charlotte Tilbury discount codes
For more complexion boosting buys, read our best tinted moisturisers for a natural, glowy look
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
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