Face powders can be a perennial struggle for the dry-skinned among us. Even if you're going for a glowy look it can be impossible to keep your makeup on your skin all day if you're not setting it with a powder. Even on the driest of days, foundation either slips around or rubs off completely without one.
Yet the majority of powders on the market seem to cling to dry patches and emphasise dehydrated skin making it look cakey and crepey – or just seem to disappear an hour after applying.
There is technically a difference between a setting powder, which locks in cream and liquid products to stop them moving around, and finishing powders, which you can use as a final step in your routine to give you a nice airbrushed look. Frankly, I very rarely have time to faff about with multiple powders on different areas and I'm looking for a one-stop shop – a product I can dust over my face to prolong my makeup but keep it looking fresh and dewy and not like I've piled on the products.
Here are my favourite pick for powders that do the job, don't emphasise dry patches and aren't going to make your face look flat and mask-like.
1. MAC Studio Waterweight Pressed Powder: £28, MAC
I've long been a fan of MAC’s Mineralise Skinfinish Natural, which is a beautiful glowy powder. But it's not particularly long-lasting and I don't find it layers well.
Mac’s new release has addressed these issues with a powder that incorporates two products. On the top half of the compact, you have a pressed coloured powder which adds coverage and mattifies without looking dry. The bottom half is something more akin to the Mineralise Skin Finish: a sheer, glowy, finely-milled powder that adds luminosity.
You can use the two versions on different areas of the face, but I find that by swirling a big fluffy brush across both powders and dusting lightly across the face you can achieve the perfect finish with no cakeyness or patchiness to speak of. You're essentially getting two products in one – you can't go wrong.
2. Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish: £34, Cult Beauty
This is a cult classic for a reason. It’s the only pressed powder I've ever found which gives the light, flawless coverage of a loose powder without the hassle of getting it all over your clothes and floor. This is especially important if, like me, you're partial to the extra 15 minutes in bed and find yourself doing your makeup on public transport quite often.
The packaging is sleek and convenient, without the annoying bulkiness that often comes with including a puff or a sponge in a compact, which just seems like a complete waste of handbag space. The only downside is that it only comes in three shades but if you happen to match one of them it’s definitely worth trying out.
3. Bourjois Poudre De Riz De Java: £9.99, FeelUnique
This product has been on the market since the early days of the brand – in 1879 they sold two million boxes – and it’s easy to see why it’s still knocking around.
It’s a loose powder with a slight pinky undertone, but it comes out translucent on the skin. While it can look a little glittery when you swatch it I find it doesn't show up any chunky glitter on the face at all, it just gives a beautiful lit-from-within glow. I like to use it over moisturiser even if I’m wearing no other makeup, just to brighten up my dry skin a bit.
It does set down foundation well but it's not the most long-lasting. However, because it's so glowy, it's a perfect option to layer over foundations with more of a matte finish - which isn't the most flattering on dry skin.
4. RMS Beauty Tinted Un-Powder: £32, Beauty Bay
This is a tinted loose powder which is not typically my favourite kind of product. They can look cakey easily and add too much coverage for what I'm after post-foundation.
This one is special though – it's incredibly finely milled, making it feel almost creamy to the touch. This translates beautifully onto the face, setting everything in place and adding a hint of coverage while blurring imperfections.
The packaging is small and compact but there's no stopper to avoid the powder going everywhere so it’s not ideal for travelling. That said, it does come with a puff which you can keep in the tub to avoid too much overspill (although I wouldn’t recommend using it for application).
This is not going to add a huge amount of glow to the face but it does even everything out and gives a beautiful canvas to add further colour products on top of. It even works well under cream and liquid highlighters if you want to add that glow back in. It’s also cruelty-free, vegan and organic.
The shade range is limited but they do have a translucent version which also works beautifully, just without adding any coverage.
5. L.A Girl Pro HD High Definition Setting Powder in Banana Yellow: £6, Beauty Bay
If you enjoy a banana powder with a yellow-y undertone to brighten the under-eyes, this is the loose powder for you. It can be a little chunky but if you tip it into the cap, work it into your brush and make sure you tap off the excess, it works a dream.
This powder blurs and mattifies without leaving the skin cakey or tight. It doesn’t have a particularly glowy finish, but the colour brightens nicely, and with a dewy base underneath, it allows you to target particular areas where your foundation tends to move around and set it down in a natural-looking way.
The packaging is a let down though, as the lid is flimsy and the holes in the plastic insert are huge with no stopper. This is a good product to keep at home - but will wreak havoc if you try and take it anywhere with you (especially if you’re wearing black – I speak from experience).
It also comes in a translucent, which is a good budget option if you’re looking for something with no frills to do the job.
6. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Ethereal Light: £40, Cult Beauty
Hourglass knows how to do powders and I've never been disappointed by their products, but for the price, you want something that’s going to rock your world, and the Ethereal Light Powder is that guy.
The powder is basically undetectable on the skin, leaving just a veil of soft-focus glow on the face. It’s particularly nice for setting under-eye concealer as it brightens without looking too dewy or greasy.
The product claims to mimic a moonlit glow, which I think might be a bit of a stretch, but it definitely does add an incredibly flattering ethereal vibe, making the skin look clear and flawless without adding any coverage or caking up. Genius.
7. Laura Mercier Invisible Loose Setting Powder: £29, FeelUnique
This is a pretty special product, as evidenced by the fact that I still have it in my collection despite it being incredibly bulky and impractical.
It’s a loose powder and comes in a giant compact with a stopper - although not a very efficient one in my experience. This stuff will get absolutely everywhere, but it’s worth it. The translucent powder gives a silky, diffused finish and it’s so incredibly fine it almost disappears into the skin leaving behind a blurred, natural-looking effect.
While it’s not the glowiest on its own, when used over a dewy liquid foundation it gives just the right of longevity without completely mattifying down the base, giving you a flawless, lit-from-within glow.
8. Elf High Definition Undereye Powder: £5, Elf Cosmetics
If you’re a fan of loose setting powders and you want something you can easily take with you on the go, this is the one. It’s a tiny jar with a secure lid, meaning that although there’s no stopper inside, the tiny holes will never dispense too much and lead to a powder explosion in your makeup bag.
It’s a translucent powder with a brightening effect with no glitter or shimmer – perfect to set the under-eye area if you enjoy a liquid concealer.
If you like to douse your face in powder it probably won’t last you long, but if you’re looking for something to set specific areas in a targeted way, the compact packaging is perfect. It lasts well, doesn’t go cakey and works for baking – and it’s super affordable.
9. BareMinerals Original Powder Foundation: £27, FeelUnique
This isn’t technically a setting powder, but I had to include it as it’s the perfect powder for dry skin. I like to buff a tiny amount over tinted moisturiser. You do really need to work it into the skin but when you do it turns into a creamy finish giving a natural glowy look which lasts all day and feels incredibly comfortable. The powder doesn’t turn dull or cling to dry areas (as long as you’ve moisturised beforehand) and anything you want to put on top will blend well.
I like this one for holidays (especially in hotter climates) as you can use it on its own for minimal coverage or over a foundation to set it in place with a natural look that won’t just melt off into a patchy mess.
The Verdict: Face powders for dry skin
If you want some hardcore glow, the Bourjois loose powder is the one for you, whereas for a more natural finish, RMS Un-powder works beautifully. For an easy powder you can chuck in your handbag and layer throughout the day Charlotte Tilbury is your best option, while Laura Mercier works as an indulgent product for when you want to look flawless for hours. But MAC's Studio Waterweight is the perfect two-in-one for maximum coverage and ultimate luminosity.