If there ever was a hierarchy of foundation formulas, powder foundations would rank the lowest — at least in my eyes. Now I’m not belittling its distinction for being the first-ever type of foundation formula at all, thanks to Max Factor’s iconic Pan-Cake; credit where credit’s due, after all.
However, I’ve never quite come across one that’s able to wrestle me away from my dewy, flawless, wonderfully blendable holy grail of liquid foundations. Everyone wants to achieve the look of real skin, with a little helpful coverage, but there’s something about a powder that’s too matte, too drying, too cakey, or too, well, powdery. Old-school ones might even settle into fine lines, which we can safely say, isn’t a good look.
In fact, the last time I properly bought a compact powder-style foundation was when I picked up the affordably-priced Za Perfect Fit Two-Way Foundation at my neighbourhood mall’s Watsons store, back when I was a teenager. Not that I used it much actually, but it was the trendy thing to get when I thought I needed makeup. And that’s the thing — powder foundations haven’t been in vogue since we used to go around fondly calling it “compact powder”.
Long rant aside, believe it or not, things and perspectives can change. And it’s 100% due to face masks. Like just about everyone I’ve spoken to, my makeup habits certainly went through an upheaval once face masks became a mandatory habit — I wear way less lipstick now, even go without foundation if I can afford to. With the extra heat and humidity to deal with under the mask, my skin often feels clogged and sensitised at the same time, which then leads to, you know it, maskne.
With that, I was then forced to consider transfer-proof makeup alternatives that won’t wreck havoc on my skin — which led me to re-discover, not Singapore, but powder foundations.
It just so happened that Fenty’s latest powder foundation launch dropped onto my (WFH) desk earlier this year, and it was only after I gave it a go that I started to seriously consider powder formulas. Okay, I’ll admit — they’re great for our humid weather, provide good coverage without feeling too thick, and, best of all, help mattify the complexion too. So yes, surprise, these might now be part of my “new normal” makeup routine. Consider my view changed.
Ahead, a low-down on what powder foundations are good for, our top recommendations, both iconic and new, and why I eventually embraced them.
WHAT IS A POWDER FOUNDATION?
A powder foundation is a dry formula made up of finely-milled pigments and minerals that give buildable coverage. It comes as either a pressed or loose powder format, and is generally lightweight with a matte finish. Plenty of formulas feature oil-absorbing properties to control shine. We’re also most used to seeing them within a compact case and paired with a dry sponge.
WHEN IS A POWDER FOUNDATION PREFERRED?
For those with oily, sensitive, or acne-prone skin, powder foundations are a life-saver. They’re usually more weightless compared to their liquid counterpart, are less likely to clog your pores, while oil-absorbing properties help to reduce shine that builds up throughout the day.
In our humid weather, powder foundations are recommended as well, for the same reasons, and of course, they function well under our face masks too as they’re often transfer-proof. An additional bonus is that you won’t need to set your makeup when using it on its own — just a light dusting of setting powder if you feel it’s necessary.
WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT USE IT?
While powder foundations work for a wide range of people, those with dry skin might want to avoid it. Powder has a tendency to settle and cling to fine lines, wrinkles, and patches, which may look unflattering. Old-school formulas may not do so well with the skin around the eye area as well.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO APPLY IT?
A dry sponge is the tried-and-tested method for applying powder foundations, as it picks up and deposits just the right amount of product. If you’d like your foundation to last even longer, apply a primer beforehand, and make sure this is fully absorbed into the skin so that you start off with a dry surface. This makes the product way more easy to blend. For a natural skin finish, you may also spritz on a skin mist after, over your foundation, so you get a dewy glow.
WHY I CHANGED MY MIND ABOUT POWDER FOUNDATIONS
Two words: face masks. These changed so much of my beauty routine, both makeup and skincare, that I’m not at all surprised. What’s actually surprising is that I’ve grown to love the weightless finish of powder foundations, something I never even considered before. With the uncomfortable humidity under the mask, I also appreciate them for their mattifying properties, knowing that my coverage will hold up despite the extra moisture.
It could be due to the new generation of formulas too — new powder foundations are often easy to blend, buildable, and natural-looking, so I never got the cakey effect of yesteryear. Advanced micro-powders also often tout of a magical “filtered” skin-blurring effect, and like the best of setting powders, this one’s real. It’s something you’ve got to experience for yourself, how your pores are instantly blurred after a couple light taps of the sponge. Best of all, the powder foundations I’ve tried tend to stay put once they’re set, which means I don’t get pesky streaks on my mask!
Fenty Beauty’s product was what made me revisit powder foundations in the first place, so it obviously comes highly recommended. This one’s truly light-as-air, and delivers on everything I now love about powder foundations, including buildable light to full coverage that won’t settle into fine lines, humidity resistance, and a beautiful soft matte finish. M.A.C Cosmetics’ foundation compact is part of their Lightful C range that desires to create a luminous glow. However, this is more of a natural matte finish that seems suitable to set your makeup due to its longwear properties, or provide medium-to-full coverage if you’d like.
These are two defining benefits that make the Shiseido Synchro Skin powder foundation stand out — first, its creamy texture that can be applied wet or dry, and second, a “self-refreshing” ActiveForce™ technology, that synchronises with your skin throughout the day so your foundation looks as good as it did when it was just applied. For Wander Beauty’s cult formula, we’ve also heard good things about it, with many raving about how they’re completely switched out their foundation and setting powder for this ultra-fine, silky powder foundation that doesn’t crack or flake or look cakey. We like that it’s infused with skincare ingredients of aloe leaf and hibiscus flower extracts too. Both these foundations give a natural-looking skin finish.
Make Up For Ever has been acing the complexion makeup game since forever, particularly with the popular Ultra HD series, but this powder foundation is by no means underrated. For those who like their flawless matte finishes, this one will hold up well under bright camera flashes and humid weather alike, with a skin-blurring, water-resistant formula that’s still breathable and lightweight. As for the Guerlain compact powder, this is one of the best we’ve tried, and truly one of the softest and smoothest formulas that have graced our skin. It gives a natural finish and has a formula that blends in with your skin, while also accommodating to its movement, so all you’ll feel is long-wearing comfort.