You know that Instagram meme “Me vs. You,” where the has-it-together “Me” is, like, a pic of Rihanna glammed out having a beer in a bikini in Barbados, and the “you” is, say, a miffed-looking baby ostrich?
When it comes to the whole glowy skincare trend, I want to be on the cool, glistening side—invariably demonstrated in editorials via a 17-year-old Danish model who’s been sheet-masked, coconut-watered, and strobe-contoured until she shines with a radiant, almost gelatinous glow. It’s that thing we’re calling “dewy” nowadays, freshly moisturized and plumped with Evian and hyaluronic acid.
I’ve been doing it. Well, I’ve been trying to do it. And just as invariably, I fall short of Danish-model skin. I do all the moisturizer and oils I’m supposed to, and my face looks like shitty concession-stand pizza—the kind that your mom dabs with a paper towel to lift off the grease and oil.
If you’re in the same spot, don’t give up the regimen. I’m convinced a lot of good has come out of my newly intense moisturizing game—my skin’s softer, more supple, feels firmer, and little lines have been washed away in a tide of hydration. But as to that oily sheen left on my T-zone, well, I came to an ultimatum: the gleam can stay, but the oily finish has to go.
This is where I start to talk about powders, which is also where I start to lose a lot of people. It’s because we’ve all been through powders once before, and despaired. Maybe you wanted to tone down an oily nose for homeroom and blasted a puff-full of Coty Airspun all over a sad, shiny, zitty nose in the locker room.
The results of the wrong powder can be flat, matte in the least Old Hollywood way, and make you look so much older than your tender, shiny years. Plus, it can make your face feel starchy and stiff, and well, “set.” The other misconception is about language and association. The term “setting powder” can feel more like it belongs to RuPaul maximalism than French-girl minimalism. And you’d miss quite a few good options there, too.
The thing is, you want to keep a lot of that shine. You just want to make it seem like it’s coming from within your skin, not necessarily pooling on top of it. Illuminators, highlighters, and “face glosses” can work, but the best glow comes not from a glittery layer sitting on top—it should be the light shining through a filter, like the sun peeking out from behind a wispy cloud on a spring day.
With the right powder, that moisturized gleam is toned down into a steady, radiant glow that lasts for hours, and neither gets too matte nor too shiny. Powder is the little wispy cloud that lets the radiance shine through. You’ll look like you’re shining, not soaking.
You don’t need it everywhere. I like to keep my cheeks powder-free for that shiny-cheek-and-brow-bone thing. This gets even trickier, because you need a powder that can be applied deftly, strategically, without looking like you missed a spot. It has to become your skin in a way, not just sit on top of it. It’s a delicate balance. But take heart—there are some superheros left in the world.
In the slideshow above, you’ll find powders—some priming bases, some satin finishes, some top-dusting glow-makers, and a few BB-cream-setters—that all let you keep that moisturized glow. They’re so finely milled, and melt so naturally, that your skin’s texture still feels cool and almost moist to the touch, like it does right after moisturizing. Can’t say that about your homeroom staple.
For the Glitter-Averse: Laura Mercier Translucent Setting Powder in Translucent
A genre standard. It’s mostly talc and magnesium, so there’s no shimmer, but there is that gauzy blur of Joan Crawford close-ups. There’s plenty of reflected light and moisturizer-enhancing gleam, but with a hazy filter, like watching firecrackers through smoke. I found a subtle extra side effect, too: Color-correction via the yellow-leaning Translucent shade, with zero white-cast buzzkill.
Laura Mercier Translucent Setting Powder in Translucent, $38; at Sephora
For the Shimmer-Friendly: Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder
The new standard for the Strobing Generation. This might seem like an off-label use, to employ a “lighting powder” to tone skin down, but a few scrolls through Instagram proves there are plenty of brush-wielding girls out there who want both effects. If you’re intimidated, you can start off using it over another of these recommended powders, or just for nights out.
But you’ll start to be converted into daytime use, too. It really rides that balance of shimmer, gleam, and mattification, giving you equal parts of each. It’s a natural pairing with the dewy look—capturing shine, creating light, catching reflections—the goal is the same. It’s a dovetail in the beauty product road—take it.
Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder, $45; at Sephora
For the Problematically Oily: Alima Pure Balancing Primer Powder
This is the most serious mattifier of the group, but stops short of stiffness or chalkiness. It’s got a simple-enough ingredient list: kaolin, mica, and zinc oxide, so you can see where it gets its oil-absorption, soft-focus gleam, and staying power. If you’ve got a nose that won’t stay matte no matter what, this powder is a blessing and a force. I recommend a two-step process: dust this one first, and follow with Alima’s Radiant Finishing Powder, which also lies beautifully over forehead and chin areas.
Alima Pure Balancing Primer Powder, $24; at Alima Pure
For Natural-Coverage Seekers: Lilah b. Flawless Finish Foundation
Don’t let the word “foundation” scare you—this strikes me as more of a capstone product anyway. This powder works with moisturizer because it’s got natural hydrators built right in, with aloe and coconut oil milled into the incredibly fine powder. Obviously, you’ll still want to moisturize; the point is that this formula is made to work with oil and water, not fight against them.
The powder can be built up, so it offers more coverage than some of the others on this list. This one certainly pairs best over a little color already, but you don’t end up needing much. I’ve found that a light dusting over a tinted cream is sufficient. There’s subtle luminosity, but coverage there too.
Lilah b. Flawless Finish Foundation, $48; at Lilah b.
The Bag-Friendly Toucher-Upper: Eve Lom Sheer Radiance Translucent Powder
Eve Lom rose to product fame for her balm cleanser’s ability to gently slide makeup off, but she’s got quite a knack for dusting it on, too. This is one of those pre-set brushes that you just tap on your face and powder comes wisping out. There’s no glimmer to it, and silica is there to sop up oil or surface shine throughout the day. I prefer to start mornings off with a few other powders here, but this one’s the only one I’d turn to in a restaurant bathroom or a mirrored elevator for instant, um, elevation.
Eve Lom Sheer Radiance Translucent Powder, $48; at Neiman Marcus
The Game-Changer: Shiseido Future Solution LX Total Radiance Loose Powder
What can be said about perfection? First, it looks like the sacred jewelry case of an anime princess. The container (hardly a compact) is pearlescent, the size of a hamburger, and is heavier than you’d expect. And sitting on that mink-like puff is what we’ve all been searching for: an actual—brace yourself—“moisture powder.”
It has mica and glycerin for glow and glisten, and is formulated with what it calls “Super Bio-Hyaluronic Acid,” to preserve the mistiness of moisturized skin without an oily residue. It performs just as well on bare skin as made-up. It will cure you of your powder phobia in one gentle puff.
Shiseido Future Solution LX Total Radiance Loose Powder, $60; at Shiseido
The Talc-Free Alternative: Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigment Flawless Finishing Powder
If everything about that Shiseido compact sounded great, but you’re not into talc, take heart. For the uber-natural product Gwyneth-types out there, first, respect, because you take a lot of flak but will likely live to inherit what’s left of the earth.
Second, here’s the powder for you and for anyone who wants a powder that acts like a mist. It also claims the title “moisture powder,” containing micro-particles of argan oil and phytolipids (among others), making for a dusting experience that’s deceptively invisible, and leaves skin with the slight blur of a mist. The results address texture and tone beautifully, with a finish so fine, it melts into your pores, becoming one with your skin. Flawless skin on the outside, glow on the inside. Right where it should be.
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigment Flawless Finishing Powder, $32; at Juice Beauty