How to Choose the Right Powder, Liquid or Cream Foundation

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It’s a dilemma that can be difficult to figure out on your own. As powder, liquid and cream makeup formulas continue to evolve and change for the better, it’s hard to know which products work best on your skin and which ones work well together. 

Do liquids work better than powders? Which one has longer staying power? How do you layer one on top of the other? Here’s what the pros say you need to know about selecting the right products, and how to use them together for a long-lasting, flawless finish.

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Dewy or Matte?
First things first, knowing the look you want to go for will help you determine which formulation is best to use. Celebrity makeup artist Benjamin Puckey says to choose a powder for a more matte look: “A powder foundation will have a more matte finish, less coverage and be quicker to apply than a liquid foundation, which can be great if you’re in a hurry. A liquid foundation will usually provide more coverage and a dewy and luminous finish. You can use a powder foundation over a liquid to mattify and add extra coverage.” 

Consider Your Skin Type
The pros and cons of powder vs. liquid foundations are many, but a basic rule to follow is to start with your skin type. “Powder foundations are excellent for oily, combination skin or those who prefer a matte finish,” says makeup artist Derek Selby. “These are also the easiest and quickest formulas to apply. If you are a beginner or time-challenged, go for powder.”

For drier or mature skin, liquid or cream foundations can offer fuller, more blendable coverage. Cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos says, “Liquid foundations can have a higher degree of coverage and contain ingredients that help pigments spread more easily on the skin. They also contain humectants and emollients that help hydrate and soften skin.” 

While liquids are great for blending and hydrating, the same emollients that make them more pliable and easy to work with also make them more prone to crease, melt or move off of your face. "I prefer a face to be matte in the right places—forehead, under the eyes, the side of nose, chin and jawline—and have more shine and luminescence in other places  like the bridge of the nose and the cheekbones because this makes a face more three dimensional on camera," says Puckey.  "I would use a liquid foundation first and then apply a powder foundation to mattify and for touch-ups during the day."

New powder formulas are also making it easier to get the same benefits of a liquid base without these issues of movement and durability. “Today's powder foundations can be quite sophisticated. The development of surface-treated pigments brought some of the properties of liquid foundations to powders. Surface-treated pigments are enhanced by a layer of silicone or other materials that improve application, how they feel on your skin and add long-wear properties,” says Dobos.

Tricks of the Trade 
“When layering any other type of makeup over liquid products, be sure to give your foundation adequate time to dry otherwise it can streak and become uneven. Your best bet is to test the products you want to use together on your inner arm before applying them to your face to check for compatibility,” adds Dobos. 

A simple rule to remember for layering is that powders will go on better over liquids and not the other way around. Even if your preferred base is a powder foundation, the pros recommend applying it after you’ve applied your creams or liquids. “If you love a cream blush, contour or highlighter, apply it first and then your powder foundation after,” recommends Selby. But, there are exceptions. “It really depends on the products, but those that contain talc are harder to blend into each other as talc is drying,” he adds.

Tried and Tested
As for which products are the best of the best? Puckey, who arguably has access to every makeup product in the world, says his top picks are worth the investment: “My favorite liquid foundation has been for years now, the Radiant Fluid Foundation by Clé De Peau ($128), because it gives the skin a natural-but-better look and has a beautiful luminescent finish. My favorite powder foundation is the Teint Si Fin by Serge Lutens ($175) because it’s so finely milled and gives a fresh, matte finish without looking too dry or powdery.”