Powder vs. Liquid Makeup

Not all makeup is created equal. Find what's right for you.
Not all makeup is created equal. Find what's right for you.

Let's face it. The idea of applying makeup can be scary. When it's done right, makeup can make a woman look pulled together (even if she's wearing cutoffs and a ratty tee), rested and ready for any challenge. When inexpertly applied, it can make the same hapless female look like she's trying way too hard -- and missing the mark by a mile. That's one reason lots of ladies pass on makeup products, and especially on foundation products.

Actually, today's foundation formulations are easy to use and offer some solid benefits. They've come a long way in the last couple of decades. Using old style foundation felt a little like applying a coat of paint to your face. Sure, it might have looked OK for evening wear, or if you stayed in the shade at the company picnic. But let people, or one special person, get close, and that smooth, even illusion became a gooey, pasty reality.


The light, creamy powder and liquid foundations on the market today do a better job of staying put and looking natural. They provide visible coverage with a subtle artistry that works hard to stay invisible. What you see is your complexion without the flaws -- the way it should be, or would have been if you'd spent your life pampering yourself like a diva instead of working and raising a family. They also help make your face a better canvas for other makeup products like lip color, blush and eye makeup. Many also use special mineral ingredients that produce a sheer, luminous sheen while offering good camouflage for blemishes and fine lines.

Foundation isn't all that hard to choose or use, either. If you've had a bad experience in the past, you probably don't believe us, but we have a quick primer that will help change your mind. Let's explore the pretty puzzle of choosing the right foundation, starting with the age old dilemma: powder or liquid.

Pros and Cons of Powder Makeup

Powder-based foundation is dry or almost dry. It differs from pressed face powder in that it contains adhesion ingredients that help it cling to the skin. It also has a higher concentration of pigments to conceal flaws like uneven skin tone and blemishes.

The benefits of powder makeup:


  • It provides sheer coverage for a more natural look. (Although there are full coverage options for powder foundation, it's probably easier to get very sheer, light coverage using powder and a Kabuki brush applicator. A quality brush applicator will help you achieve a professional look more easily when using powder foundation. Brushes are fun to experiment with, too.)
  • Powder works well with young or oily skin because it tends to absorb oily residue.
  • Powdered mineral makeup may contain fewer preservatives and other additives than conventional foundation products.
  • Dry foundation tends to stay put in warm weather or during those times when perspiration (ahem, glistening) can be a problem.
  • Since it goes on almost like face powder, powdered makeup can be reapplied easily during the day as needed.

The disadvantages of powder makeup:

  • Powder usually requires a brush application method that may be challenging for beginners. Inexpertly applied makeup can result in incomplete coverage and a splotchy finish.
  • Some loose powder products can be messy. If you like to add makeup after you're dressed for the day, you'll have to be careful.
  • Powder foundation may settle into fine lines and wrinkles, or aggregate around dry or damaged skin. (This is usually a training issue that diminishes somewhat with practice and experience.)
  • Powder foundation is applied in multiple, light layers, so it may take longer to put on makeup in the morning, especially when striving for fuller coverage.
  • Using a powder foundation may cause uneven pigment distribution on wearers with combination skin (an oily T-zone but otherwise dry skin).

Powder foundation is a good choice for younger users who want light coverage and a natural finish. It helps control excess oil around the forehead and nose area, avoiding the need for frequent reapplication. It may take a little time to develop the knack of blending it evenly, though. Because it tends to sit on the surface of the skin instead of being absorbed into the skin like a liquid product, it may also be less likely to cause clogged pores and blemishes.

Pros and Cons of Liquid Makeup

Liquid foundation is the most popular foundation product on the market. It's available in water-, cream- and oil-based formulations for light, medium and heavy coverage. There are also liquid-to-powder products that try to capture the advantages of both liquid and powder foundations.

The benefits of liquid makeup:


  • The onboard moisturizers in liquid foundation help hydrate dry skin.
  • If you have a unique skin tone, you're more likely to find a match with a liquid product than with a powder foundation.
  • It's easier to apply and blend a liquid product into the skin than it is to apply a powder foundation, especially for a beginner.
  • Liquid foundation is very effective at producing a luminous finish.
  • It also does a good job of filling and concealing fine lines and enlarged pores, temporarily at least.

The disadvantages of liquid makeup:

  • Liquid foundation can look shiny and wet when perspiration or excess oil is present on the skin.
  • Wearing the wrong liquid formulation for your skin type can leave your makeup looking cakey and artificial.
  • Moisture and oil can accumulate in lines and wrinkles after hours of wear, emphasizing instead of concealing them.
  • Heavy coverage liquid foundation may cause clogged pores and blemishes.

Liquid foundation is most effective when used on medium to dry skin. It moisturizes, provides excellent coverage for fine lines, even with relatively lightweight formulations, and is easy to apply. It's also very popular, so your favorite cosmetic manufacturer probably has a comprehensive liquid makeup product line with a shade and consistency that will work for you.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Ellis, Kori. "Flawless & Healthy Mineral Makeup." 5/19/08. (8/13/12). http://www.sheknows.com/beauty-and-style/articles/803960/applying-mineral-makeup
  • Kiss Me Goodnight. "Your Makeup Foundation: Liquid or Powder." 2006. (8/13/12). http://www.kissmegoodnight.com/beauty-secrets/liquid_or_powder_makeup_foundations.shtml
  • Makeup Information. "Liquid vs. Powder Foundation: What's Best?" 3/8/11. (8/13/12). http://www.makeupinfor.com/liquid-vs-powder-foundation-whats-best/
  • Matlin, Jessica. "Problems with Foundation: The Puzzle Solved." Oprah. 9/2007. (8/13/12). http://www.oprah.com/style/How-to-Choose-and-Use-the-Right-Foundation/2
  • Oprah.com. "A Field Guide to Mineral Makeup." 12/2007. (8/13/12). http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Mineral-Makeup-Guide
  • Rouleau, Renee. "Powder vs. Liquid Foundation Makeup: What's Best for My Skin Type?" 1/4/12. (8/13/12). http://blog.reneerouleau.com/2012/01/powder-vs-liquid-foundation-makeup-whats-best-for-my-skin-type/
  • Stylish and Trendy. "Mineral Makeup For Women – What Is Mineral Makeup." (8/13/12). http://www.stylishandtrendy.com/beauty/makeup-trends/mineral-makeup-for-women-what-is-mineral-make-up/