Tough Choices: Cream Or Powder Makeup?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
After you finally find your perfect shade in the beauty aisle and decide how much you feel like forking out for a new product, the choice between formulas — cream or powder — is one that can cause some big-time brain pain. To swipe or to dust?
According to international makeup artist Rae Morris, the answer to this dilemma is simple: Just choose one or the other. The reason? Top-notch blending ability. “Creams blend on creams, and powders blend on powders,” explains Morris. “Trying to blend powder on liquid is like trying to blend on sticky tape. It may look blended to you, but I guarantee within a few hours, your bronzer will darken as it gets wet from the moisture of your skin and look super patchy."
Okay, so go all cream or all powder. Great — but how do you know which formulation is best for you? Don't worry, we've got your back. Ahead, the creams vs. powders breakdown — so you'll never have to figure out if you've found the right match for your makeup needs.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
“Naturally, creams have a creamier, shinier finish than powder. They give you a more youthful glow,” says Morris. “Powders are usually more matte and velvety.” When you’re choosing between textures, it’s all about the look you’re trying to create with these products.
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Photo: Via Becca.
When To Cream:
Following our new beauty rule about staying true to one consistency at a time, cream blushes and bronzers belong layered over liquid foundations. If hydrated and dewy are words you want to be associated with your complexion, then a cream is your best choice. If you’re not a master at makeup application, the blendable nature of these picks will win your heart, too.
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Photo: Via NARS.
When To Powder:
Got blemished skin? These are your new go-tos. “Powders won’t crease as easily around a spot,” says Morris. If you find your cheeks get a little too shiny by the end of the day, layering a powder bronzer or blush over a powder base will absorb all that excess oil. Plus, a powder will create a solid and pretty, but still professional, finish if you're going for a more mature look.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
We don't need any more convincing for these products — these brightening babies are in our makeup cases for good. But, even if you consider yourself an expert on illuminators and highlighters, you might not know there's a huge difference between the two formulations.
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Photo: Via Benefit.
When To Cream:
This kind of highlighter is designed to create a subtle effect, as it blends into your base — which will be cream, too, of course. This natural-looking glow adds to the dewy appearance you're already witnessing thanks to those creamy layers underneath.

“Cream illuminators work best along your cheekbones and on the body,” says Morris. “Nobody will even pick up that you’ve applied it. They’ll just think you have the healthiest skin they’ve ever seen.” We’re sold.
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Photo: Via theBalm.
When To Powder:
“Powders are perfect for when you can’t afford the product to move,” explains Morris — think the inner corners of your eyes, Cupid’s bow, browbone, and eyelids. Powder shimmer has much more impact than cream, so save it for places where you’re trying to make a statement. Try applying a light layer down the center of your nose, as the makeup will remain straight as applied and won’t shift to create a crooked sheen.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Colored lids are always on trend. Sure, the shades change each season, and we all fall for those staples we swear we’ll wear forever, but this product isn’t leaving our beauty routines any time soon. So, we might as well master the difference between the two before we have to decide what oh-but-I-need-it hue to invest in next.
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Photo: Via MAC.
When To Cream:
If eyeshadow were to have a number-one nemesis, it would be fallout. The worst thing to happen when you’re trying to nail a Saturday-night smoky eye? Those specks of color that fall from your lid under your eyes. They truly ruin everything. The good — actually, great — news: That just isn’t going to happen with a cream shadow.

“Not only are they quicker to apply than powders, but you also don’t have to layer this product as much,” says Morris. Time-saving abilities aside, these shades are also super long-lasting. Just be sure to apply a (cream) primer on your lids first to up that longevity.
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Photo: Via L'Oréal.
When To Powder:
“If you want to create a look where you have to build up or layer different shades, powder is your best bet,” says Morris. “In fact, if you apply powder to your lids before the color, blending will be a dream.”

Prepping with a powder before more powder will also help eliminate any color stamping, which occurs because our eyelids are one of the oiliest parts of our face. As in, right-up-there-with-the-T-zone, next-level oily.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Foundation is called foundation for a reason — it sets the tone or lays the groundwork for the makeup coming next. Yes, this is where it all starts. So, if you want that dewy look of creams or if you're more for the velvet finish of powders, you should choose your base makeup accordingly.
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Photo: Via Bourjois.
When To Cream:
Cream is your dream match if you’re one to reapply makeup throughout the day. “If you have blemishes, skin that eats up your foundation, or if you’re pale and need to reapply SPF, cream’s your go-to,” says Morris.

The youthful finish created by a liquid product can appeal to mature skin or faces with fine lines, as long as you work to re-buff the product back in as it starts to crease and slide around during the day.
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Photo: Via Laura Mercier.
When To Powder:
If your sole reason for jumping on the foundation bandwagon is coverage, then you would benefit from dropping cash on a powder product. Similarly, if your skin’s on the sensitive end of the spectrum, a powder mineral base could be your savior.

Like all foundations, success here lies in the application. This formulation also needs to be buffed into the skin, creating a look that’s as close to airbrushed as one can get without hiring professional help.
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