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I Set My Makeup With A Wet Towel Like TikTok — & I Really Regretted It

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Just when you think you've seen all of the TikTok beauty hacks (lube as primer, dental floss to get rid of frizzy hair), along comes another to blow the others out of the water. This month, the app's beauty enthusiasts are looking for new ways to keep their makeup intact in the pretty great summer weather we've been having recently. (I've definitely jinxed it now.)
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I've seen TikTokers applying makeup with a frozen sponge (surprisingly impressive) and swirling their foundation into a glass of water to make it waterproof (it works, but don't ask me how). Continuing the theme of a slightly wet face (hear me out), beauty obsessives are enlisting a heavy helping of face powder and a damp paper towel to set their makeup to perfection — no slipping, separating or creasing.
It looks like TikToker @sayri_reyna was the first person to share the hack online. Once her makeup is done, she packs on the translucent setting powder and pats it into her skin using a damp paper towel. "In college I took a makeup and design for the stage class, and our instructor Emma taught us how to set our face with a puff and some setting powder and a wet paper towel," says Sayri. "We would set [our makeup like that] and she would run her finger down our face with a bunch of pressure and if it was done correctly, nothing came out. It was set perfectly."
@sayri_reyna this works great but my face felt kinda cakey after #fyp #makeup ♬ original sound - Sayri
Sayri proceeds to use a "ridiculous amount of powder", then pushes the damp paper towel into their skin and holds it up to the camera, showing that there isn't a single scrap of makeup on the sheet. A quick swipe of a finger proves that their makeup is truly locked in. The video amassed so many millions of views that it wasn't long before other TikTokers jumped on the bandwagon, like @makeupbylordthivi, who also went viral — and was just as impressed.
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I asked Tilly Ferrari, London-based makeup artist and TikToker, for her verdict and surprisingly it's not all smoke and mirrors. "Makeup artist Lisa Eldridge recently released a video demonstrating this method, which is actually 100 years old and originates from Ern Westmore," a Hollywood makeup artist and actor, says Tilly. "Ern, his brother and his father were true pioneers of old Hollywood makeup." Tilly says you'd be amazed just how many of the techniques we use today were dreamed up by the Westmores, for example layering powder blush over cream blush to prolong it.
@style Setting your face with a TON of power and a damp paper towel?! What!? 👀 Will you try this?! @makeupbylordthivi #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #style #hack ♬ original sound - style
Tilly adds: "In old Hollywood days, makeup was very heavy and oil-based, and required a lot of powder to set in place. Using cold water on a cotton pad helped to remove the top layer of powder and brighten the complexion." Cold water also helps absorb the top layer of powder if you've been a bit heavy-handed, says Tilly, making it appear less cakey.
Saffron Hughes, resident makeup artist at FalseEyelashes.co.uk, says that she has seen this method work best for oily skin types, which may be able to handle the amount of powder. But she has spotted mixed reviews. Essentially, the idea is that your natural oils will eventually seep through the powder and give your makeup a more natural-looking finish.
This hack looked really convincing and so I had to try it the next time I did a full face of makeup. I don't like to use makeup primer and instead opt for a hydrating serum like Decorté Liposome Advanced Repair Serum, $138, followed by a good moisturiser, like The Nue Co. Barrier Culture Moisturiser, $91.08, to create a Velcro-like base.
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I applied my makeup like usual and reached for a setting powder I've really loved lately: Lacura Translucent Setting Powder (launching in the UK on 28th July), which TikTokers are hailing as a dupe for Laura Mercier's Translucent Loose Setting Powder, $58. It sets my concealer and foundation beautifully but would piling it on work just as well?
I don't have a face puff so I used my trusty fluffy powder brush to apply the product in swathes (avoiding my eyes and eyelids). I expected to choke on a powder plume but this was intense and I had to power through in intervals, holding my breath as I went along. A little tip: don't wear black.
After
Once I'd achieved the same ghostly effect as Sayri, I reached for my damp paper towel. After squeezing out the excess water, I carefully placed it onto my face in sections and pressed down until it looked like the powder had settled into my skin. While it did appear to absorb on camera, on closer inspection in the mirror it had collected in my pores and around any dry patches of skin. In all honesty, my makeup looked awful.
In the name of Beauty In A Tik, I persisted, running my finger down my face to see if any makeup would transfer. And boy, did it. This left a gaping hole in my base and I ended up having to fill it in with more foundation. Still, I wanted to give the powder more time to settle and so I went about my day, even doing a workout some hours later to really put it to the test.
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I wanted to like this hack but my makeup has never looked worse. It got patchier throughout the day. Horrifyingly, bits of foundation and powder rolled off my face into my lap when I so much as grazed my face with my fingers. What's more, my skin was so parched it felt like my face might crack every time I moved a muscle.
Perhaps this heavily powdered hack works for stage or movie makeup but for an everyday look I wasn't sold. Neither is Saffron. "Personally, I wouldn't want to waste this much powder every time I applied my makeup," she says. "I would probably recommend it for special occasions only." She also explains that this might not be the best option for those with acne-prone skin. "The amount of powder used could be heavy on sensitive skin."
Instead, makeup artist Daniel Martin taught me to always powder strategically to avoid your makeup looking flat. A little shine is a good thing. It means skin looks like actual skin.
After 8 hours of wear and a workout
To powder strategically, take a small, flat powder brush like the MYKITCO. 0.21 My Flawless Face Brush, $28.50, and delicately dip it into your face powder. Daniel loves Tatcha The Silk Powder, $72, but if you'd rather spend less, try e.l.f. High Definition Powder Sheer, $14, or Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Setting Powder, $47. Very gently tap off the excess so as not to completely blanket your face and dust it over areas which tend to get oily quickly. For most people, that's the T-zone (nose, chin and forehead) or underneath your eyes if you want to boost the staying power of your concealer, but really, wherever you see fit.
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If your skin gets oily throughout the day and tends to separate your makeup, you might like to try some blotting sheets. They mop up face grease fast and, in my experience, keep makeup in place for much longer.
It's safe to say I wouldn't attempt this hack again. If you want your makeup to last for hours on end, the makeup artists I've spoken to suggest finishing up with a setting spray. Tilly agrees. "There are definitely more convenient ways to set your makeup these days," she says. "I would recommend finishing with a reliable setting spray that will help mesh the layers of your makeup together and also add longevity." Tilly loves Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Setting Spray, $49. "It's what I use on all of my brides and I make sure to set each layer as I go along."
I agree that setting spray is the better option here. I don't think you can go wrong with Urban Decay All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray, $57, but Revolution's Rehab Coconut Restore Fixing Spray, $16, and NYX Professional Makeup Setting Spray Matte Finish, $16.99, are just as flawless.
Now, excuse me while I clean up the mountain of powder on my bathroom floor.

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