The Best Drugstore Powder Foundation for Normal, Oily, Combination, and/or Sensitive (and Even Dry) Skin
Many people have a love/hate relationship with drugstore powder foundations: there are so many high-quality options, all with so many wonderful features, that choosing one can be a little overwhelming. And that’s tragic, really, because selecting makeup should be fun.
So here, to help demystify the topic, we’ll go deep into the world of drugstore powder foundations: we’ll start with our picks for the best drugstore powder foundation, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty about how to select the right one for you. We'll discuss what to look for, how to use it, and, just as importantly, how not to use it. By the end, you should know more than you ever bargained for! Alright, let’s jump in:
OK, sorry, before we jump in: please note that none of the foundation we discuss below are organic—we've had trouble finding an organic drugstore powder foundation we really like. If you're interested in organic foundations, we've written a review of our top organic foundation picks here. OK, *now* let's dive in!
Drugstore Powder Foundations: Our Picks
Here are the foundations we’ll be discussing below…
…and here are our reviews:
NYX Professional Makeup Stay Matte But Not Flat Powder Foundation
The NYX Professional Makeup Stay Matte But Not Flat Powder Foundation is our pick for the best drugstore foundation for combination and/or normal skin. NYX designed it to be a “dual-use” powder foundation, which means it can be applied dry for light to medium coverage, or, with a damp sponge (and some skills!), for nearly full coverage. This makes it a very versatile product that could work for a bunch of different makeup application styles.
We’d like to give NYX credit for offering this powder foundation in an inclusive range of shades, because we think even those with less common skin tones will be able to find a match here. We also love that it’s cruelty-free, like all NYX products.
As the name implies, NYX designed this powder to be matte but not flat—something we’d call a “demi-matte” finish—which would probably be a good finish for those with normal or combination skin who may need a bit of oil control but still want their skin to look natural rather than flat or dry. This powder foundation was enhanced with a few silicones to give it a smooth, buttery texture that can have a diffused, photo-focused effect to the skin.
The only potential drawback with a drugstore powder foundation like this one is that it can shatter easily if not handled with care, especially once it’s been used up quite a bit. So... be careful! And enjoy!
May be a good fit for: those with combination and normal skin who would like a versatile powder foundation with a demi-matte finish.
L’Oreal True Match Powder
The L’Oreal True Match Powder is one of our favorite drugstore powder foundations for normal and/or oily skin. It's a powder foundation designed to offer light to medium coverage and a more natural finish, with an ingredient list formulated to keep it from appearing chalky or cakey.
The True Match Powder was formulated with pearl pigments (yes, pearl pigments!), which gives it a slightly reflective effect that we love on flat or maturing skin tones, because it can make the skin appear more luminescent without emphasizing dryness or fine lines. Because L’Oreal made this powder foundation to have light to medium coverage, we think it can double nicely as a setting powder, making it very versatile.
L’Oreal packaged this powder in the sturdiest compact we’ve seen so far for drugstore powder foundations, with a nice mirror included as part of the structure. They've made finding a color match a much easier process than it used to be, by separating their 30+ shades into “warm”, “cool”, and “neutral” undertone categories—very inclusive, and very helpful, and we give them a lot of credit for the color selection options. For a deeper cool tone, you can check out C8 while for a pale warm tone you can have a look at W2.
May be a good fit for: those with normal and/or oily skin with a preference for natural coverage, or anyone who struggles to find a shade match.
Maybelline New York Super Stay Full Coverage Powder Foundation
Maybelline New York Super Stay Full Coverage Powder Foundation gets our vote as the best drugstore powder foundation for oily skin, especially for those who like buildable coverage (for a description of the term, “build-ability,” see our section titled “Powder Foundation Coverage Level,” below).
This powder foundation was designed to have a matte finish that controls oils throughout the day, and we appreciate that: chances are pretty good that if you’re looking for a powder foundation, you’re dealing with oily skin, and want something that can tamp down some of that shine.
The Super Stay is a full-coverage foundation, but you may need to apply multiple layers with a sponge in order to reach that level of opacity. That can actually a good thing, though, because those who might prefer a light and more natural-looking coverage may be able to achieve that look as long as they apply it with a fluffier brush.
It has a somewhat limited tone range, especially compared to some of the other powder foundations we’ve reviewed, but it still has a range of about a dozen shades, so there’s a good chance you can find something that suits the color of your skin.
May be a good fit for: those with oily skin who would like to achieve buildable coverage.
Neutrogena Mineral Sheers Powder Foundation
The Neutrogena Mineral Sheers Powder Foundation is, in our opinion, another one of the top drugstore powder foundation options for those with normal to oily skin. Neutrogena designed it to offer a radiant finish with the aim of a healthy, glowy look, and that can also make it a good option for maturing skin.
We think "Mineral Sheers" is a great name for this powder foundation, because it was designed to offer a sheer coverage, especially when applied with a brush (although you could probably still achieve medium coverage if you apply it with a more dense brush or with a sponge and build up the layers). The shade range of the Mineral Sheers is not massive, but since it was formulated to have light coverage, we don’t think it’s as big a deal as it would be for a more high-coverage foundation, since one shade is designed to fit a wider range of skin tones.
We always try to review the ingredient list of anything we review, and there a few things we really like about Mineral Sheers: 1) it's formulated with SPF 20 to protect the skin from sun damage; 2) it's oil-free, which is something a lot of powder foundation wearers want to see, because they're usually skipping liquid foundation because it can make them feel oily; and 3) it's non comedogenic! Acne sufferers often have a difficult time finding a foundation that may work for them (and you can check out our favorite foundations for large pores and/or acne scars here), and it's nice to see one made without some of the ingredients that are known to cause acne. Your results may vary, of course, but a non comedogenic ingredient list is nice to see.
May be a good fit for: those with normal to oily skin who would like natural-looking coverage and a non-comedogenic ingredient list.
Aquasurance Compact Foundation
Aquasurance Compact Foundation gets our vote for the top drugstore powder foundation in the "full coverage" category. If you're looking to replace a liquid foundation (and it always seems like a lot of powder foundation enthusiasts are people who couldn't find a liquid that worked for them), this one may be a good option.
Aquasurance describes the coverage of this powder foundation as “light to full,” but it seems like it leans heavily towards "full"—which is a wonderful thing, because it can be difficult to achieve that level of coverage with a lot of powder foundations (and that’s one of the normal complains about powder foundations, is that they’re not as powerful as their liquid versions).
Unlike a lot of powder foundations, it's designed to hydrate the skin (hence the name "Aquasurance"), and we love that—it means that though it looks matte initially, it can become a little more satiny throughout the day. It was also developed to be extremely long-lasting without becoming cakey or settling into creases and pores, which is a wonderful benefit for anyone dealing with texture issues.
Our only issue with the Compact Foundation is that Aquasurance only offers it in eight shades, which is not quite enough in our opinion when it comes to a high-coverage product. It would be great to see a wide range of colors and tones.
This, too, is one of the few reviews where we discuss a powder that may be a good match for dry skin. While Aquasurance is probably ideal for normal and combination skin, those with dry skin could make it work by setting it with a hydrating spray, while those with oily skin can use it in conjunction with a mattifying primer for additional oil-control. Nice!
May be a good fit for: those with normal, oily, and combination skin who would like full coverage, and possibly people with dry skin who want to supplement the powder with a hydrating spray.
Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Loose Powder
In our opinion, Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Loose Powder is the best drugstore powder foundation that comes in a loose format (which is kind of rare—most drugstore powder foundations aren't loose). We had a little debate over whether this one could be truly be called a "drugstore" formula, and this one may fall into that category of "high-end drugstore," but either way, we like this one a lot, and we think it should be included in our list.
Our first-and-favorite thing about Physicians Formula is that they create all of their products with sensitive skin in mind, and while powder foundations are gentle on the skin in general, this one stands out to us. Physicians Formula designed this powder so it would suit most skin types, and they composed it with a demi-matte/natural-matte finish, which is a smart choice—sometimes foundations can be overly mattifying and look a little flat, so a natural finish seems like the best option for a makeup designed for all skin types. Physicians Formula crafted it to have the coverage of a liquid foundation, so if you would like a powder foundation that hides imperfections, this may be a good option.
We only have two small criticisms: 1) Physicians Formula included a kabuki brush with the Loose Powder, and it's ok… but you may want to step it up a little (and if you're a makeup artist, we might suggest something designed for longevity); and 2) the packaging itself includes a typical sifter, so you may want to be careful when dispensing powder to avoid pouring out too much at once.
All in all, though, we're big fans of Mineral Wear—not too many foundation powders are designed specifically for sensitive skin (and even fewer for dry skin), so we think this one is a find.
May be a good fit for: those with sensitive skin and/or dry skin who would like buildable full coverage, people looking for a loose drugstore powder foundation, and makeup wearers looking to avoid talc in their cosmetics.
The Benefits of Powder Foundation
Alright! Now that we’re done with our reviews, let’s learn some more about this fantastic, often-overlooked cosmetic. We’ll start at the beginning:
Powder foundation is a highly pigmented powder that can come either loose or pressed, and if you find that you either don’t like—or can’t use—cream or liquid foundation, it can be a great alternative. Here are the main benefits of powder foundation:
When compared to liquid and cream foundations, powder foundations can be much easier to use, because they require a lot less stippling, blending, and fussing;
Applying powder foundation can be done in seconds, so it’s perfect for when you’re in a rush—aaaaand you don’t have to “beat the clock” and finish your look before the foundation sets, which can be an issue with cream or liquid foundation;
Pressed powder foundations are particularly great for touching up makeup throughout the day, so if you find your look fading mid-afternoon, you can give a quick (and easy) touch-up;
Because powder foundation formulations are (usually) simpler than liquid formulations, they may be less likely to cause breakouts or irritation (although this, obviously, varies from person to person);
Powder foundation can double as a setting powder if you’d like to amp up the coverage of your cream or liquid foundation;
Powder foundations can help to control oils and keep the skin matte throughout the day; and finally…
Powder foundation can save you the need to apply setting powder, because it can offer coverage and setting all in one. Wonderful!
How to Choose the Best Drugstore Powder Foundation for You
Now that we know the benefits… how do you go about choosing a foundation that can work for you?
Well, that’s one of the wonderful things about drugstore makeup! There are so many different makeups, offered in some many tones and consistencies, that no matter your skin type, skin tone, or personal preferences, chances are very strong you can find a drugstore powder foundation that you will love—it’s just a matter of choosing the right one.
But… that’s the rub, right? There are so many options, it can be overwhelming to know what you need. The sections below are the “buying factors” you’ll need to keep in mind.
And, just so you know—if you need to read this a couple times to get the hang of it, that. is. totally. ok. Powder foundations are somehow both accessible and totally complicated at the same time, so be nice to yourself if you’re having a hard time figuring out what you need.
OK, so here are the factors to keep in mind:
Powder Foundation for Your Skin Type and Finish
Your skin type usually determines the type of finish you want, and powder foundations, even with all their other positives, usually offer a pretty limited range of finishes. As a general rule of thumb, with powder foundation, you can get a…
Natural finish, which has a satiny, skin-like finish;
Demi-matte finish, which controls oils but doesn’t flatten the skin or make it look powdery; and
Matte finish, which gives very intense oil-control but can look a little bit fake or flat if applied to the wrong skin type.
Here’s how to choose the right one for your skin type:
For dry skin, it’s better to choose a natural finish powder foundation. Since it is a powder, it will still control a bit of shine if you happen to sweat or produce a little bit of oil in the T-zone, but it may not emphasize your dry patches and may keep your skin looking natural and multi-dimensional. You might want to use a hydrating mist after applying the powder foundation to achieve a slightly more glowy finish;
If you have normal skin or combination-dry skin, it can make sense to opt for either a natural finish or demi-matte powder foundation, depending on your preferences;
If you have combination-oily skin, then demi-matte powder foundations are usually a wise choice; and finally…
For oily or very oily skin, the best drugstore powder foundation will be a matte one, which will help keep your skin from looking oily throughout the day. While the initial application might seem a little too matte, it will actually begin to look softer and more natural as it absorbs the oils from your skin, so after an hour or two it can look really fantastic.
PRO-TIP: You will be able to tell a powder foundation will probably be more mattifying if it contains talc or starch towards the top of the ingredients list, since that’s the main ingredient used to absorb oils in foundation powders. The less talc there is in a powder, the likelier that it will have a more natural finish on the skin.
Powder Foundation for Your Skin Tone
Learning to color match is an extremely important part of selecting any foundation, including powder foundations. In general, when color matching it’s important to look at the skin that will be visible, rather than the parts that will be covered with makeup. This means color matching to the neck if you only wear foundation on the face, or color matching to the chest if you normally blend your foundation all the way down your neck. This is because the job of the foundation is to make the skin look totally cohesive. Otherwise, you can end up with your face one color and your neck and chest a totally different color—not a great look!
It’s also good to learn to identify your undertone, although the undertones of drugstore powder foundations are not always disclosed by brands. Here’s how it generally plays out:
- If your skin is a little pinkish, you have a cool undertone;
- If it’s a little more yellow, it is considered warm; and
- If it is somewhere in between or more beige-colored, then you have a neutral undertone.
There are also those with olive undertones, which means their skin has a bit of a greenish tint, and though olive is a pretty complex undertone to have, so with drugstore powder foundation you will probably have to opt for something either warm or neutral.
To actually test if a powder foundation matches your skin, apply a thick line of it right where your foundation application will end—this will usually be along the jawline or somewhere on the neck. If you’re testing a few different powder foundations, draw a line with each one so you can compare them to one another. The best powder foundation for you will be the one that is least visible on your skin because it blends so nicely into it.
If your skin is on the darker side, in addition to just looking for a powder foundation that matches your skin tone, you also want to be careful with powders that contain a lot of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—these are pigment ingredients that offer sun protection, but unfortunately, they can flash back in photos and make the face look very pale.
Powder Foundation Coverage Level
Like liquid foundations, powder foundations also come with a variety of coverage levels, from light all the way up to full, although the coverage levels can also change with different application styles and depending on how many layers are applied.
If you would like a powder foundation that will look very natural and will just slightly even out your skin tone and conceal redness without hiding freckles, then a light to medium powder foundation may work well for you. Light or light to medium powders can also be a good choice if you would like something that can double as a setting powder on top of a liquid foundation or BB cream.
The next step up will be a medium or medium-to-full-coverage foundation powder. These are the best to choose if you would like a bit more coverage but don’t want your skin to be totally perfected or concealed. They can be worn alone or on top of a concealer, and can totally hide redness or discoloration, but may only somewhat camouflage blemishes and dark spots.
Lastly, we have full coverage powder foundations, which in most cases are actually “medium-to-full” (and there’s some debate about). When you apply them to achieve full coverage, they can hide almost all imperfections and discolorations, potentially leaving the skin looking totally flawless.
And, by the way—before we move on, we should define one of the terms we’ve used a bunch in this article: “buildable.” With a "buildable" makeup product, you can apply multiple layers to achieve higher coverage and more opacity without the makeup looking cakey or misbehaving in any way. Saying that something is "light to medium" coverage is sort of the same as saying that it's "light but buildable," for example.
Pressed or Loose Powder Foundation
Drugstore powder foundations can come pressed into a compact, like one of these:
or it can come as a loose powder, like this:
Each one has its benefits and drawbacks.
The main benefit of pressed powders is that they are less fussy and messy. Because they are pressed neatly into a compact, they take up less space, so you can carry them in your purse or backpack easily, and applying them is as simple as dipping a brush or sponge into the container. Easy peasy.
However, there are two minor drawbacks to pressed powders: the first is that they can contain a lot of emollients that keep them pressed, so it can be a little tougher to get good coverage out of them. The second drawback is that in general, you get less product in a pressed powder container than you do in a loose one.
With loose powder foundations, you will usually get more product in the container. Loose powders will contain fewer fillers, so while they may not be as creamy as their pressed counterparts, they often offer better coverage and it is easier to load them up on a brush. The main drawback of loose powders is just how messy they can be—if you pour too much out or if the sifter isn’t well constructed, you can end up with a cloud of powder every time you open the jar.
Professional makeup artists often prefer a loose powder foundation because of the higher quantity of product, and also because they can pour product out into a tissue and then dip their brush into it, which is a more hygienic process when going from client to client.
Features to Look for in a Good Drugstore Powder Foundation
As you can see from our list of recommendations, great powder foundations don’t always have to come from high-end or luxury brands to be fantastic! Drug store brands make some of the best powder foundations out there, and are much easier to obtain than their luxury counterparts. Here are some features to look for in a drugstore powder foundation:
The biggest drawback that powder foundations can have is that they can look heavy or “cakey” on the skin. A good powder foundation should look smooth and natural on the skin, even if it’s built up to two or three layers. Once you go past that threshold, however, even the best powder foundations may start getting a little cakey, so it’s important to choose one that will give you the coverage you like with just a couple of layers.
The second sign of a high-performing powder foundation is that it looks good all day long. As your skin produces oils, it may start to look a little more dewy, but it shouldn’t break up or change colors after a few hours.
Often, the downfall of great drugstore powder foundations is their packaging. When looking for a drugstore foundation for you, make sure that the packaging itself is going to be sturdy and comfortable to use. It’s a common issue that the lid of a compact will break off at the hinge, so make sure that all of the parts of the compact come together properly, and the connections feel secure rather than flimsy.
When it comes to pressed powder foundations in a compact, it’s also very important that the pan of the foundation is fitted securely in place and that it doesn’t wiggle around, or else it might pop out if you drop the container. Beyond that, it’s always a good idea to secure the compact with a little extra cushioning. You can also look for extra features in the packaging, like a mirror or an included applicator sponge.
If you’re considering a loose powder foundation, there’s usually less room for the packaging to fail. You might want a package that does a better job of controlling how much powder is dispensed, but generally, with drugstore powder foundations you’ll have a simple plastic sifter and it’ll be up to you to make sure it doesn’t get overturned or pour out too much powder. And, by the way, loose drugstore powder foundations often come with free powder brushes, but they’re not always fantastic, and you may want to replace it and use a brush you know is trustworthy.
Wide Shade Range
We think having powder foundations available in a wide range of shades is a great hint that the powder foundation is more likely to be a good product, even if you have the light to medium skin tone that is often catered to. First, it means that even though it might take you a little longer to find the right shade for you, you are also more likely to find a color that matches your skin tone very closely.
It also shows that the brand that produced the powder expects it to be popular with a wide range of people—after all, why make a selection that filters out a percentage of potential customers?
Lastly, it shows that when they made the powder foundation, the brand was tuned in to what audiences want and that it was important to them to be inclusive.
How to Apply Powder Foundation
There are a few different methods for applying powder foundation, and we’re going to cover all of them, but first, we have some general advice:
Powder foundation should be applied after you’ve applied all of your cream-based products, including primer, foundation or BB cream, concealer, and cream contour or highlight;
Make sure to moisturize your skin well before starting out, especially if you have dry skin. The more hydrated your skin is, the better your makeup will look;
You can apply your powder foundation either before or after applying eye makeup, but always save mascara for afterward, or else the powder can end up covering it;
For the fullest coverage, you’ll want to apply your powder foundation with a sponge, which is also our recommended method for on-the-go touch-ups;
For a natural-looking, medium coverage that diffuses the appearance of pores beautifully, you will want to apply your foundation powder with a flat-topped, slightly firm buffing brush; and finally…
For the lightest and most natural-looking coverage, as well as if you’re using your powder foundation as a mattifying or setting powder, you’ll want to learn how to apply it with a fluffy powder brush. Fluffy powder brushes are absolutely wonderful.
Applying Powder Foundation with a Sponge
We recommend dampening your sponge first, for a fuller—but also more hydrated—application (though a dry application will work as well);
You can use the sponge that came with your drugstore powder foundation, or you can use an egg-shaped makeup sponge like the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge, which we like a lot;
Place the sponge under a running tap, and squeeze it repeatedly so it becomes thoroughly saturated with water. Turn off the tap and give it a final couple of squeezes so that it is still damp but doesn’t have any water dripping off of it;
Run the sponge over your pressed powder foundation a few times to load it up, or dip it into the container if you are using a loose powder foundation, but make sure to tap off the excess;
Begin in the center of your face and work your way outwards, pressing the powder into your skin rather than dragging it on;
As you keep blending it outwards, you can start combining the tapping motions with dragging motions, which will blend out and diffuse the powder foundation;
If you need to, you can reload the sponge with powder at any point during the application, but try not to overdo it or you may end up with a cakey finish;
To apply the powder around the nose or beneath the eyes, fold the included sponge or use the pointed end of the makeup sponge in order to get into the crevices more easily;
Once your entire face is covered, you can add a bit more powder with a pressing motion to the areas where you would like to build up the coverage;
Finally, we recommend letting the powder sit on your skin for a few minutes (perhaps while you do something else), and then taking a fluffy brush and gently running it over the skin in circular motions in order to remove any excess powder; and finally…
To increase the longevity of your drugstore powder foundation, you can finish things off with a mist of setting spray.
Applying Powder Foundation with a Buffing brush
Start by swirling your buffing brush into the powder foundation to load it up, and then tap off the access into a tissue or back into the powder container;
If you’re applying the powder foundation over a cream concealer or foundation, it’s better to first set those areas. Deposit the powder with a pressing motion to lock the creams in place, because the buffing motion can actually disrupt or remove the cream products;
Now you can start buffing! Starting at the center of your face and working your way outwards, use small, circular buffing motions to apply the powder foundation. This will simultaneously dispense the product while also blending it into the skin, giving it a very natural and diffused finish that camouflages texture issues wonderfully;
You can reload the brush with powder and stipple it over any areas where you would like slightly higher coverage; and finally-
Finish off your makeup as you like, and ensure a long-lasting look with a misting of setting spray.
Applying Powder Foundation with a Fluffy brush
Use a medium-sized fluffy brush to apply your powder as a foundation or choose a bigger one if you're going to use it to set a liquid or cream foundation;
As always, load up your brush with powder foundation and then tap off the excess into the lid or wipe it over a tissue;
Begin applying the powder foundation to your skin with a combination of tapping motions in order to deposit the powder and wiping motions in order to blend it out and make it look sheerer;
Stick to tapping motions if you’re applying the powder to set a cream foundation;
You can use a smaller fluffy brush to apply the powder under the eyes or around the nostrils, or you can just squeeze the bristles of your medium-sized brush to make it a little smaller;
Once you’re done, you can wipe your brush down with a tissue and then brush it over your face to remove any extra powder; and finally…
Finish applying the rest of your makeup in whatever style you like, and lock things into place with a setting spray.
General Powder Foundation Tips and Tricks
Before we wrap up, we have a few other tips and tricks up our sleeve for things you can do to get the most out of your powder foundation:
If you’ve picked up a loose foundation powder, instead of totally removing the tape over the holes and ending up with a mess every time you open it, instead use a pin to poke a few holes through the tape. This way, you’ll be able to dispense just a little bit of powder at a time, saving yourself powder and avoiding potential disaster;
Give your pressed drugstore foundation powder a little extra cushioning, especially if you travel with it or use it on the go. Place a piece of folded tissue paper inside the compact so that if it gets jostled, the powder won’t break; and finally…
A powder foundation that is a few shades darker than your skin tone can be your perfect contour shade, while a shade or two lighter can make for a nice and subtle matte highlighter or undereye setting powder.
That Might Be Everything…
…you’ll ever need to know about drugstore foundations! Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, please let us know. Powder foundations are a great option and fantastic to use, but it can take a little bit of effort and experience to find the right one for your situation. Good luck, and all the best!