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Beauty Philosophy: HD Setting Powders

Brush with Powder
Image Source: Getty Images
Since their inception several years ago, HD setting powders have taken the world by storm. At this point, some of their downsides have been made quite apparent all over the Internet – the main one being that while they work absolutely splendidly for HD filming or under studio lighting conditions, they respond atrociously to flash photography.

HD setting powders are composed of micro-fine particles of 100% silica powder. Silica has great properties for use with setting make-up, especially in the HD powder form. It absorbs oil without being drying, leaves an incredibly silky-to-the-touch finish, appears white in powder form but turns completely transparent on the skin so can be used on all skin tones, and has light-reflecting and -diffusing properties that give your skin an airbrushed, soft-focus look. It doesn’t ever get powdery or cakey, so it really is perfectly suited for use with HD cameras, letting skin look purely like beautiful skin and not overly-made-up, thickly-coated stage-face.

However, that light-reflective property reacts to flash photography by…you guessed it!…reflecting light. Wherever the HD powder is used on the face, it will appear stark white in response to a flash. I’m sure you’ve seen those celebrity red-carpet photos of Kim Kardashian, Nicole Kidman, Rihanna, and Eva Longoria – with those blazingly white patches glaring at you from under their eyes, on their foreheads, and around their mouths. It can be difficult to avoid this unfortunate effect, so it ultimately becomes a balancing act between what is more important for a particular day: looking good on camera or looking good in photos.

Over the past few years, there are some ways people have found to avoid the extreme flashback. If you use a very light dusting of powder, especially on fair skin, the flash is next-to-imperceptible. If you use the absolute most finely-milled silica powder possible, it will diffuse not only ambient light but also a flash. You can also use the HD powder as a first set and dust some regular translucent powder on top (this isn’t quite the best solution, though, as you may have a bit of a powdery look that isn’t as perfect as HD powder alone).

All of that said, I try to avoid HD setting powders, and not because of the flashback issue. Not at all. I actually avoid them due to the threat of silicosis. Silicosis results from the inhalation of fine silica particles. They become embedded in the tiny sacs inside your lungs, prompting an inflammatory response from the body that leads to the development of scar tissue. The finer the particle, the more likely inhalation will lead to silicosis. And of course, the finer the particle, the better silica powder works in cosmetic products.

If you’ve ever used an HD setting powder, you’ve seen how light the powder is. Just opening up a container will send a fine mist of powder swirling in the air, and forget about all the powder floating around as you dust it onto your face. You would really have to go out of your way to an extreme to avoid inhaling any of the powder if you’re going to use it, and it still may not be effective enough to avoid problems after long-term use. While the risk of developing silicosis increases not only with particle size but also frequency of exposure to silica powder, I feel even occasional HD powder users should be wary. Just read up on the disease – silicosis is no joke!

Unfortunately, given the applications of HD setting powder (it’s not intended for injestion or inhalation, just being used on the skin), it’s been cleared as completely safe for cosmetic use. This kind of situation perfectly highlights how important it is to be an informed consumer. Beauty products are wonderful and so fun to use, but especially if you’re going to try something new, it’s so critical to look into what it is you’re buying, what the ingredients are, and what the potential harmful effects might be. This way you know what you’re getting into with a product and can way the pros and cons appropriately.

In the end, it won’t matter how beautiful your skin looks on HD film if you need oxygen therapy for the rest of your life or, even worse, a lung transplant.