When it comes to makeup powders, pure pigments are in a league of their own. Eye shadows, blushes, bronzers and setting powders have clear-cut functions; those little jars of loose, highly saturated color particles are a whole lot less straightforward. But if you think that means they’re best saved for makeup artists and plan to keep avoiding them, you’re missing out on the most versatile product of all. “The benefit of loose pigment,” says M.A.C. Senior Artist Regan Rabanal, “is that you get to control the coverage, opacity and intensity of the finish.” We asked Rabanal and Giorgio Armani celebrity artist Tim Quinn to break down the many ways to incorporate one or more into your everyday routine.
Pigments are perfect for highlighting, contouring and blushing. “You can use them alone with a small fan brush or blend them with a lightweight concealer,” says Quinn. Golden peaches (try M.A.C. Pigment in Melon, pinks and shimmery whites (like Kryolan HD Living Color in Rose Quartz) work well on the high planes of your face to illuminate, matte browns (Make Up For Ever Pure Pigments in Brown) are great for lightly shading under your cheekbones and “pinks and reds are easiest on most skin tones as blush,” says Quinn, who makes cream blush by mixing pigment with primer or tinted moisturizer, then blends it out and up with his fingertips. Rabanal, on the other hand, applies loose pigment directly to the skin, dabbing “the smallest amount to the apple of cheeks and blending out for a natural flush.” His favorite, works-for-everyone shade: M.A.C. Pigment in Process Magenta.
The eyes are where you really get to play with pigments and the good news is, there are really no rules. “You’re not limited when it comes to colors—browns, blues, corals and iridescents shouldn’t be intimidating; it all just comes down to blending,” says Quinn, though he does add that gray will work for just about anyone. “You need to ensure you blend the shade based on your eye shape and eye color so bold pigments are striking, but not in an oh-my-god-80s way.” According to Rabanal, the brush is key: “A flatter, denser brush will help you apply loose powder to your eyelids with more control while a fluffier brush is meant to soften any edges or blend out and up to the crease.”
You can also make your own eyeliner and mascara—perfect for times when you “want a look without investing in colored mascara,” says Quinn. For liner, he mixes the pigment with a drop of Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer, then applies the paste with a thin brush; for mascara, mix with clear mascara or just dip a tester wand into the pigment and brush it on while your regular mascara is still wet.
Transforming pigment into lipstick can be a little tricky, but if you want a high-def look, blend well with lip balm, like Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream, for a matte finish or gloss, like M.A.C. Clear Lipglass, for a shinier one. The best method for setting the lipstick and ensuring the color will last for hours, says Rabanal, “is to use a lip brush with the same pigment color in powder form to set the lips after everything has been applied.”
Perhaps the most underrated trick in the book: DIY nail polish. Simply pour some top coat into a jar and mix in your loose shadow until the color is completely blended in (this is best done with a toothpick).