Whenever I publish a post on a powdered cosmetic (like mineral makeup, blush, or eye shadow), questions about how to transform it into a pressed powder quickly follow. In the past I’ve tried mixing powdered cosmetics with high proof alcohol to turn them into a paste before packing them into compacts to dry, but that never worked the way way you’d hope (the colour and texture of the makeup would change, and it was prone to shattering). As I’ve been writing my book I’ve come across a better way to turn loose powders into pressed powders that are super creamy and don’t shatter if you look at them sideways, and I wanted to share!
You can do this with any relatively creamy cosmetic powder—mineral makeup, blush, bronzer, highlighter, and eye shadow are all great options. I’d stay away from drier powders, like setting powder, since those are designed to absorb excess oils and we’ll be adding oils as part of the pressing process. My book is packed with loads of new powdered cosmetic recipes that you can press, but there’s also plenty available here right now 🙂 You can also use loose cosmetics you’ve purchased.
To start with, you’ll need a binding powder: either magnesium stearate or zinc stearate. Both are salts of stearic acid: magnesium stearate being a magnesium salt, and zinc stearate being a zinc salt. Stearic acid is a fatty acid naturally found in fats like cocoa butter and beef tallow, so if the origin of the stearic acid matters to you, be sure to check with your supplier (I’ve yet to find either magnesium stearate or zinc stearate made with animal derived stearic acid). Magnesium Stearate gets a 1/10 on Skin Deep, and Zinc Stearate gets a 2/10, so they’re both safe to use.
I’ve used magnesium stearate elsewhere on the blog for loads of cosmetics as it increases slip (makes things feel lovely going on) and adhesion (how long cosmetics stay on the skin). Used in larger quantities that creaminess it brings helps us pack the powder together and have it stay that way. Magnesium stearate and zinc stearate are the only two binding powders I have experience with, so I cannot comment on or suggest any alternatives. Out of the two I’m partial to magnesium stearate because it’s already so darn useful; if you’re planning on buying my book (which you totally should!) I promise you won’t regret having it on hand 🙂
For materials you’ll need a DIY only coffee grinder, some sort of a tamping/pressing tool (I purchased mine and looks like a quarter with a knob on it, but the back of a reasonably flat spoon will also work), and some jojoba oil. And your compact, of course—mine is a lovely vintage one I got as a gift. If you don’t have a DIY coffee grinder you can smoosh everything together in a plastic sandwich bag instead, but if you’re keen on making your own makeup you really should pick up a coffee grinder for your DIYing!
Now, to turn loose powders into pressed powders! You’ll need to combine 90% makeup powder with 10% binding powder (by weight). I used 9g of my mineral makeup and 1g magnesium stearate (0.31oz makeup & 0.03oz magnesium stearate). You’ll need more makeup than you think you will, it shrinks a lot when you start packing it down! My compact is approximately 5.8cm × 5cm (2¼” × 2″) and just a few millimetres deep, and I still didn’t quite fill it.
Combine the makeup and the binding powder in your coffee grinder and blend them together. Once that’s all uniform, add a few drops of jojoba oil—I used ~25 for the 10g of powders I was working with. Take care not to add too much oil or your makeup will get rather putty-like and won’t stick to itself, preferring the parchment instead. Blend the jojoba oil in, taking the time to stop the grinder and stir everything in the grinder around to make sure you’re getting an even blend. Once your powder looks a bit crumbly and chunky, sort of like biscuit dough, and it’s starting to pack down to the sides of the coffee grinder, you’re reading to start pressing.
Spoon a light layer across the bottom of your compact, doing your best to spread it evenly. Lay a small piece of parchment or wax paper down over the makeup and use your pressing tool to smoosh it down, starting gently and using more force as you go. You want to press the makeup in three or four thin layers, so start relatively slowly and add more makeup as it packs down, filling in holes and evening out thin spots. Once you’ve got all the makeup in the compact go over it again several times, as firmly as you can, paying special attention to corners and edges (you may need to use a sharp-tipped spoon to get into the corners if your pressing tool is round.
And that’s it! I am so smitten with my pressed mineral makeup; it’s silky smooth and easily applies in thin layers with a kabuki brush (I have this one from Sigma and I love it). It’s definitely my go-to format for travel, and I’m so thrilled I’m able to use the beautiful antique compact on a daily basis. If you want to dress your powder up with a bit of a fancy topping texture you can do a final press with a piece of woven fabric for the woven look many shop-bought pressed powders come with 🙂
Your coffee grinder will be caked in makeup when you’re done, and that can be a pain to clean up. Ashlynn shared a grinder cleaning tip that’s easily the best way I’ve found to clean messes of this magnitude. Simply whir a tablespoon or two of rice through your grinder until it’s a fine powder. The rice will pick up the excess powder and oil, and after the dust settles all you have to do is dust it out!
My manuscript is due tomorrow (eep!), so I’ve been working hard on it for the last few weeks (hence the relative radio silence on comments and whatnot) and I’ll be working hard on it today. I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself when it’s done, but I’m beyond excited to share it with you guys. Once the manuscript is done it goes into design and then printing, so there’s still a good six months or so before it comes out, but manuscript submission marks the end of my biggest involvement in this process. EXCITING! I’ll be sure to let you know when I have information about pre-orders, availability, and all that other good stuff 🙂