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What is a Powder Puff?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 21, 2024
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A powder puff, as it relates to beauty and personal care, is a small piece of material used to apply makeup to a person’s face. Typically made from a soft substance such as cotton velour or down from a bird, a powder puff is usually used to apply powdered foundation or body powder. The term powder puff can also refer to a league or sports game that is usually played by men and is being played by women instead.

In makeup, powder puffs were very popular prior to the late 20th century, when they began to be replaced by small sponge-like materials to apply makeup. Though sometimes still available in a compact with foundation or other powdered makeup, more commonly a powder puff will be found by itself and is often too large to fit easily into any hand-held makeup kit. Previously, powder puffs were often used by women to touch up their makeup while outside the home.

It is this particular use, while reapplying makeup, that led to the use of the phrase to describe women playing a game such as American football. Early games of women’s football often included the women using powder puffs and hand-held mirrors to fix their makeup after plays or during timeouts. This distinctly feminine behavior in the midst of a physical activity more often ascribed to men was so striking to observers that the activity became the basis of the name for such games.

Though any sport that is commonly viewed as a male activity being played by women can be referred to as a powder puff game, throughout the United States (U.S.) it is most commonly used to refer to a football game. Such games are commonly held at high schools and are often played by junior girls against senior girls, or by the female students of one school against those of another school. Oftentimes, the male football players will dress in drag as cheerleaders and cheer the women on as they play.

Such games are also commonly either touch or flag football games and will not involve as much physical contact as the games played by the boys at the school. Though the games can be fiercely competitive, with rivalries between schools or grade levels just like any other sport, they are usually played in good spirits. The money made through ticket sales for the game is usually given to a charity, to the senior class for a school gift, or to fund a dance that follows the game.

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Discussion Comments
By Ocelot60 — On Dec 17, 2014

@raynbow- I like using makeup powder puffs so much that I always replace the sponge applicators found in most pressed powders with them. You can buy them in packages of two, three, or four puffs, and they are typically made of a soft, velour-like material.

I like using small powder puffs for makeup application because they spread face powder on smoothly and evenly. They also seem to last much longer than most makeup sponges, and can even be washed, dried, and reused again and again until they wear out.

If you decide that you like using powder puffs to apply your makeup, keep in mind that you will have to replace them once they begin to fall apart. Since they can be more costly than sponge applicators and harder to find, you may want to consider buying them in bulk from an online cosmetic supply store. They are much more affordable per powder puff when you purchase them this way.

By Raynbow — On Dec 16, 2014

I have always used makeup sponges to apply pressed face powder, though I think they can be awkward to use. I have seen small powder puffs for sale in the makeup sections of several stores, so I was thinking about giving them a try. I'm wondering if they work better than sponge applicators.

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