I certainly took my sweet time testing and using these two NARS lose powder products before reviewing. It was mostly because I like both and was trying hard to have an answer to readers' often-asked question: which one to choose? Also, right about the time NARS released their Light Reflecting Powder, another illuminating finishing powder appeared on the market, Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder (pressed), adding another excellent option.
NARS regular loose powder has been on the market for some years now and I had mine since before the Light Reflecting powder was announced. I've tried several samples of the powder (thanks to the wonderful staff at the NARS counter in my local Bloomingdale's at The Shops On Riverside) before choosing the one in Desert, a light beige that's low on yellow. The makeup artist at the counter prefers to apply this powder with a Yachiyo brush, and I adopted her method, though I use the large Yachiyo from Hakuhodo more than the NARS Yachiyo because it's softer. The regular loose powder is finely milled and wonderfully soft. It almost melts when touched and disappears on the skin, as long as you make sure not to use too much of it (another reason to apply this powder with a Yachiyo). Which brings us to the one issue with NARS Loose Powder: the packaging. The squarish container has a mesh sifter insert that's about 2mm smaller in perimeter than the box for easy removal. That also means that quite a bit of powder escapes it and creates a terrible mess all over my makeup area (and the felines that help in the process), unless you keep the plastic insert over it at all times (and not lose it the way I did after about a day of use. I suspect said felines).
The results, however, are pretty awesome. This powder adds a little coverage to other base products (making it an excellent companion to a tinted moisturizer), the smoothness and refined texture help the powder becomes one with skin and give it a natural finish.
The new NARS Light Reflecting Powder is offered in two formats- loose and pressed. I haven't tried the pressed one but you can read about it on Cafe Makeup. I got the loose version, a white powder with a translucent effect. The first thing I noticed is the texture- it's different than the regular powder and doesn't have the almost liquid feel when you touch it. However, the powder is still very fine. It smells like steamed rice, which I find very comforting. While the regular powder needs to be applied as a sheer veil, the Light Reflecting LP can and should be buffed into the skin to get the airbrushed appearance. I use a variety of Kabuki and flat top brushes (whichever is clean, really) and highly recommend working with natural hair bristles for this purpose for best results (unless you're vegan. In that case go with the densest Kabuki brush you can find). The Light Reflecting powder can also be used with a round crease brush to set under eye concealer, but since my skin is dry I usually skip this particular step. On the rare occasion I do it I like to use Edward Bess eye brush because it gives a very light and even wash of powder.
One last thing about NARS Light Reflecting Loose Powder is that it's not an all silica product like some HD powders that took the makeup world by storm and left celebrities with noticeable powder stains on their faces in photographs. While silica is an ingredient in this product, there's quite a bit of other stuff in there (Water, Ascophyllum Nodosum Extract, Barium Sulfate, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Aluminum, Iron Oxides, Glycerin, Tocopherol) to make a difference, though I didn't test to see just how much powder you can pile on before it starts showing in photos.
So, which one to choose? It depends on what exactly you're after. Both do a great job as a setting/finishing powder hybrid. The regular powder obviously enhances coverage but still looks more natural than photoshopped. The Light Reflecting powder can give an incredible finish that looks, well... finished. It's brilliant when you want to most polished appearance possible, with buffed and smooth skin. It works in a similar way to Hourglass Ambient, though the latter also adds color and/or color correcting to the look and in general shouldn't be buffed all over the face like this NARS powder.
Bottom Line: two excellent products that set the bar very high.
NARS Loose Powder ($35) and NARS Light Reflecting Loose Powder ($34) are available at the counters, Sephora and narscosmetics.com. The Light Reflecting Powder was sent to me by the company while the regular powder was purchased.