I have been sent on a beauty mission by Faith, Byrdie's former editorial director. I’m a beauty enthusiast so, for me, it’s as exciting as Mission Impossible (minus the death-defying stunts). You see, Faith went for a facial recently and the esthetician told her that if her face mist of choice doesn’t contain hyaluronic acid or a similarly hydrating ingredient, then it could actually be drying out her skin. You might think "Well, duh." But not all mists do contain hyaluronic acid—and some of the cult face mists contain alcohol, which can be even more drying.
To learn more, I reached out to a few skincare experts—aesthetics doctor Barbara Sturm, esthetician Renée Rouleau, and face mist brand founder Rebecca O'Donnell—to find out more about what we should be looking for in a face mist. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Barbara Sturm is an aesthetics doctor and the founder of Dr. Barbara Sturm Skincare.
- Renée Rouleau is a skincare expert and esthetician with more than 30 years of experience.
- Rebecca O'Donnell is a consulting creative director and founder of The Quiet Botanist. She was the co-founder and creative director of the face mist brand Bronty Beauty.
Why Do Face Mists Need Hyaluronic Acid?
To get the answer I called on Sturm, who tells me, “Simply misting water on the face would cause osmosis that would dehydrate the skin. My face mist contains hyaluronic acid, a potent humectant that is an essential weapon against transdermal water loss, since it helps bind existing water into the skin cells so it can't evaporate.”
Rouleau agrees but notes, “no doubt, hyaluronic acid is a beneficial humectant so it will deliver good results; however, there are other humectants that will do the job, too.” She advises you check the ingredient list and whether hyaluronic acid is on the label or not. If not, check for the following: niacinamide (vitamin B3), glycogen, sucrose, trehalose, and/or sodium PCA. These are all beneficial for delivering hydration to the skin, according to Rouleau.
Which Face Mist Ingredients Should You Avoid?
As with all skincare products, not all mists are born equal. There are some ingredients that really have no place being in your face mist. “Generally, irritating fragrances, oils, most alcohols, and water by itself can be counterproductive as face mist ingredients,” says Sturm.
Rouleau explains the specific alcohols that you should avoid are "solvent alcohols," which she says can be extremely drying on the skin. These include SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol, according to Rouleau. But not all alcohols are bad for the skin. “Common fatty alcohols that are beneficial to use on the skin include cetyl alcohol, tocopherol (vitamin E), and oleyl alcohol,” she adds.
O'Donnell is on the same page when it comes to alcohols but says that while “propylene glycol is also a fatty alcohol, it can be irritating." She notes that at Bronty they choose to avoid alcohols completely to be on the safe side. “We also stay clear of all nasties including synthetic fragrances and chemicals, which are quite common in mists," she notes. "These can lead to skin reactions like contact dermatitis, and not just on sensitive skin."
Active Ingredients in Face Mists
Water-based products are fast to penetrate, notes Rouleau, so any active ingredients in your favorite face mist will drive down into the skin, she says.
O'Donnell says that facial mists are massively underrated. "If you look at countries such as Korea, they are obsessed with them," she notes. "On a daily basis, mists with hyaluronic acid and the right antioxidants help protect your skin from pollutants that can cause the skin to break down and begin to age. They are also beneficial to all skin types, from sensitive to oily."
Mists can also help supercharge your skincare routine, according to Rouleau. “Water-based mists play an excellent supporting role when it comes to delivering active ingredients into the skin," she says. "When the skin is damp from using a mist or toner, the water can act as a carrier to help a serum applied afterward absorb further within the skin."
"The thought is that skin is more permeable when it’s damp, so ideally everyone should use a mist or toner after cleansing and then follow it with a serum," she says. "However, if active ingredients are in a mist and you skip the serum, yes, they can be delivered into the skin quickly so you’ll still get benefits."
How to Use a Face Mist
While face mists can deliver actives into the skin, you need to lock that mist in. “Be sure to follow [your mist] immediately with moisturizer since you don’t want the mist and the ingredients used in it to evaporate,” explains Rouleau. “The reason for this is that many mists don’t have occlusive ingredients to hold the ingredients from the mist into the skin, so if it’s misted on the skin and not sealed in with anything, it can evaporate quickly. Since water attracts water, when you spray the skin, it draws water from the skin’s deepest layers and evaporates into the dry air. The result can be even drier skin.”
So, aside from the occasional makeup refresh or pick-me-up, you might want to avoid going overboard on misting moments throughout the day.
The Best Uses for Face Mists
While the best way to use a face mist is under your serum and moisturizer, there are a couple of ingenious uses for face mists that you might not have thought of.
“We use our mists particularly over the summer or after a workout on our hair especially around the hairline for a soft sheen and reset,” says O'Donnell.
You can also use your face mist to fix makeup fails. "Went a little overboard on the makeup? Well, rather than wiping it all off and starting again spray your mist over the top and do a little inventory control on those problem areas. Tap with your finger to blend and work in the excess layers for a more natural finish,” she adds.
Cartner T, Brand N, Tian K, et al. Effect of different alcohols on stratum corneum kallikrein 5 and phospholipase A2 together with epidermal keratinocytes and skin irritation. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2017;39(2):188-196. doi:10.1111/ics.12364