How to Use a Setting Spray for the Best Results, According to MUAs

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There are a few questions that always seem to warrant the same answers, no matter who is asking them. We consider them to be (almost) universal truths. Here are just a couple of examples: What should I do to prevent premature signs of aging? Wear sunscreen every day. What should I make for lunch? Something involving avocado because it's delicious. What should I use to ensure my makeup lasts all day long? Setting spray.

Setting Spray

Setting spray is a liquid mist, with water and alcohol typically as its main ingredients, that can be used to increase the lifespan of your makeup look, preventing fading and smudging.

As for the latter, we've been told time and again that setting spray is the key to achieving truly long-wearing makeup. If we don't want smudging, budging, or flaking, we should spritz our faces before we head out the door. But we have to wonder, do setting sprays really work, or are they the product of misconceptions and good marketing? We felt unequipped to answer this on our own, so we reached out to two professional celebrity makeup artists to find out if makeup setting sprays are simply hype or the real deal.

Meet the Expert

  • Gloria Elias-Foeillet is a celebrity makeup artist. Her clientele includes Kelly Clarkson, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Emily Ratajkowski.
  • Mia Yang is a celebrity makeup artist. Her clientele includes Cara Delevingne and Eiza Gonzalez.

Keep scrolling to see what the experts had to say about the benefits of setting spray.

Does Setting Spray Really Work?

Alison Czinkota / Byrdie

According to Gloria Elias-Foeillet, setting sprays really, truly work. "Setting sprays absolutely make a difference in the wear of your makeup," she says. "They prolong the life of your makeup application." That's why she swears by them when working with performers in particular.

How to Use Setting Spray, the Right Way

As Mia Yang explains, "setting spray is ideal for heavy-duty wear, in events such as weddings or a poolside summer party, it truly does its job." The secret, she says, is the special combination of ingredients found inside. Here's how to apply it, step by step.

1. Apply Your Base

"Usually you spray it on after you have finished applying your makeup, but sometimes if I need it to be more waterproof, I spray it after each step of a makeup application (i.e. after base, eyes, blush, powder, etc)," says Elias-Foeillet. So first, put on your primer and then your base makeup (foundation, concealer, etc.). Next, spritz your setting spray all over the face to allow for that first layer to really stick.

2. Add Eyeshadow

Next, apply your eyeshadow before using a mist of setting spray over each (closed eye). This will allow the shadow to dry before you add eyeliner.

3. Swipe On Eyeliner

Next comes the eyeliner. Again, once it's applied, mist a bit of the spray over each closed eye to allow the liner to dry and set. Waterproof setting spray is especially important for this step, as the eyes can water and cause makeup to run.

4. Finish With Lipstick and Blush

Finally, add your final details—lipstick, blush, contour. Mist a couple of spritzes of the setting spray all over your face, holding the bottle a few inches away so it evenly distributes over the entire face.

Does Setting Spray Work for All Skin Types?

Many setting sprays contain alcohol, which can be drying and even irritating to some skin types, so proceed with caution before using just any formula. As Yang puts it, "remember that they are not skincare ingredients. Please keep in mind that setting spray is not for everyday use and a little goes a long way. A light mist is more than enough." That said, there are setting sprays that are safe to use on all skin types, including sensitive skin.

What Are the Best Setting Sprays for Oily Skin?

The Makeup Oil Control Finishing Spray, 8 Fluid Ounce
Skindinavia The Makeup Oil Control Finishing Spray $29.00

If you have oily skin and shine is a major problem for you, try this oil-controlling spray from Skindinavia, which Elias-Foeillet calls her "other go-to." It's formulated to keep excess shine at bay while reducing the need for makeup touch-ups or oil-blotting sheets. 

NYX Matte Finish Setting Spray
NYX Matte Finish Setting Spray $10.00

One of our favorite setting sprays is this affordable spritzer from NYX. It comes in two different finishes—matte and dewy. We think both perform equally as well, though we'll use one or the other based on our different skin types. Personally, I like the matte formula, which keeps my makeup from sliding off my face on hot Los Angeles days. It's also perfect for those with oily skin!

What Are The Best Setting Sprays for Sensitive Skin?

Pacifica cherry matte setting spray
Pacifica Cherry Matte Setting Spray $10.00

If you prefer a dewy finish to your makeup, try Pacifica's Rose Crystals Setting Spray. It's infused with rose quartz, which dries down to a glistening finish, so you look lit from within. Also, rose quartz is famously known as the gemstone of self-love and we could all use a little more of that, both in our beauty routine and beyond. It's formulated for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray 4 oz/ 118 mL
Urban Decay All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray $33.00

Here's another classic formula, as recommended by Yang. It has a temperature-control technology that lowers the temperature of makeup in order to keep it from fading, cracking, or smudging. The formula is oil-free and suitable for all skin types.

Are There Alcohol-Free Setting Sprays?

Makeup Up For Ever Mist & Fix
Make Up For Ever Mist & Fix Setting Spray $29.00

If you're looking to avoid alcohol altogether, know that there are alcohol-free options out there. Make Up For Ever offers an alcohol-free setting spray specially formulated for people with dry skin. It actually increases the skin's hydration and boosts oxygenation, which makes the complexion look bright and radiant.

While water-based setting sprays are typically more hydrating, Elias-Foeillet says formulas that contain alcohol usually perform better. "The ingredient that really makes the difference is the alcohol," she says. "Alcohol-based setting sprays tend to be more effective. They have more staying power." Think of setting spray like hair spray. Those that contain alcohol tend to provide more hold, though they can be drying to the hair.

Before using an alcohol-based setting spray, apply a hydrating skincare product as a base to prevent the skin from drying out.

More Setting Spray Picks

MAC Prep + Prime
MAC Prep & Prime Fix + Setting Spray $31.00

Like many other makeup artists, Elias-Foeillet says her go-to is this classic MAC setting spray. It hydrates the complexion with a blend of green tea, chamomile, and cucumber while setting makeup in place, making it budge-proof. You can go for the original formulation, or opt for coconut, rose, and lavender, all of which smell light, refreshing, and lovely.

European Body Art Pro Seal Makeup Sealer
European Body Art Pro Seal Makeup Sealer $19.00

"For REAL staying power, use this baby, European Body Art Pro Seal," Elias-Foeillet says. It's normally used for special-effects makeup, though she says it "works wonderfully for beauty applications." It's flexible, waterproof, and layer-able, so turn to this product on those occasions when you need maximum hold and staying power. It's heavy-duty.

Lilah b. Aglow Face Mist
Lilah B. Aglow Hydrating and Setting Face Mist $48.00

We've recommended this product before and for good reason—it's an effective way to set and refresh makeup, offers a great smell, and imparts a dewy sheen.

Milani Make It Last Prime + Correct + Set Makeup Spray
Milani Make It Last Prime + Correct + Set Makeup Spray $11.00

Milani's new makeup spray is another favorite. It can be used before makeup application to hydrate, smooth, and prep skin. Or use it as you would any other setting spray and mist it over your skin post–makeup application. It will keep it in place for up to 16 hours at a time. 

If you're looking for a setting spray that resists sweat and humidity specifically, then check out our roundup of the best water-resistant setting sprays for locking your makeup in place.

  • Do you apply setting spray before or after makeup?

    Setting spray is applied after makeup as it allows everything underneath to dry and set.

  • How many times should you spray setting spray?

    You can apply setting spray either after putting on a full face of makeup or after each step (eyeshadow, foundation, etc.). If applying after a full face of makeup, two spritzes of setting spray should do the trick.

  • Should you shake your setting spray?

    Yes. Shaking the bottle of setting spray before spritzing allows the ingredients to evenly distribute so they go on on without looking splotchy.

  • Do you have to wait for setting spray to dry?

    After applying, it's best to allow your setting spray to dry naturally on the face for a few minutes so the makeup doesn't smudge or run.

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