A good setting spray is the best pancake face insurance (particularly if you live in, say, South Florida), but it can be a double-edged sword. Most makeup setting sprays have a high concentration of denatured alcohol, which can be irritating as all heck, particularly if you have dry, acne-prone, or sensitive skin. So, with the help of a few of Curology’s dermatology providers, I dug into the science behind these sticky, stinky veils of mist to figure out if alcohol-free setting sprays actually work.
Here’s what I learned about non-comedogenic setting sprays and my picks for the best setting sprays.
The purpose of setting spray is to create a protective barrier over your makeup in order to make it last longer. Many setting sprays have a high content of denatured alcohol, which has a drying effect that can improve the lifespan of a makeup look — unfortunately, it can dry out and irritate the skin, particularly if you’re sensitive or prone to dryness. Another common ingredient in setting spray is polymers, which form a film on top of makeup, holding it in place.
In theory, an alcohol-free setting spray with a polymer as a key ingredient could work just as well as their denatured counterparts — and there are some alcohol-free alternatives, such as mineral setting spray, that provide good results — but most makeup experts tend to agree that alcohol in setting spray helps to make makeup last longer.
To make things even more complicated, lingering trends from Instagram and YouTube may have convinced you to apply copious amounts of setting spray in order to make your makeup last longer or look more dewy. Not only can too much setting spray dissolve your makeup, but it can also be irritating if you’re dousing yourself in denatured alcohol.
Hold your setting spray 1–2 feet away from your face and spritz 1–3 times (or just enough to cover your entire makeup look), then allow it to dry completely (which takes about 30 seconds). Easy peasy!
If you want Miami heat-defying makeup, here are my tips for extra long-lasting makeup:
1. Use a primer. If a setting spray forms an outer barrier to keep your makeup in place, a primer forms an inner base. It’s like a makeup sandwich — yum.
2. Use a setting powder. When used in combination, setting spray has a way of dissolving powder that helps makeup look more natural and smooth.
3. Blot. It’s not just for oily skin-types — blotting sheets are perfect for dabbing away any moisture from the skin (like sweat) which can make your look slip-and-slide. And, don’t tell Nikkie Tutorials I said this, but paper towels also work in a pinch; lightly dabbing your face with one of these will help soak up wetness from the surface of your skin. The thick absorbency of a paper towel is what you want — thin tissue paper is more likely to flake off and stick to your face.
Alcohol-free setting spray with a polymer as a key ingredient
Moisturizes with butylene glycol, rose water, and aloe for a dewy finish
Ideal for dry, sensitive skin
$11.00 via BH Cosmetics
Photo via Makeup and Beauty Blog
Long-lasting formula with polymer and no harsh alcohols
Contains lightly moisturizing ingredients to help keep skin hydrated while makeup lasts all day
Contains some added fragrance — for a deeply hydrating spray (that might set makeup as well) try Clinique Moisture Surge
$28.00 via Make Up Forever
Super long-lasting formula designed for theatrical looks stands up to even the most oily skin types
Gets its staying power from polymers and SD alcohol — avoid this one if you’re concerned about dryness or irritation
Fragrance-free and non-comedogenic
$14.00 via Camera Ready Cosmetics
Alcohol-free setting spray that contains a polymer as a key ingredient
Keeps makeup in place without drying out skin or causing breakouts
Clocks in at $1.71 per ounce, making this one of the best affordable setting sprays
$7.00 via e.l.f.
Long-lasting setting spray with a matte finish makes this a good setting spray for oily skin or skin with a lot of texture
Contains SD alcohol and a small amount of fragrance, so avoid this one if you’re concerned about irritation or dryness
Non-comedogenic setting spray of choice for this (currently) breakout-free blogger!
$5.99 via Wet n’ Wild
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I know you’re working hard, checking the ingredients of all your favorite beauty products and analyzing your skin like a biochemist, so why not try skincare that’s on your level? Treat common skin concerns like acne and signs of aging with a cream customized for your skin. You’ll be matched with a dermatology provider who will care for you throughout your skincare journey. New members can also get a complete non-comedogenic skincare routine with a cleanser and your choice of moisturizer for no extra cost. Sign up for a free month of Curology and just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling.