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How to Use Setting Spray to Lock in Your Makeup All Day (and Night) Long

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Photo by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

If you’re like us, evenings out on the town, dinner parties, and pretty much any other festivity you can think of require one thing for sure: a solid makeup look. Unfortunately, however, long haul events can also mean your perfectly applied makeup risks sliding off, fading away, and smudging as the hours go by. But, it doesn’t have to!

There are a few solutions out there to lock-in makeup, keep oily skin matte and or dry skin dewy, and prevent the need to run to the bathroom every hour for touch-ups. One of our favorites–and the secret weapon of many makeup artists–is setting spray.

A popular complement to setting powder and other translucent powders, just a few spritzes of setting spray on your finished makeup look absorbs excess oil, adds a matte finish or dewy glow, and stops your makeup from smudging and creasing. But how does setting spray work, and how do you use it? Read on for our breakdown of what setting spray is, how to choose the right one for your skin type, and how to use it like a pro–plus a few hacks you may not have thought of. For a complete list of the best setting sprays for every skin type, you’ll want to check here. Trust us, your makeup will thank you.

About the Experts:

Alex Levy is a New York–based makeup artist and beauty marketing consultant. You can catch his work behind the scenes at NYFW, at editorial shoots, and on the famous TikTok duo @young_emperors.
Cristina Montemayor is an Austin-based makeup artist who specializes in beauty, bridal, and commercial makeup.

What Exactly is Setting Spray?

Let’s start from the beginning. What actually is setting spray, anyway? Makeup setting spray, AKA “finishing spray” or "setting mist," is to makeup what hair spray is to hair. It's designed to be used after you’ve applied all of your beauty products (we’re talking post-makeup primer, foundation, concealer, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow, mascara–the whole deal) to lock in your makeup look. Most setting sprays contain water to hydrate the skin (and keep it from flaking and looking cakey) and a range of polymers to hold your makeup firmly in place. Some specialized setting sprays also contain skincare ingredients, like hyaluronic acid for dry skin or oil-free ingredients for oily skin.

“Setting spray helps your makeup last longer and it also tones down the powdery effect that setting your makeup with a loose or pressed powder will give your skin. It can lock makeup in place for 12-16 hours and you can wear your makeup for a long time knowing it will be set in place until you’re ready to wash it off,” says Cristina Montemayor, Austin-based makeup artist who specializes in beauty, bridal, and commercial makeup.

If you have oily skin or find that your makeup disappears by the end of the day, setting spray could be the perfect solution for you. Plus, since spritzing on setting spray is the final step of your makeup application routine, it never comes in contact with your actual skin, making it an ideal choice for sensitive skin types. 

How to Choose the Right Setting Spray

As simple a product assetting spray is, there are a variety of different types out there to choose from depending on your needs and preferences. For example, some makeup setting sprays can transform a makeup look from matte to dewy, like GLAMGLOW Glowsetter. Others are meant to do the opposite and be more mattifying, like this simple ABSOLUTE NEW YORK Spritz 2 Fix - Matte option.   

Not sure whether you should reach for matte or dewy? Choose a setting spray that’s suited for your skin type. “There are several types of setting sprays. All are intended to lock in makeup, but some may give a sheen or more matte appearance to the skin, depending on the finish. Some can help absorb excess oils throughout the day too,” says Alex Levy, New York–based makeup artist and beauty marketing consultant.

Dry skin types, for example, can opt for an extra hydrating setting spray like the coconut water–infused TOO FACED COSMETICS Hangover 3-in-1 Setting Spray. If you have oily skin, look for a matte setting spray that’ll curb excess oil, like PACIFICA BEAUTY Cherry Matte Setting Spray. Finally, sensitive skin types should go for a gentle option, like TARTE Double duty beauty™ Shape Tape™ Stay Spray Setting Spray, which refreshes your complexion without irritating it.

How to Use Setting Spray

There’s more to using setting spray than just a spritz here and there. “While you don’t always need a setting spray for daytime if you wear pretty natural makeup, it’s a good idea to use one if you're going to a special event or have a long day ahead. You’ll want to preserve your look to keep it fresh. If you choose not to use a setting spray, just expect a natural fading or creasing to your makeup as the day goes on. Some imperfections might come through and you may be a little shiny due to oil,” adds Montemayor. 

To make your spray last, follow these pro tips on how to properly use setting spray.

Step 1: Shake the Bottle 

This step is important to make sure your setting spray goes on without dripping or splotches. Important ingredients can sometimes separate inside your setting spray bottle when it’s just sitting around, so to get the most out of every spritz, make sure you give it a good shake first. 

Step 2: Spray in an X- and T-Formation 

For optimal application, hold the bottle about six to eight inches away from your face. You want to make sure the spray lands on every makeup product you need to set, and holding it at a distance ensures that you'll get an even, thorough coverage. To further make sure you're covering all the surface area you need to, spray first in an X formation, and then a T formation. You can then spot-spray as you need (although you likely won't need to). 

Step 3: Let Dry 

Before rushing out the door or pulling clothes over your head, make sure you let your setting spray dry naturally. This allows the spray to fully sink in, so your makeup won’t smear later on.

Setting Spray Hacks

Setting spray is one of the best ways to keep your makeup from fading and smudging throughout the day, but there are some other amazing, makeup artist-approved setting spray hacks that go beyond keeping your makeup locked in place. Incorporate these lesser-known tips into your makeup routine and they’ll quickly become a daily habit.

Hack #1: Make Eyeshadow More Vibrant

Feel like your eye makeup just isn’t as vibrant as you want it to be, no matter how much eyeshadow you layer and how many makeup video tutorials you watch? “I gravitate towards mists that aren’t necessarily made for makeup longevity, but are more skincare mists to revitalize and bring moisture back to the skin after powdering,” says Levy. Choosing a skincare mist like this one from Jordan Samuel Skin is perfect for setting your eyeshadow in addition to refreshing skin. Try this trick: spritz a little bit of your setting spray onto your eyeshadow brush and apply your pigment as usual. It’ll brighten up your eyeshadow color and keep it vivid for longer. 

IPSY tip: You can also use this trick with your under-eye concealer, too, by spritzing your concealer brush with setting spray before you apply. 

Hack #2: Choose a Formula with SPF for Instant Sunscreen 

Keep your makeup in place and protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays at the same time? Why not! All you have to do is choose a formula with SPF, like the COOLA SUNCARE Makeup Setting Spray with SPF 30. It’s perfect for those outdoor occasions when you don’t want to layer on thick, goopy sunscreen under your makeup but don’t want to risk sun damage. 

Hack #3: Try it On Your Makeup Sponge

While the X-formation and T-formation spray trick is a solid standby, one way to make your foundation stick through it all is to spray some setting spray on your makeup sponge before applying. For the ultimate budge-proof face makeup, try this trick and then apply your setting spray like usual at the end of your makeup routine. Your makeup won't smudge, no matter what.

Looking for more tips to take your makeup game to the next level? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own beauty subscription. Already a member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

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About the author
Isabel Miller-Bottome
Ipster, California girl, French beauty product fanatic
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Article Last Updated July 19, 2023 12:00 AM