As someone with combination skin, my makeup routine has one goal: to toe the line between glazed and greasy. Glowy, glass skin is one thing. Who doesn’t aspire to the vitality of vibrant summer skin? And with summer finally here, beauty trends lean toward a more minimal, skin-focused approach to makeup. Which sounds great in theory—that is, until my makeup melts by midday. In our search for answers, we’ve likely all come across the ultimate comparison: setting spray vs. powder. In the fight for that elusive “lit from within” glow, finding the superior option for your skin is essential.
I think of summer as the great equalizer. Keeping my makeup from slipping and sliding off my face is a year-round sport. But in the summer, we’re all faced with the same challenge—and we all want answers.
Featured image from our interview with Babba Rivera by Belathée Photography.
Setting Spray vs. Powder: What to Know
There are hoards of products dedicated to making your looks last, from primers and micellar waters to prep your skin to setting sprays and powders. But which options actually work? Turns out, in the battle of setting spray vs. powder, there’s no single right choice. It all comes down to your skin type and desired look.
I spoke to Jena Joyce, a skincare expert, herbalist, and the founder and CEO of The Plant Mother, about how to get your look to stay fresh using setting spray and powder. Jena shares her insights below.
What is the difference between setting powder and setting spray?
You can get a setting spray for either mattifying your makeup or making your makeup more dewy. Depending on what look you are going for, you can choose a spray that works best for you. A powder is only for mattifying and will help to reduce sheen and oil.
I would recommend that a person with dry or combination skin use a spray while those who experience oily skin should use the setting powder. However, both can also be used at the same time to amplify your makeup so it lasts longer.
What should you consider when purchasing a setting powder or setting spray?
When looking to buy a setting spray, you want to know first if you want to have dewy or matte skin. If you primarily use matte, full-coverage foundation, then a matte setting spray would be best. If you use a lightweight and dewy foundation, then choose a setting spray that will help to keep your makeup more on the glossy side. It’s important to try and match your makeup to your powder or spray as you don’t want any separation in your makeup.
When looking for a setting powder, you can get pressed or loose powder form. Both help your makeup stay put, but a powder that is more compressed can act like a foundation and will give you a full-coverage feel.
Although it’s not as common, some setting powders can contain talc which is an ingredient known to cause health issues. Inhalation of talc can cause breathing issues, chest pain, and wheezing. Try to avoid this ingredient and stick to more natural products.
What’s the best way to apply setting sprays and powders?
Setting powders and spray should be applied after your makeup. However, I would advise waiting to put your mascara on after you use a spray as this could cause smudging!
You should stick to common base ingredients when it comes to your makeup. If you don’t, your makeup will separate.
I like people to envision mixing oil with water. It simply doesn’t blend! This is the same with your makeup which is why it’s important to use a spray or powder that has the same base as your foundation and concealers. Keep oils with oils and water-based with water-based products.
How to Pick the Product That’s Right for You
You can use a setting spray, powder, or both to get your desired look. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the right one? No beauty product is created equal, so I asked Dr. HariKiran Chekuri—a board-certified dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon, and the medical head of ClinicSpots—about choosing the right products for your skin. Keep reading for insights.
Tips for Selecting a Setting Powder
- Shade. Select a translucent setting powder that is universal for all skin tones, or a tinted setting powder that matches your foundation or adds some warmth or depth to your complexion.
- Finish. You can choose a matte setting powder that eliminates shine and gives you a velvety look, or a luminous setting powder that adds some subtle shimmer and gives you a soft-focus look.
- Texture. Choose a loose setting powder that is finely milled and easy to blend, or a pressed setting powder that is compact and convenient to carry.
Tips for Selecting a Setting Spray
- Formula. Opt for a water-based setting spray that is lightweight and hydrating, or an alcohol-based setting spray that is long-lasting and mattifying.
- Finish. You can choose a dewy setting spray that enhances your glow and makes your skin look plump and healthy, or a matte setting spray that reduces shine and makes your skin look smooth and flawless.
- Ingredients. You can choose a setting spray that contains beneficial ingredients for your skin type, such as antioxidants, vitamins, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, etc. You should also avoid setting sprays that contain harmful ingredients such as parabens, sulfates, phthalates, etc.
Key Ingredients to Look For
- Antioxidants. These are substances that protect your skin from free radical damage caused by environmental factors such as UV rays, pollution, etc. Some examples of antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, and green tea extract.
- Hyaluronic acid. This is a molecule that attracts and retains moisture in your skin cells. It helps hydrate your skin, plump up fine lines and wrinkles, and improve your skin elasticity.
- Glycerin. This is a humectant that draws water from the air into your skin. It helps moisturize your skin, smooth out rough patches, and prevent dryness.
Ingredients to Avoid
- Parabens. Parabens are preservatives that prevent bacterial growth in cosmetic products. They are linked to hormonal disruption, allergic reactions, and breast cancer risk.
- Sulfates. These are detergents that create foam in cleansing products. They’re known to strip away natural oils from your skin, irritate your skin barrier, and cause dryness.
- Phthalates. These are plasticizers that make products more flexible and durable. They are associated with reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and developmental defects.
Tips for Finishing Off Your Look
A general rule of thumb is to use products with similar formulas to ensure compatibility and avoid separation or oxidation of your makeup.
For example, if you use an oil-based foundation, consider using an oil-based setting powder or an alcohol-based setting spray to set it in place and prevent it from sliding off due to oil production. If you use a water-based foundation, you might want to use a water-based setting powder or a water-based setting spray to lock it in place and prevent it from drying out.
You can also experiment with different combinations of products to see what works best for you and what gives you the desired effect. For example, you can use an oil-based foundation with a water-based setting spray to add some dewiness and hydration to your matte base. Or, try a water-based foundation with an oil-based setting powder to add some warmth and glow to your natural base.
The key is to test out different products on yourself and see how they perform on your skin type and with your makeup style.
The Best Setting Sprays
In the summer, setting sprays can help you achieve that dewy, glowy look. A good setting spray provides a weightless but effective hold. Many setting sprays now also contain skincare ingredients to help hydrate your skin while protecting your makeup.
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To add an extra layer of protective power to my everyday look, I spritz ILIA Blue Light Mist as a final step before mascara. It works for everything from my fresh-faced, sunscreen-only days to my full coverage looks. Given that I spend most of my time in front of my phone or computer, this mist helps prevent any negative effects that come with blue light, such as potential premature aging and stress on your skin.
But beyond its blue light-blocking benefits, it’s also a powerful setting spray. Filled with clean, skin-first ingredients, it hydrates and sets for a finish that looks vibrant and dewy. Perfect for summer.
- Key Ingredients: Aloe, Marine Actives, Mastic, Tara Extract
- Size: 1.7 fl oz
They say classics are a classic for a reason, and this is the proof. This waterproof setting spray got me through concerts in my teenage years and parties in my early 20s. It’s my go-to for long-lasting coverage. Promising 16 hours of fixed protection, it’s a cult favorite that lives up to the hype. However, its alcohol base might be irritating to some skin types.
- Key Ingredients: Alcohol, Aloe
- Size: 4 fl oz
This fan-favorite formula is bolstered by its easy-to-apply continuous spray. Not only does it last all day, but the refreshing mist ensures an even application. Infused with vitamins and fruit extracts, it leaves behind a radiant finish, making it ideal to carry on the go if you need to refresh your look.
- Key Ingredients: Vitamin E, Vitamin B5, Fruit Extracts
- Size: 2.8 oz
This ultra-hydrating setting spray is a targeted solution for dry skin. Ever find your makeup sticking to dry flakes or causing creases? First, be sure to exfoliate before applying makeup for your smoothest finish. Then, choose a primer that gives your skin a boost of hydration. Milk Makeup is known for its innovative products that blend skincare and makeup, like this refreshing and protective spray.
- Key Ingredients: Blue Agave, Hemp Seed Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Aloe, Niacinamide
- Size: 3.38 fl oz
This clean beauty setting spray does it all. It hydrates, protects from blue light and pollution, and of course, sets your look. True to its name, its powerful formula keeps your look locked in with just one spritz. Plus, its bevy of clean beauty ingredients helps to brighten the skin beneath your makeup and even reduce the look of blemishes.
- Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid, Aloe, Niacinamide B3, Rosehip Extract
- Size: 3.4 fl oz
The Best Powders
Powders can get a bad reputation. Though they effectively cut shine, they can also quickly cake and crease. And even when they work, new beauty trends favor less coverage and skin that looks like skin. Can powders achieve that? Don’t count it out. But a good powder is the best way to control oil—whether you’re going for a completely matte look or just a more controlled glow.
Most Versatile Setting Powder: Glossier Wowder
Glossier is known for making skin-first products that give you an effortless glow. So it makes sense that their cult-favorite powder doesn’t compromise your pursuit of dewy, natural-looking skin. I tried the Glossier Wowder when I was deep in my Glossier phase and it’s one of the products I’ve kept in my rotation ever since. The kaolin clay base absorbs oil without leaving a cakey residue. It works well with my other hydrating products to create a look that is controlled but not flat. Get this breathable powder if you want your skin to look like skin while still toning down the midday grease.
- Key Ingredients: Diamond Powder, Kaolin Clay, Vitamin E
- Size: 7.2 g
Charlotte Tilbury’s powders are legendary for a reason. The featherweight texture has been described as cashmere for your face. With this super-fine texture and oil-infused formula to promote softness, it blurs your skin without drying or caking.
- Key Ingredients: Mica, Rose Wax, Almond Oil
- Size: 8 grams
If you want a more matte look, this non-drying formula gets you that soft focus blur without discomfort, dullness, or cakiness. The invisible shade makes it suitable for all skin tones without leaving a white cast or a flashback effect in photos. With natural oils like squalane, it controls excess shine while keeping your skin soft and hydrated for all-day wear.
- Key Ingredients: Mica, Squalane, Chia Seed Extract
- Size: 8.5 grams
This loose powder is lightweight enough for your dry areas and powerful enough for your oilier areas, like your T-Zone. The airy texture gives you a natural, even finish for comfortable all-day coverage. Blur your pores and smooth your texture without caking or bumps.
- Key Ingredients: Mica, Squalane
- Size: 9.5 grams