Is Your Daily Face Mist Messing With Your Skin?
It's the little things: fresh-cut flowers, a Saturday afternoon nap, when the avocado doesn't cost extra—a midday face mist. Now, especially come summer, there are few rituals I find more refreshing than a face mist: the delightfully cooling sensation, the instant moisture, the airy scent, and the crisp sound of the spray. It's like an ocean breeze in a bottle.
But, like most skin care items, not all options are created equal.
There's a chance some of the face mists out there can actually be drying out your skin rather than amping up the hydration levels as so many claim. How does this happen? It has to do with your skin barrier.
"Like attracts like, so water attracts water. When you spray on a water face mist, you have like a five-minute window when you feel great, but after that it's actually pulling up your own water from the skin to the surface where it can evaporate," says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D.
Don't worry: You don't need to forgo the habit. (I'm saying this as a reassurance to myself more than anything else.) Just be mindful of your ingredients and application techniques.
Keep clear of these ingredients.
First and foremost, make sure your mist doesn't contain any astringents or irritants. This might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised by what's lurking in those little elixirs.
Alcohol is often the main dehydrator in these products; it's also the ingredient that often provides that crisp, tingling feeling—which is delightful, but what's the point if it is just going to dry you out eventually? "When you get that nice, cooling sensation, it's likely the water literally evaporating off your face," says Bowe.
Look for humectants on the label.
Your best bet is going to contain humectants, which are just ingredients that retain and hold water. Look for things like squalane (in Biossance Squalane + Micronutrient Fine Mist), aloe (in John Masters Organic Rose & Aloe Hydrating Toning Mist), or hyaluronic acid (in Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist).
Of course, it's not as cut and dried as this either, says herbalist and board-certified dermatologist Steven Wong, M.D.: "Some brands will formulate a spray and it will be mainly water or contain other drying agents, and then put a drop of a hydrating ingredient so they can market it as moisturizing, but in fact, the active isn't at a level that's doing anything." (Sorry, really wish we could make this easy for you, but there's a lot of nuance in skin care!)
So how can you tell? There's really no way to know for sure, but mists with a high hydrating component often have a different sensorial experience.
"These feel like they almost leave a residue of hydrating ingredients on your skin, which they do," says Bowe. "They are leaving those moisturizing, water-loving molecules on the surface of the skin, which will trap your own water. So even if some of the water from the mist evaporates, you're not drying out your own skin."
Not sure if your mist is doing the trick? You can also mitigate any dryness with application techniques.
Add a lotion or oil on top.
If you are one to skip makeup, and you are willing to make it a two-step process, Bowe says the best way to use a face mist is under moisturizer or oil. This is especially key if you have dry skin naturally, live in an arid environment, or, come summer, work in an office space that blasts AC.
So after ample spritzing, tap on an oil or moisturizer. The layer will literally trap in the moisture so it can't evaporate and further dry you out. Also: Try this in the morning right after washing. And if you practice a K-beauty regimen, chances are you are already doing this with your essence.
Or layer under a tinted moisturizer.
If you are a foundation wearer, use your spritz as an excuse to touch up with a tinted moisturizer. I'm pretty consistently wearing some sort of makeup (beauty editor, after all!), so slathering on an oil midday is rarely an option.
Instead, I use this as a time to touch up. In the morning, I apply my makeup as normal, then later when I need a revamp, I mist and lightly tap on a tinted hydrator (Ilia Sheer Vivid Tinted Moisturizer is a fan favorite, also contains aloe vera, and comes in a decent variety of skin tones). The key is to let the liquid soak in a bit—so you aren't applying makeup right on wet skin—but the finish ends up being so dewy and fresh.
Ultimately, unless you have dry skin and really need help with moisture levels throughout the day, you can feel free to skip this little ritual. But if you're like me and have come to relish an afternoon skin care break (again, beauty editor!), just make sure your mist is doing what it claims.
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Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.