Back in 1959 on the set of Ben-Hur, when the large cast of extras needed touch-ups on their Roman tans, the film’s makeup artists turned to airbrushing for the first time because it delivered a flawless makeup base fast.

These days on-set, celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Teri Hatcher insist on having their makeup misted on. "The rise of high-definition television [HDTV] has unleashed a hysteria in Hollywood," says BJ Gillian, a New York-based celebrity makeup artist. "Everyone over the age of 20 is panicking because HDTV magnifies every last line and defect." But while airbrushing might keep some stars’ names off the online "10 HDTV Horribles" list, these professional-grade gadgets are expensive and a challenge to operate.

Spray like you mean it

Acting on the consumer demand for quick, effective and affordable makeup solutions, several beauty companies have recently launched spray-on foundations — at-home airbrushing in palm-size, ozone-friendly aerosol cans. Composed mainly of water, colour pigment, silicone — an emollient that keeps the product moist on the skin — and propellant, spray-ons are applied from the forehead to the chin in a quick zigzag motion, with the canister held about 10 centimetres from the face. With each mist, tiny, pigment-wrapped water bubbles land on the skin and burst, delivering a hit of moisture that dries into the finish of your choice. Depending on the product and the number of mists, you can achieve everything from the look of a tinted moisturizer to camera-ready full coverage. "Four mists of my foundation can cover a tattoo," says Yolanda Halston, the founder of Classified Cosmetics, a company that specializes in spray-on technology.

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Cover up
Spray-on foundations are effective for all ages and skin types, but Halston, who worked closely with dermatologists to develop her line, notes that spray-ons work especially well on injured skin. "Skin that is healing from a burn, a scar or laser treatment is slick and resistant to most makeup," she says. "Spray-on foundations cover flaws and even out skin texture and tone while delivering a fresh dose of skin-nourishing vitamins and botanicals with every spritz, including aloe vera and vitamins A, D and E. It’s not just makeup; it’s a treatment."

Halston also says that she sees more mature consumers turning to spray-ons because they don’t settle into fine lines. "They give a soft, feathered, almost blurred look to the skin that just isn’t possible with a brush or sponge application."

And since most spray-on foundations are wear- and water-resistant, pigment won’t rub off on your mate or slide off during your next Pilates class.

But spray-on foundations are not on everyone’s must-have list — at least, not the at-home versions. "They don’t always give you the control you need," says Gillian. "If you spray from too far away, you get next to nothing on your skin; if you spray too close, you run the risk of looking blotchy." The sprays may also tinge coifs and stain clothes if you’re not careful. Most companies recommend that consumers distribute the foundation on a sponge or brush first, but that seems to defeat the purpose. "To me, that’s a cop-out," says Halston.

With the love affair for spray-on tanners still strong, practice may be all that’s needed to make spray-on foundations a trend that sticks.

Spray-on foundation products top to bottom:
• M.A.C Limited-Edition Studio Mist Foundation in Medium ($34, available M.A.C stores and M.A.C counters at The Bay across Canada)

• Sally Hansen Healing Beauty Fast and Flawless Airbrush Makeup in Creamy Natural ($13, at drugstores across Canada)

• Classified Cosmetics Era Face Spray On Foundation in R4 ($48 for 50 mL, )

• Dior Diorskin Airflash Spray Foundation in 202 Cameo ($50, at Dior counters across Canada)

Product images courtesy of Geoffrey Ross (Sally Hansen, Classified Cosmetics & Dior Products); M.A.C image courtesy M.A.C