Friday, 8 March 2013

Ready, get SET go!

Yep, another bad pun – I do love a bad pun.

I’ve had a lot of questions about setting lotion lately – both online and in real life - so I thought a quick post on what it is and what it does might be useful. Back to basics for a lot of you I’m sure but that never hurt anyone.

So. Let's begin at the beginning...

What is it?

Well, somewhat obviously, setting lotion is product that is applied to hair in order to set styles. i.e. to make them neater and last longer. It comes in many forms – liquids which do or do not need dilution, crèmes such as boots curl crème, foaming products and even gels. Some people even make their own. Some are best applied to wet hair and some to dry – some can be used on both. Finding the right setting lotion for your hair can be a little like finding your Holy Grail foundation, but once you have found it you won’t ever want to change.

Where can I get some?

Proctor and Gamble discontinued setting lotion manufacture recently and so now, if you are restricted to visiting high street chemists you can usually only find those chemists own brand products. I know both Boots and Superdrug have a version. A much wider variety can be found in ethnic hair shops so if you are lucky enough to have access to one, that would be a better option. Finally,. Of course, the internet. Where would we be without it....?

What kind should I buy?

1) Liquids which need dilution: 

The most widely used setting lotion, or at least the most frequently mentioned amongst the vintage sorority, is Lottabody. This comes as a thick liquid which you dilute according to your hair type (instructions on bottle) and can then use to set your hair. This style of lotion is probably the most flexible in that it can be used to set either wet or dry hair. On wet hair you just apply it and then put in your wavers or curlers, whilst on dry hair you can use a comb, your fingers or a small spray bottle to apply it to each individual hair section just prior to curling. You can even use it with a heated set, but make sure you have time for your hair to dry before going out as this stuff will dampen your hair.

Whilst these products do, invariably, increase ones curl there are some drawbacks – lots of liquid style setting lotions are very strong and can make the hair, pre-brush out, quite crunchy. This can make a set both hard to brush out and more likely to frizz as well as being more damaging on the hair. This can also be a problem when setting waves as the teeth of ones wave come leave noticeable marks in a crunchy set. They can also be messy to apply as if you use fingers or a comb little splashes get everywhere and often the mix is too thick to come out of a spray bottle in anything other than a single stream, resulting in the hair not being uniformly covered.

I would say however that these lotions are the ideal starting point for someone trying out the process for the first time.

Brands: Lottabody, Bristows, chemist and supermarket own brands

2) Crèmes and thicker liquids:

In general, I find these are good products for very dry or very thick hair which holds a curl well. The two I have tried and which are “Black n Sassy” and Boots Curl Creme.

The “Black n Sassy” is thickish liquid with a pungent sweet shop / sherbert smell. You apply it to directly to towel dried hair, massage and then comb and set. I actually love the smell of this and it is really conditioning but on my fine hair i only really find it useful for fingerwaves as it leaves my curls droopy. I think it would be great for coarser hair types.

The Boots Curl Creme comes in a pot you can just dip into. I’ve tried this on my hair wet and it had no noticeable effect but it is good for quickly resetting hair on the second or third day and also works very well for setting hair which takes a curl too easily (Yes, that does exist) due to its weight and moisturising properties weighing down hair prone to frizz.
Brands: Boots Curl Creme, Black and Sassy 

3) Mousses and foaming lotions:

My personal all time favourite setting lotion is Motions Foamy set, which comes in both a normal and extra strength version. I find this works beautifully to set my hair without crispiness or drying. This is a liquid in a pump dispenser which, when dispensed forms a foam which can easily be applied either section by section for styles which need a firm hold, or all over the hair for a “bung it up and get to bed” night. The foaming style eliminates mess. Not having to dilute it eliminates wastage. Overall my favourite product. 

Brands: motions foamy set, Soft & Beautiful Botanicals Sculpting Foam, Lottabody Foam Wrap (I must try this one) 

4) Gels
My least favourite option here. I just don’t like gel. It works well for setting fingerwaves but I find most dry hard rather than leaving the hair set but natural looking – which is usually the look you will be after. One exception is fingerwaving shorter afro hair – I’ve heard great things about gel products for this. Just need to find someone to try it out on! 
5) Hair spray 

Hairspray can be an alternative to setting lotion when you are using heat styling methods. A spritz of a brushable hairspray, like Ellnett, on the hair before putting in your hotsticks can really boost their curling power. I’d not advise trying this with a very strong spray however as your curls can be hard to brush out.

6) Home made methods

Yes, if you really fancy it you can make your own setting lotion. Anything from simple sugar or beer and water solutions or a more complicated recipe for making a linseed lotion .

So – there you go. A little summary of my opinions and experience of different setting lotions. I’d love to hear what your favourite lotion is and how you use it.


  1. My absolute favorite setting spray isn't even a setting spray. Its Layrite Grooming Spray. I love this so much and have talked about it many times on my blog. I had tried everything else but this is the best for me. I use it in wet sets and dry sets too. Its my holy grail for sure!

  2. Ooh. What sort of hair do you have?

  3. I curl with tongs for my sets, and a quick spritz on each section with Tresemme Freeze Hold beforehand does the job! Great for fairly coarse/thick hair that holds a curl well.

  4. I really like Botticelli Botanicals Flax Gelee (sold on Etsy); my hair is of medium thickness and quite straight, and the flax-based setting lotion seems to really help hold the curl—even on damp days. I tried the homemade linseed setting lotion and it worked very well, but it is a bit of messy process to make, and that led me to search for a ready-made product. I find the BB Flax Gelee is quite similar without the hassle (and I like that you can order it in a number of scents too.)

    I've gotten two of my good friends hooked on it as well; one has very long, thick hair that is prone to frizz as it is naturally curly, and she loves the flax gelee as it really reduces her hair's tendency to frizz. The other has medium length, fine, hard-to-curl hair that is prone to drooping/losing the curl and the gelee works well for her too; we attended a dance the other evening and the weather was quite rainy/windy, and she was amazed at how well the curl stayed in her hair!

    1. ooh, Jitterbugdoll, thank you. I'm going to add that to my list of must try items. :-)

  5. I've tried all sorts of combos wet set with lotion, wet set without, dry with, dry without, hot with hot without, hot sticks, pin curls, curl wand my after an hour or so the curl just drops out! so frustrating! I'm going to give the foaming one a whirl though, see if i can bully my hair into a perfect set! if anyone else has any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated!! xx