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Is it acceptable to use hairspray as a cheap fixative for pastel or charcoal, or should you only use artist's pastel fixative? Just what are the differences between art spray fixative and hairspray? I asked About.com's Chemistry Guide, Dr Anne Marie Helmenstine, who has provided this answer explaining the differences between fixative and hairspray.

What do I use? These days, I use artists' quality spray fixative, but at a time when money was tighter and I was doing a lot more in charcoal, I used a hairspray. It was always one of the cheapest, and I used to try to find the one that ponged the least.

About.com's Drawing Guide, Helen South, says she prefers "to use a reputable brand of fixative" but even then doesn't usually "spray the top layer of pastel and pencil due to color alteration." If you've never used spray fixative, read Helen's explanation on how to apply spray fixative.

See Also:
Basic Techniques for Pastels
Pastel Problem Solver


October 8, 2007 at 4:00 am
(1) Katherine says:

I guess it depends on how much you value your artwork and how much you think it’s worth keeping. Good quality fixative often doesn’t cost more than the price of 2 or 3 good quality pastels.

The advice I’ve always received has been to stay away from using hairspray unless it’s an absolute emergency such as the need to transport a piece (and frankly taping newspaper tight over a piece would work as well).

October 8, 2007 at 8:43 am
(2) Marion BE says:

A very valid point comparing the price of fixative to the price of pastels. And why spend money on decent pastels only to skimp on fixative? It reminds me of a travel photographer who once told me rolls of film were considerably cheaper than the price of returning to a spot, so he always took twice as much as he thought me might use.

January 24, 2009 at 2:26 pm
(3) christine j sojka says:

i dont work in pastels but i sometimes work in chalk.i dont mind using hairspray as a fixative because the main ingredient in chalk is calcium carbonate and that’s a great acid neutralizer.it can neutralize any acid in the paper and any acid in the hairspray.

October 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm
(4) mickeyobe says:

A very important point has been missed.
Hairspray is water soluble.
It must be washed out of the hair when one shampoos.
Fixative should not be water soluble as far as I know.

October 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm
(5) Laverne Gressett says:

Whatever fixative you use, do not spray in a room with other painters present! Good way to clear the room.

October 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm
(6) Josh says:

Watersoluble… don’t see how it matters as I wouldn’t let water/moisture anywhere near pastel paper anyway. Even if it had a waterproof coating on the front, there’s still the back…

August 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm
(7) Rog says:


I’ve used Aquanet since high school, never a problem (work done in 1988 stil the same as the day I sprayed it). ‘Art’ fixative on the other hand… Toxic chemicals that cause cancer and/or pollute the environment.

August 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm
(8) JJ says:

@Rog Guess you’ve not looked at the ingredients after water…

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