The most effective skincare products are those you can commit to using regularly, and a new class of serum sticks have been created to make application as easy (and fun) as possible. Some of our favorite actives are now available in Push Pop-esque form, meaning you can apply ingredients exactly where you need them without having to worry about the mess.
But while serum sticks offer a wonderful sensory experience and are great for targeted treatments (which is why we’re seeing so many new launches aimed at dark spots and under-eye issues), they do have some limitations that it’s worth worth knowing before you invest.
The benefits (and limitations) of serum sticks
Unlike traditional liquid formulas, which are water-based, serum sticks tend to be oil-based, making them ideal delivery systems for oil-soluble ingredients such as retinoids. , vitamin C THD, and vitamin E. Although you can find water-based serum sticks (which usually contain water-soluble ingredients, like hyaluronic acid), oil-based offerings are more common because they are easier to formulate in solid form.
“The main difference between a stick and other products, like lotions and serums, is that a stick contains less water,” explains Michelle Wong, Ph.D., an Australian-based cosmetic chemist. “It’s usually easier to get more of an oil-soluble ingredient in a stick because it has more oil-based carriers in it.” Products typically have a waxy finish thanks to moisturizing ingredients like squalane and sunflower seed wax — two A+ choices for normal to dry skin — and that waxy finish helps the actives stay put when you apply them to your skin. skin.
On the plus side, the fact that these products contain less water than their liquid counterparts means they require fewer preservatives (which can be irritating to some skin types) to keep them fresh. “Microbes love water. They multiply much faster with water,” says Dr. Wong. “And so if you don’t have that much water, it’s called low water activity. So the microbes will actually be dried out a bit by the formula.”
However, while some brands claim that the lack of water in their solid products makes the active ingredients more potent, that’s not necessarily the case: Dr. Wong and Javon Ford, a cosmetic chemist in Los Angeles, California, say skin-care sticks are no more powerful than traditional serums and creams.
“All of these ingredients have limits and just because you’re taking the water out, you’re still diluting it in something,” says Ford. “In this case, you’re just replacing water with oil. People should try these if they just like the texture and the way it layers on their skin, not necessarily because it’s going to be stronger, because it’s not. There are maximum concentration limits before these ingredients become irritating. It’s not a stronger formula. It’s just that it’s a texture and a different sensory sensations.
In other words: skincare sticks are great, but they don’t have to be just any better than the liquids and creams that are already part of your routine. Deciding whether or not to use them really comes down to the type of experience you’re looking for and what’s best for your skin tone.
How to get the most out of your serum sticks
All of this shouldn’t deter you from trying a serum stick (they’re fun to use! They’re mess-free! They’re easy to carry! They make great targeted treatments!), but there are a few things. namely to ensure that you are shopping smart and getting what you pay for.
First off, if you’re using an oil-based stick, you’ll want to look for formulas that contain primarily oil-soluble actives, like the retinoids and vitamins C and E listed above, along with squalane. and a long list of skins. -nourishing oils and butters (think rosehip oil, tea tree oil and shea butter). Since there isn’t a lot of water in skincare sticks, it can be difficult to make them with water-soluble ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid) and l L-ascorbic acid (the most potent form of vitamin C vitamin C). If an ingredient is water-soluble and is in a liquid formula, “then it can spread much better and stay dissolved,” says Dr. Wong. “While in stick form, sometimes there isn’t enough water to keep something dissolved.”
And when you find one you like, be sure to apply it only to damp skin. “A solid is more likely to stay on your skin than to be absorbed, so you probably want to make sure your skin is a bit damp. [before you put it on],” said Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist from Southern California. She explains that when you apply products to damp skin, the water acts like a vacuum and allows the ingredients to penetrate deeper, which can be helpful when using a solid formula.
“If you think about pharmaceutical drugs – they’re all about performance – and as far as I know none of them have sticks except maybe antiperspirant and wart cream,” explains Dr. Wong. “But because of this stick skincare trend, I think there’s going to be a lot more innovation, and I’m actually really excited to see what kinds of products come out.”
It’s a little too early to try to replace your entire routine with stick products. But, with the editor-approved products below, you can try them out and see how your skin likes them.
Skincare sticks to try
Sticks under the eyes
Tula Cooling & Brightening Eye Balm — $28.00
Plump up the skin around your eyes using this deeply hydrating balm. It is water-based and made with probiotic extracts to help smooth and soothe the skin. plus hyaluronic acid, aloe water, apple, blueberry and watermelon to hydrate and plump.
Vitamin C sticks
Superhue Tinted Hyperpigmentation Serum Stick Live – $34.00
“Hyperpigmentation is a very common concern among people of color and can impact their mental and emotional health,” says carolina Robinson, MARYLAND, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago. This stick, which is one of the few water-based formulas on this list, “works by using multiple actives that target hyperpigmentation while supporting the skin’s moisture barrier,” says Dr. Robinson. She adds that it combines 5% niacinamide, 1% vitamin C THD and 1% bakuchiol in water to deliver “a cooling effect that leaves skin nourished and evens skin tone over time.”
Hero Superfuel Serum Stick – $13.00
Made with hydrating and nourishing ingredients like glycerin, sodium hyaluronate (a form of hyaluronic acid), and oat kernel flour, this serum stick will soothe and hydrate your skin.
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