The most effective skin care products are the ones you can commit to using regularly, and a new class of serum sticks has appeared to make application as easy (and fun) as possible. Some of our favorite actives are now available in Push Pop-esque form, which means you can slide ingredients exactly where you need them without worrying about the mess.
But while serum bars offer a great sensory experience and are great for targeted treatments (which explains why we’re seeing so many new launches targeting dark spots and under-eye issues), they do have certain limitations that are worth knowing about. Before you. invest.
The benefits (and limitations) of whey bars
Unlike traditional liquid formulas, which are water-based, serum bars tend to be oil-based, making them ideal delivery systems for oil-soluble ingredients like retinoids, vitamin C THD, and vitamin E. While you can find water-based serum sticks (which typically contain water-soluble ingredients, like hyaluronic acid), oil-based offerings are more common because they’re easier to formulate in solid form.
“The main difference between a bar and other products, like lotions and serums, is that a bar has less water,” says Michelle Wong, PhD, an Australia-based cosmetic chemist. “It’s usually easier to get more of an oil-soluble ingredient in a stick, since there are more oil-based carriers.” Products often have a waxy finish thanks to moisturizing ingredients like squalane and sunflower seed wax (two A+ picks for normal to dry skin), and this waxy finish helps assets stay in place when applied to skin .
On the plus side, the fact that these products have less water than their liquid counterparts means they require fewer preservatives (which can be irritating to certain skin types) to stay fresh. “Microbes love water. They multiply much faster with water,” says Dr. Wong. “So if you don’t have as much water, it’s called low water activity. So the microbes will actually dry out a little bit with 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: Both Dr. Wong and Javon Ford, a cosmetic chemist in Los Angeles, California, They say that skin-care bars are no more powerful than traditional serums and creams.
“All of these ingredients have limits and just because you’re removing the water, you’re still diluting it into something,” says Ford. “In this case, you’re just replacing water with oil. People should try them if they just like the texture and how it’s layered on the skin, not necessarily because it’s going to be more powerful, because it’s not. There are the maximum concentration limits before these ingredients become irritating. It’s not a stronger formula. It’s just a different texture and sensory feel.”
In other words: skincare bars are great, but they’re not necessarily better than the liquids and creams that are already in your routine. Deciding whether or not to use them really comes down to what kind of experience you’re looking for and what works best for your skin.
How to get the most out of your whey bars
All of this shouldn’t deter you from trying a serum bar (they’re fun to use! no mess! easy to travel with! great targeted treatments!), but there are a few things worth knowing to make sure that you are shopping smart and getting the most for your money.
First, if you’re using an oil-based stick, you’ll want to look for formulas that have mostly oil-soluble actives, like the retinoids and vitamins C and E mentioned above, plus squalane and a full list of skin products. -nourishing oils and butters (think: rosehip oil, tea tree oil, and shea butter). Since there isn’t much water in skin care bars, it can be tricky to make them with water-soluble ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid) and L-ascorbic acid (the most potent form of vitamin C vitamin C ). If an ingredient is water-soluble and in a liquid formulation, “then it spreads much better and stays 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 sit on your skin rather than be absorbed, so you probably want to make sure your skin is slightly damp [before you put it on]says Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Southern California. She explains that when you apply products to damp skin, the water acts like a vacuum and allows ingredients to penetrate deeper, which can be helpful. when using a solid formula.
“If you think about pharmaceutical drugs, they’re made entirely for performance, and as far as I know, none of them have sticks apart from maybe antiperspirant and wart cream,” says Dr. Wong. “But because of this skincare stick trend, I think there’s going to be a lot more innovation, and I’m actually really excited to see what kind of products come out.”
It’s too soon to try to swap your entire routine for stick products. But, with the editor-approved products below, you can try them out and see how your skin likes them.
Skin care sticks to try
sticks under the eyes
Tula Refreshing & Brightening Eye Balm — $28.00
Plump the skin around your eyes with this deeply hydrating balm. It’s water-based and made with probiotic extracts to help soften and soothe skin; plus hyaluronic acid, aloe water, apple, blueberry and watermelon to hydrate and plump.
Peace Out Retinol Eye Stick — $28.00
Target dark circles, fine lines, wrinkles, and texture with this waterless retinol balm. It’s concentrated yet gentle so you can use it around your eyes. Plus, it’s made with squalane to eliminate irritation and moisturize.
Peace Out Retinol Face Bar — $34.00
This takes the eye bar from above and amps it up for use around the entire face. In addition to a 3 percent blend of encapsulated retinol, it’s also made with papaya and pumpkin enzymes and bakuchiol to further refine the look of texture and pores.
Vitamin C bars
Monday Born Frequent-C — $64.00
Competing with many of the traditional vitamin C serums out there, this Monday Born waterless bar is made with a strong blend of oil-soluble actives. It has a whopping 20 percent concentration of vitamin C (one of the most potent you’ll find), along with squalane and vitamin E.
Live Tinted Superhue Hyperpigmentation Serum Stick — $34.00
“Hyperpigmentation is a very common concern for people of color and can affect their mental and emotional health,” he says. Caroline robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago. One of the few water-based formulas on this list, this stick “works by using multiple actives that target hyperpigmentation while supporting the skin’s moisture barrier,” says Dr. Robinson. He adds that it combines 5 percent niacinamide, 1 percent vitamin C THD, and 1 percent bakuchiol in water to provide “a cooling effect that leaves skin nourished and evens tone over time.”
Blass The Blass Balm — $20.00
Reduce dark spots and hydrate your skin with this stick that combines vitamin C, jojoba seed oil, amino acids, candelilla bushes, fatty acids, rice bran, vitamin E, sunflower seed oil and rosemary leaf.
Hero Superfuel Whey Bar — $13.00
Made with moisturizing and nourishing ingredients like glycerin, sodium hyaluronate (a form of hyaluronic acid), and oatmeal, this serum bar will soothe and hydrate your skin.
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These products are independently selected by our editors. Making a purchase through our links may generate a commission for Well+Good.