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Effectiveness, uses and benefits




Effectiveness, uses and benefits
II’ve suffered from sunscreen since my mother relentlessly applied heavy, sticky zinc formulas to my face as a toddler. (This still haunts me.) But I understand this may be a controversial opinion. After all, there are countless beauty brands, ranging from drugstore to high-end, that carry sunscreen. However, I posed a question to some of my favorite dermatology resources in the secret hope of getting you all into the liquid sunscreen camp. (We’re happier here!) The question: Are sunscreens really as effective as traditional liquid formulations, or is their efficacy downright overhyped?

What is a sunscreen stick?

A sunscreen stick is exactly what it sounds like: a solid form of sunscreen that usually comes in a nice, twisted tube. Both solid and liquid sunscreens contain the same active ingredients, such as avobenzone and octocrylene, to protect the skin against UV rays. Their main differences come down to their wording. Sunscreen sticks contain waxes and gelling agents to maintain their firm structure, Pagán and King explain. For comparison, Pagán says it’s like the difference between a liquid lipstick and a bullet lipstick.

Experts in this article

  • Ginger Kingworld-renowned cosmetic chemist and product developer
  • Karan Lal, DO, FAADdual board certified pediatric and cosmetic dermatologist.
  • Kristina Collins, MD, FAAD, dual board-certified dermatologist and founder of Foy
  • Natasha Atanaskova Mesinkovska, M.D., Ph.D.board-certified dermatologist and vice chair of dermatology clinical research at the University of California, Irvine
  • Ramon Paganesthetician, cosmetic chemist, product formulator and beauty influencer

Are sunscreen sticks as effective as liquid sunscreen?

The answer to this question is nuanced because it depends on whether you are applying the question correctly. Dr. Mesinkovska says that while sunscreens can theoretically “provide sufficient coverage if the right amount is applied,” the challenge lies in the fact that there is no clear visual indication of its amount. “The recommended amount of sunscreen you should use is 2 mg per square cm of skin, which amounts to about a quarter of a teaspoon,” explains the expert. “While this amount is fairly easy to estimate and visualize with liquid sunscreen, it can be difficult when using a sunscreen.”

“Because of this, most users will not get the recommended coverage with a sunscreen, even if they apply multiple coats or layers over the face to achieve the full SPF coverage value as indicated on the product,” continues Dr. Mesinkovska. The expert notes that you’ll need to apply a “significant amount” to reach that optimal 2mg limit. “For the average user who applies sunscreen in just a few steps, it is unlikely to achieve full coverage compared to a liquid sunscreen.”

Pagán agrees with Dr. Mesinkovska. “The biggest advantage of liquid sunscreen is that you can guarantee you apply enough to get the advertised protection,” he explains. Because sunscreen is dosage-based, you must apply a fixed amount to replicate the amount used in testing to achieve the advertised SPF value. With sticks this is not necessarily guaranteed as you have to be very generous and measuring exact quantities is difficult.”

Many people have difficulty determining the right amount of sunscreen, special with non-liquid shapes such as sticks. “With non-liquid sunscreen technologies, including sticks, powders and sprays, people often use fewer products and cannot cover all services,” says Dr. Collins. “So while the sunscreen itself is just as effective [as liquid sunscreen]the application is often not as thorough or compact as liquid because people are forced to rub it in.”

And then there’s the fact that using a significant amount can feel quite gross on your skin, like those haunting memories from my youth. If you’re determined to get UV protection from a sunscreen over a liquid formula, “be prepared to feel a thick layer of sunscreen on your face,” warns Dr. Mesinkovska. “It will most likely not be as comfortable and practical for everyday use as liquid sunscreens.”

Benefits of sunscreen sticks

Despite Dr. Mesinkovska acknowledges some of the benefits of stick formulations: they are mess-free, spill-resistant and easy to reapply. Pagán adds that they are also often water and sweat resistant, which is a plus. Dr. Collins has noticed among her patients that certain demographics prefer sunscreen. “I find that my male patients, as well as my children, are much more willing to use a sunscreen than a typical lotion,” she explains. “I also think that because of the portability and ease of use, people are much more likely to pick up a stick on the go and actually reapply.”

Although Dr. Collins appreciates sunscreens for their ease of use, she acknowledges that they may be better suited for touch-ups. “It’s probably true that most people would benefit from an initial application of sunscreen with a liquid sunscreen and then using the stick to reapply throughout the day,” she says.

How to apply a sunscreen stick

Ultimately, follow the steps listed on the packaging of your specific product. But as a general overview, Dr. Lal recommends “applying two to three coats broadly over the skin” and then rubbing it into your skin like a traditional liquid sunscreen.

Last takeaway

All dermatologists consulted for this piece unanimously agree that the best sunscreen for you is the one you will actually use consistently. If that happens to be sunscreen, great! Make sure you apply it thoroughly. Otherwise, opt for a liquid formula. Your skin will thank you for it.