You should be wearing SPF everyday so why not stock up on one that's as effective as it is convenient? Let us introduce you to the sunscreen stick.
We chatted with dermatologists and skin care experts to break down everything you need to know about sunscreen sticks — from how they compare to traditional lotions and sprays to how to apply it for the best protection. The pros also shared their favorite products to make shopping as breezy as a day at the beach.
Why use a sunscreen stick?
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick believes the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use — and you might find yourself reaching for an SPF stick more than not. “Sunscreen sticks can be especially good for reapplication,” she says.
They’re handy, hands-free and non-greasy. Plus, the clear finish most offer makes them a clear winner. White cast, who?
Dr. Hadley King, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, particularly loves how portable a sunscreen stick is. Drop it in your purse as you head to happy hour or in your carry-on before boarding your next flight (yes, they’re TSA-approved!). “I almost always have one in my purse because they're small, don't take up too much space and I don’t have to worry about them leaking,” says King.
When shopping for an SPF stick, her preference is a formula that’s “all mineral, water-resistant and a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher.”
How does a sunscreen stick differ from a lotion or spray?
According to Emily Spilman, a program manager at the Environmental Working Group, sunscreen sticks differ only slightly from liquid and sprays due to being a thicker, solid formula. “But in terms of their UV protection, these formulations are all very similar and use the same active ingredients,” she says.
However, applying (and reapplying) a sufficient amount is crucial. Garshick warns that while many people opt for a stick for its convenience, they also fail to apply enough.
“Whether a person chooses a sunscreen lotion or stick is a personal preference,” Spilman adds. “The goal with sunscreen and safe sun behavior is to not get sunburned and to protect yourself from long-term skin damage and skin cancer.”
What’s the best way to apply a sunscreen stick?
To achieve the advertised SPF level, make sure not to skimp when applying a sunscreen stick.
According to King, you’ll need two milligrams of product per square centimeter of skin. “I recommend several swipes of the stick to each area until there is a visible layer of sunscreen coating the entire surface, and then rubbing it in enough to ensure even coverage and no skip[ped] areas.”
Double board-certified dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal suggests using broad strokes along the face, neck, arms and legs. “Reapply every two hours that you are outside in the sun,” he says.
Best sunscreen sticks, according to experts
Affordable and effective, Garshick gives her stamp of approval to this SPF 50 mineral sunscreen stick. “It is especially good for those with sensitive skin as it is gentle on the microbiome,” she explains. “It’s non-comedogenic and won’t clog the pores while still nourishing the skin.”
King is a fan of this lightweight mineral formula for how effortlessly it blends out and dries clear. And its ingredient list is top notch. “Hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate the skin, while ceramides and other emollients support the skin barrier,” she explains.
The mineral and water-resistant formula, nourishing ingredients and clear finish makes this one of King’s top choices. According to the brand, it also offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection.
This option ticks off all the boxes: it’s a mineral-based SPF 50 free of chemical actives. “Safe for use on the face and body, it’s easy to bring on-the-go and leaves behind a sheer, non-greasy finish,” says Garshick. Add in an irresistible vanilla coconut scent and you'll be counting down the minutes until it's time to reapply.
According to King, not only is this SPF 50 stick a mineral zinc oxide formula, it also contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radicals. “And the dry-touch finish is great for people who don't like a greasy feel,” she notes.
You’ll want to make room on your shelf for this all mineral, ultra-moisturizing SPF stick. It’s so good, it was recently named awarded an EWG Verified label. Spilman even calls it an "excellent choice.”
Sporty types will be all for this sweat- and water-resistant mineral option from Supergoop! The moisturizing, antioxidant-rich ingredients like jojoba seed oil and olive oil get a thumbs up from King.
Supergoop! delivers serious UV protection combined with hydrating ingredients such as calendula extract — and the Glow Stick is no exception. “This is a chemical sunscreen stick that will leave your skin with a glowing finish,” says Lal. The sheer glow and invisible formulation is great for darker skin tones too, he adds.
On a scorching hot summer day, sun protection is a must, but cooling off is a major plus. Enter this Garshick-approved hydrating stick from Coola. According to the brand, its cooling formulation infuses aloe and coconut water with hyaluronic acid and a plant-derived BlueScreen™ Digital De-Stress™ technology that also shields you from harmful blue light.
Whether they’re working up a sweat on a bike or in the pool, this SPF 50 sport stick belongs in every fitness fanatic’s gym bag. King notes that this mineral option is non-comedogenic and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
This award-winning UV stick from EltaMD is a cult-favorite for a reason. “This is an OG,” says Lal. “It’s a mineral sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white cast.” Garshick adds that it’s a great option for those with sensitive skin.
Meet the experts
- Dr. Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist for MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery. She serves patients in Manhattan, New York, and Clifton, New Jersey.
- Dr. Hadley King, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She practices out of her namesake clinic in New York City.
- Dr. Karan Lal, DO, FAAD, is a double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist and a fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologist based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
- Emily Spilman is a program manager with the Healthy Living Science team at the Environmental Working Group, where she helps evaluate which sunscreens will earn the "EWG Verified" label.