Even though applying sunscreen should be a part of your daily routine 365 days a year, if you associate anything with summer, it's probably SPF. Whether you're spending afternoons lounging poolside, going for a long hike, or just making a quick run to the store, protecting your skin from ultraviolet rays is key to preventing skin cancer, premature aging, and dark spots. But lathering on lotion can leave you feeling sticky, which is especially unideal for a day at the beach (read: sand. everywhere.).
Enter: Sunscreen sticks, the perfect solution to protecting skin while keeping application easy and clean. "I love stick sunscreens, especially when they are physical blockers, as they give excellent protection and can be targeted to areas of use," board-certified dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD, tells ishonest, noting that they are safe alternatives to traditional SPFs. "The formulation is thicker and easier to apply in an even fashion versus lotions and creams. SPF sticks are also super portable; just throw them in your purse or backpack and go.
How do sunscreen sticks work?
Unlike sunscreen spraysâ€”with which you can end up with more of the product in the air than on your skinâ€”sunscreen sticks seamlessly glide over skin to ensure proper and thorough application and can help protect the delicate skin near your eyes, since they don't run. "They leave a more uniform layer of protection on the skin because they are stickier and harder to rub off," Dr. Patel continues.
But, stick sunscreen users need to be particularly diligent about how much they apply. "Stick sunscreen is easy to apply but also easy to underapply," Canada-based dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD, explains. "The American Academy of Dermatology recommends people pass stick sunscreen back and forth across the desired area four times for proper coverage." And like with lotion and spray forms, you should reapply a layer every two hours, or after a swimming or sweating session.
"You can also apply them on the ears or nose, and they're good easy-to-miss spots like the ankles," she points out.
What to consider when choosing a sunscreen stick
Regardless of your skin type, it's important to pay close attention to the ingredients listâ€”starting with the type of UV ray blockers inside. "Those with sensitive skin should opt for physical sunscreens containing titanium or zinc oxide to avoid sensitivity issues," explains Dr. Patel. "Chemical sunscreens can be irritating to those with dry or sensitive skin, as the chemicals can be irritating." Sunscreen sticks with "strong fragrances, or essential oils such as ingredients with botanicals" can also irritate sensitive skin, she warns. In fact, "they can cause contact allergic reactions, and can increase some people's sensitivity to the sun."
Dr. Patel also notes that acne-prone SPF wearers should be particularly mindful of the formulas they've chosen, adding, "Most stick sunscreens have a thicker vehicle. This is great for children, but can clog pores on faces for those with acne." Opting for an oil-free and non-comedogenic SPF stick will typically help you avoid breakouts. Dr. Patel also recommends avoiding "sunscreen sticks with coconut oil or olive oil on your face and body, as they can increase breakouts if you get sweaty."
Ahead, the best sunscreen sticks to try for your next outing or outdoor adventure.
Best Overall: Supergoop Sunnyscreen 100% Mineral Stick
Just because this pediatrician-approved sunscreen stick is designed with kiddos in mind, doesn't mean that you can't use it, too. True to its name, this all- mineral formula is made up of natural ingredients like jojoba oil, zinc oxide, and coconut oil. "I love it for everyone, because it's gentle enough for all skin types, especially sensitive skin," says Dr. Yadav. "It's water resistant for up to 80 minutes, offers a lot of protection, and is easy to apply. Plus, the formula is surprisingly hydrating."
"I used this sunscreen on my five-year-old's face while at the beach and it worked perfectly," wrote one reviewer. "He has very sensitive skin which often causes him to have to take a break from the sun; not with this sunscreen."
To buy: Supergoop Sunnyscreen 100% Mineral Stick, $24, supergoop.com
Best Drugstore: Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Stick
"I love this product," raved one customer. "I am a teacher and it allows me to keep my face protected at recess. It fits perfectly in my bag and I can apply it easily, no mess."
To buy: Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Stick, $10, cvs.com
Best Sport: Bare Republic Mineral Sport Sunscreen Stick
If you're not a fan of the smell of sunscreen, look no further than this stick. Not only is it scented with sweet coconut and vanilla, but it's also reef- friendly and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Reviewers say that its travel-friendly size makes it easy to carry anywhere, so just toss it in your beach bag or hiking backpack on your next day trip.
"I bought this for vacation in Florida and ended up using it in my everyday life in Arizona," wrote one Target shopper. "I burn easily so after applying my regular moisturizer and facial SPF, I apply this specifically to my forehead, nose, and cheeks. I found that it does it's job wonderfully, I even put makeup on over it and it still works."
To buy: Bare Republic Mineral Sport Sunscreen Stick, $10, target.com
Best Without White Cast: Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+
"Shiseido's proprietary WetForce and Heat Force technology makes their sunscreens surprisingly comfortable to wear in sweaty or wet conditions,"explains Dr. Yadav. "Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+ stick goes on clear (making it ideal for deeper skin tones), is ophthalmologist-tested â€”which is important because SPF can drip into your eyes when you're sweaty or wetâ€”and is entirely mineral based, making it ocean-friendly. It's also water- resistant for up to 80 minutes."
"I'm East Indian and always have issues with sunscreen turning white on my skin," began one shopper. "This stick is clear so it has zero white castâ€¦ it glides on nicely and absorbs perfectly for my combination skin. I'm in my late 40s and this one's my go to after decades of searching for something that will work all the time."
To buy: Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+, $29, ulta.com
Best Reef-Safe: Beauty by Earth SPF Mineral Sunscreen Stick
Made with Mother Nature in mind, you can play at the beach and swim in the ocean knowing this sunscreen is free of harsh chemicals that could damage reefs. It contains all-natural ingredients, including zinc oxide, coconut oil, and shea butter, so you know exactly what you're putting on your skin. Not to mention, parents have taken to Amazon to rave about this product.
"It is very difficult to put sunscreen on my children's faces," said a shopper. "They squirm and scream and then usually the sunscreen gets into their eyes and it's a big drama. This stick is great at saving us from that scenario. It glides on smooth and since it's a stick and not a spray or liquid, it stays in place and doesn't get into their eyes and sting."
To buy: Beauty by Earth SPF Mineral Sunscreen Stick, $19, amazon.com
Best for Face: Supergoop Glow Stick SPF 50
Recommended by Dr. Patel, this glow-boosting pick can be used as a full-face chemical SPF or on top of makeup as a highlighterâ€”make sure you've applied sunscreen if you'll only be using it on your high points. Its unique dry oil formula makes it both hydrating and sheer, leaving behind a dewy shine that never feels oily or greasy.
"I just moved to a state where it's very sunny and my high school is outdoors," explained one shopper. "I needed something that was quick to apply, portable, and left no white cast (cause who wants to look like a clown at school?) This sunscreen is perfect. It's easy to keep in my bag, and takes seconds to apply on my face."
To buy: Supergoop Glow Stick SPF 50, $25, supergoop.com
Best for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Daily Sunscreen Stick
Made for those with sensitive skin (translation: it's hypoallergenic, fragrance- free, and free of parabens), this clear sunscreen stick can be applied to the face and body. It's also developed with zinc oxide, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays, and it's sweat- and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. For an added boost of nourishment, it's formulated with skin-soothing oat.
"It really stays on your skin and does all the awesomeness for sun protection," raved a shopper. "I have an overall super sweaty face (for real, even my under- eyes get sweaty) and even like that, I still feel the sunscreen doing its job, like it does not get washed away."
To buy: Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Daily Sunscreen Stick, $8, amazon.com
Best for Kids: Blue Lizard Kids Mineral Sunscreen Stick
A favorite of Dr. Patel's, this reef-safe and oxybenzone-free mineral sunscreen stick offers SPF 50 protection and adequately shields your child's skin from the sun's damaging UVA and UVB rays. Additionally, it's free of fragrances, parabens, dyes, and other known irritants and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Parents of newborns and toddlers can also grab the Blue Lizard Baby Mineral Stick, or the Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Stick for themselves.
"My kids hate the sunscreen sticks because there are usually tiny little granules in the ones we have used in the past and it hurts to spread it," shared one Amazon reviewer. "This one is nice and smooth and blends easily into their skin. It does a good job of preventing sunburn as well on their faces."