Anyone for a game of pick-up sticks? While creams, gels, serums, mists, foams and all manner of liquid products may still be the familiar bathroom cabinet staples, the beauty industry has been busy concocting a more solid plan for the future. A new generation of potent bar and stick formulations is coming up, and it seems to be meeting modern desires head-on. 

These practical, often multitasking, solid products not only streamline the beauty routine, they fit nimbly into gym bags, weekenders and carry-ons. They tend to require fewer preservatives – better for your skin – and come with a conscience too: a commitment to reducing water wastage and plastic packaging. 

“Stick cosmetics took the spotlight last year,” says Sarirah Hamid, founder of the beauty trend forecasting consultancy Pretty Analytics. “Since then, we’ve seen an influx of solid formulations for both skin and hair and, alongside it, a reignited appreciation for soap bars.” 

The joint benefits of being environmentally conscious and time- and travel-friendly certainly chime with current attitudes. According to research by the market insight agency Mintel, 48 per cent of adults in the UK want their beauty routines to be quick – and nearly a quarter demand that they have minimal environmental impact. 

In the past, solid meant simple, and not necessarily in a good way. But today it doesn’t mean compromising on results – or longevity. “Stick formulations can actually last longer,” explains Roshida Khanom, Mintel’s associate director of beauty and personal care. “They’re often more concentrated and only need a small amount of water to be activated, which gives them an increased shelf life.”

Like so many recent beauty trends, the solid-formulation movement originated in South Korea, before being adopted by forward-thinking US brands such as We Are Wild. Founded by anthropologist and epidemiologist Sally R Kim, the all-solid beauty line is produced in Korea and based in Oregon. With the tag line “recreation skincare”, Kim reflected her desire for products that work with an active lifestyle, tackling the inflammation and dryness she experienced as a result of being outdoors.

Milk Makeup Hydrating Face Mask, £21, from
Milk Makeup Hydrating Face Mask, £21, from

“In terms of efficacy and potency, solid products really do stack up when compared to liquid formulations,” says Kim. “Solid products are less likely to change their chemical nature or ingredient stability, whereas the form of liquids can alter rapidly – especially if they’re in contact with other substances such as moisture from wet fingers. 

“Solid skincare can also be more sanitary,” she adds. “Applying liquids requires the use of fingers or a tool, which means you can lose some of the product and transfer bacteria to the skin.”

The hero of Kim’s collection, the antioxidant- and probiotic-packed Solid Water toner, is designed to work like a hydrating, cooling mist – reimagined in stick form. It can be used before applying make-up or to refresh it, and comes in sleek, minimal packaging that can be slipped into even the smallest of bags. 

Set the bar

Scrubd Lemongrass & Lime Soap Block, £17
Scrubd Lemongrass & Lime Soap Block, £17
We Are Wild Solid Water probiotic toner, $24
We Are Wild Solid Water probiotic toner, $24
Beco Argan Oil Shampoo Bar, £4, from Waitrose
Beco Argan Oil Shampoo Bar, £4, from Waitrose
Supergoop Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF50, $25
Ho Karan Supernatural Soap, €12
Ho Karan Supernatural Soap, €12

No mess, no fuss is also the mantra of high-end “beautility” brand Milk Makeup. Its bestselling Hydrating Face Mask capitalises on this year’s trend for CBD products and contains exfoliating kaolin oil, hydrating plant oils and soothing aloe in a concentrated mask stick. Swipe it on two or three times a week – wherever, whenever – and the hands-free ease of applying what would otherwise be a messy mask is an awakening to say the least. 

But beyond convenience, these solid products can actually save the skin. “Water can make up as much as 70 to 80 per cent of certain skincare products,” says David Petrusich of Herbivore Botanicals, which formulates its range with mineral clays and botanical and essential oils – but little or no water. “By their very nature, solid formulations tend to contain less water than their liquid counterparts. The more water in a product, the greater the need for preservatives, which can be harsh and stripping on the skin.”

The brand’s Pink Clay, Blue Clay and Bamboo Charcoal cleansing bars, for rejuvenating, moisturising and purifying respectively, epitomise beauty’s new buzz phrase, “self‑preserving solids”. 

The reduction in water usage taps into another driver for the beauty sector – the increasing demand for “waterless” products and regimens. With the UN predicting that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in “water-stressed” conditions, cosmetics giant L’Oréal, for instance, has pledged to cut its water consumption by up to 60 per cent by next year.

“Overall, solid products can be stylish and more sustainable – and offer a novel experience,” says Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of BeautyMART. A long-time industry insider, she travels with Supergoop’s Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF50 stick and, when in the US, picks up Myro’s solid deodorant for its customisable scent and eco-friendly, refillable packaging that comes in a colour of your choice.

Like Pretty Analytics, BeautyMART has taken note of the recent return to popularity of solid soap bars. By raising its customers’ awareness of the fact that liquid soap requires five times more energy to make and up to 20 times more packaging than its solid-bar cousin, the retailer has seen a renewed interest in products such as French brand Ho Karan’s hemp oil and rosemary extract Supernatural Soap for dry skin, as well as the Scrubd Lemongrass & Lime Soap Block, which contains cleansing yellow clay and nourishing shea butter. 

Perhaps more surprising is the beginning of a trend for haircare bars to replace foamy shampoos and liquid conditioners. Parisian hair colourist Christophe Robin, whose clients include Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton and Natalie Portman, has created a Hydrating Shampoo Bar with aloe vera. It needs only to be dampened in the shower, massaged over the scalp and lathered through the lengths of the hair to leave it clean and soft. It’s free from parabens, silicones and sodium lauryl sulphate, which can strip hair of its natural oils – and considerably reduces packaging waste.

Likewise, the Argan Oil Shampoo Bar by Beco looks chic and simple – and brings with it a broader commitment to social and environmental responsibility. It’s made by a team of whom 80 per cent are visually impaired, disabled or disadvantaged; it’s plastic-free; and the brand is committed to reducing water consumption during manufacturing.

“The fact that so many solid products come in this plastic-free – or ‘naked’ – packaging means that they can be boxed for transportation more efficiently, making for a lower carbon footprint overall,” says Hamid. “This is a sure sign that the solid trend will gain momentum and extend to other areas.” 

In other words, stop what you’re doing and head for a bar.

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