Minimalist Challenge: a Multifunctional Cosmetic Stick

The humble cosmetic stick has seen a steady increase in popularity in recent years.
The humble cosmetic stick has seen a steady increase in popularity in recent years.

The humble cosmetic stick has seen a steady increase in popularity in recent years. Initially introduced as a solution for single-function products such as eye shadows and concealers, the stick format has seen continued success as more and more brands have introduced stick variations for color applications.

Between 2015 and 2019, there was a 114% increase in new color cosmetic stick product launchesa. It’s no surprise that the increased popularity of stick formats has also aligned closely with the increased consumer demand for convenience and portability. A stick is an easy-to-carry solution that can be applied directly with little fuss—the perfect convenient color solutionb.

Why Multifunctionality Matters

As the focus on convenience has grown, so has the demand for multiuse and hybrid productsc. These multifunctional products appeal to busy consumers, as well as those who are less interested in expert makeup application.

With all the makeup tutorials available on contouring and multilayered looks, it’s at times easy to forget that there are consumers out there who are not interested in contouring, or who are intimidated by the buildable looks. Instead, these consumers are looking for reliable easy-to-use products that help them maintain a simplified makeup routine.

One product that does two or three things means they have less to carry when traveling, less to learn in terms of application, and more flexibility to create a range of looks with fewer products.

Simplifying Beauty Routines

There is also a growing segment of women moving away from the 45-minute beauty routine, looking to spend no more than 10 to 15 minutes applying their look in the morning, and expecting that same look to last throughout the day.

Beginning in 2017, multiuse stick products took over the category, outpacing single-function stick products. According to Mintel GNPD, 7% of all U.S. color cosmetic product launches in 2019 were multiuse stick products. Nearly every major brand has an all-in-one or multifunctional stick within their color cosmetic range, most focused on cheeks + eyes or lips + cheeks + eyes.

Minimalist Multifunctionality

The multifunctional stick poses a challenge for formulators—creating a hard stick that doesn’t crack or break but has good payoff in color intensity and amount of product delivered to the skin. They also need to offer a creamy texture, good heat stability, and comfortable wear properties with wear longevity tailored to the product type.

If that list of requirements isn’t challenging enough, formulators also need to consider how to create a multifunctional stick that meets the new clean beauty demands that are impacting every segment, including color cosmetics. Clean beauty claims are the fastest growing in terms of NPD, and consumers are looking for brands that align to their principles and values.

One of the most interesting and challenging tenets of the clean beauty movement is a short INCI list. However, a glance at some typical color cosmetic stick products reveals that many have quite a long list of ingredients. This is not surprising given the performance requirements, and the sometimes-conflicting properties desired for these type of products. The right balance of texture, color, stability and wear is not a simple ask, often leading to a complex ingredient list.

When formulating color cosmetic sticks, the temptation is to put together an initial formula with all components and then add additional ingredients to fix issues or balance competing properties. Unfortunately, this approach can be part of what leads to those lengthy ingredient lists, keeping many sticks out of the short INCI category.

Strategies for Simplified Formulas

Our team has developed a different approach to cosmetic stick development featuring simple ingredient lists—without compromising on performance. The approach involves screening the individual compatibility of the structuring waxes and oil components first, before beginning to optimize the complete formula. This helps to achieve high performance with a shorter INCI list. To illustrate, we present a recent project: a clean multifunctional stick for lips + cheek + eyes.

For the full article, please check out Global Cosmetic Industry's July/August Issue.


In a newly hygiene-conscious world, stick formats also allow consumers to apply product without directly touching their faces with their hands.

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