It happened in Paris, the Eiffel tower aglow in the background and the evening breeze gently ruffling my hair: I fell in love. Not with a person or even with the view—but with the hydrating serum I had just applied, the one that would ensure no foundation would ever flake or pill on me again.
Rewind 24 hours prior to this moment, when I was frantically cramming skin care into my tiny Ziploc bag, trying to decide which products were most likely to give me a complexion that said, “I’m a well-moisturized beauty enthusiast,” rather than, “I’ve been traveling nonstop the past month, and my face is so dry it’s starting to resemble cracked eggshells.” Recalling that Tatcha has seldom let me down in the past (I once wrote an ode to the brand’s Dewy Skin Cream and its ability to impart the plump sheen of shrimp dumpling dough), I tossed its latest offering in my carry-on. I’d been told that the Tatcha The Serum Stick was going to change my life and hydrate my skin like nothing before, but that kind of claim is now so common it’s practically lost its meaning. I decided to give it chance anyway—because my TSA beauty bag was about to burst its seams and the Serum Stick, as its name implies, is blessedly compact.
The basic idea behind a serum stick is that you take the targeted benefits of a liquid serum and make them not-liquid, thereby creating a more portable package. Just as regular serums range in their benefits and applications, not all solid serums are created alike. Tatcha’s is one I would describe more as a balm-primer hybrid; the formula is a combination of 80% squalane, Japanese lemon balm, and Tatcha’s signature Hadasei-3 complex. Squalane is that famously lightweight ingredient known for its ability to lock in moisture and strengthen your skin barrier without clogging pores. Tatcha then adds in the lemon balm for an anti-inflammatory kick; it also helps blur over fine lines. Hadasei-3 brings antioxidants along for the ride (think ingredients like green tea and algae).
All of the above gets blended into a translucent stick that twists out of a purple and gold tube. When you rub it between your fingers, it’s got smooth, balmlike slip, but also melts instantly on contact. You can glide it directly on skin—although I prefer to pat it on with my fingers. Because of the texture, I don’t apply this the same way I normally would a serum. Instead of layering it on after cleansing, I reserve it as a final step after my moisturizer. I rub some on my hands, then press it all over my face, reserving extra for the dry patches on my cheeks and around my nose to let the formula soften those areas.
Without foundation, it’s more of a felt—not seen—effect: the welcome sensation of relief. Add makeup on top, though, and you will unleash The Serum Stick’s true potential. The brand describes it as a “dewy cushion for makeup” that prevents caking and improves blending, which is an entirely accurate assessment. As soon as I applied it on that romantically chilly Parisian evening, I could tell that it would be no problem to proceed with my foundation. The formula I chose was a Bobbi Brown dry-touch cream with a velvet finish. On this night, it transformed. It gave my face the same, poreless eggshell finish I know and love, but somehow it looked even more luminous.
It was mesmerizing. And because all mesmerizing beauty experiences (especially the ones that occur abroad) must be documented, I texted my colleague to come do a photo shoot on my hotel balcony, where we managed to take about 500 photos between the two of us.
“Your highlighter looks amazing!” she said multiple times, as she snapped the 200th photo of me gazing out over the Tuileries. But I wasn’t wearing any. I knew—as you now do too—that it was just the mysterious powers of Tatcha’s The Serum Stick at work.
Sarah Wu is a writer in Berlin. Follow her on Instagram @say.wu.