Is your skin pilling after applying product? Here’s why

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It’s the traumatic tale any beauty lover knows all too well. There you are in your bathroom, just minding your own business as you layer on a serum from your perfectly curated skin care line-up, when suddenly, your face begins to pill like an old cashmere jumper. 

And while the prospect of having to wash our faces and start all over again might be enough to reduce us to tears (no one?… Just us?), we urge you not to give up hope. Because despite what you may believe, it isn’t the result of a dose of bad karma. 

In fact, according to Melbourne based dermatologist, Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan, there are a few more logical explanations as to why your products aren’t absorbing into your skin.

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What causes pilling?

Pilling may often result due to how the products you’re using are formulated and how they react with one another. Dr Gunatheesan explains that pilling occurs when “using products with a high concentration of silicones and an unhappy mixing of oil rich products with water-based creams”. 

And while half the fun of picking your beauty products is incorporating different brands, Dr Gunatheesan warns a “random selection of creams and serums from various skin care ranges without a trialled and tested methodical approach” may also be to blame.

Another major factor, which we think may be the biggest culprit of all, is the use of “too much product and applying it too rapidly”. 

… and what does our SPF have to say for itself?

It seems a common occurrence that once our SPF enters the room, the pilling party really starts. So as arguably the most important step of our whole routine, we need some answers.

According to Dr Gunatheesan “by the time we hit the sunscreen application part of our routine, many of us have layered on a few serums, moisturisers and primers”. On top of the issue of too much product, “sunscreen also tends to contain certain ingredients like talc, iron oxide and mica that are prone to pilling”. 

OK – so how do we avoid the dreaded P word?

Here are Dr Gunatheesan tips: 

  • Less is more with serums and creams 
  • Know how to layer your products. Start with water-based serums that should penetrate the skin first such as niacinamide and moisturise after to lock the active serums in
  • Pat the skin, don’t rub
  • Allow time for each layer to dry and absorb before applying the next 
  • Minimise silicone or dimethicone rich primers, moisturisers or makeup 

bh recommends: Nude by Nature Airbrush PrimerClinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion+Garnier BB Cream Nude

  • Using a lactic acid serum or cleanser to aid the skin renewal system

bh recommends: Dermalogica Age Smart Skin Resurfacing CleanserUltraceuticals Ultra Gentle Exfoliating Gel,  Synergie Skin Practitioner Exfol-X

bh recommends: Manicare Flawless Complexion Sponge

  • Wait 5-10 minutes after skin care before applying makeup

In case of emergency, what can  we do if we begin to pill?

If your pilling begins during the skin care stage, sorry to tell you but it’s back to the beginning, “cleanse with a micellar water or a lipid rich cleanser as these pilled balls are inactivated and inefficacious”, says Dr Gunatheesan, which essentially means that once a product becomes pilled  it’s now useless to your skin defence and health. 

bh recommends: Simple ® Skincare Micellar Cleansing Water

However, if you’ve made it all the way to your makeup, Dr Gunatheesan reveals that on occasion “a drop of face oil dabbed with a blending sponge salvages the situation”. 

Main image credit: Getty

Does your skin pill after you apply product? Do you have any other techniques to help your products absorb?

Share your thoughts

Comments 44

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve experience pilling of products, but I do remember the one time it happened, it after introducing a very silicone-heavy primer into my routine. I’ve since tried to avoid silicones in products.

  2. This has happened a few times and I’ve had to start from scratch again. I’ve noticed that it’s usually when I’m using different products together for the first (and last) time.

  3. Yes I have this particularly with my nighttime regime .. because of course you want to put on all the products that will help your skin overnight. I must confess I do use different products, not from the same brand .. I will try to use less and wait longer between applications 🙂

  4. So this is the name for that!!! Pilling. It is the worst to do all your skincare, start makeup then look in the mirror to see it in balls of crumbling product on your face!! Only certain products do it to me, especially after my serum from Dr Lewinns and layering The ordinary Buffet! Frustrating but will now look more carefully at ingredients!!

  5. Yes I have some body lotions that pill and it’s very annoying. They are natural lotions and don’t have any cones in them. Gums (added to thicken) can cause pilling too. I don’t re-purchase lotions that pill because to me they aren’t well formulated.

  6. The only time my skin has pilled was when using The Body Shop Drops of Youth Peel and the first time I used The Ordinary Vitamin C moisturiser. I believe the former was supposed to do that as it was gathering the dead skin cells when I slowly rubbed in circles and the latter did that I believe because I did have some dead skin cells there ready to shed. I definitely pat in my products where I can and let them dry whilst I continue on with another part of my routine.

  7. Yes I found the best thing to do is allow drying between applications. on the downside, cause I usually leave the bathroom to do something else, there have been some occasions, when I have been out and realised that I had forgotten to put an spf cream on.

  8. I never had a problem with pilling until a few years ago. I assume part of the reason is how products are formulated because none of my skin care products have silicones in them (I prefer products without synthetics).

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