“Pilling tends to occur when a product’s film-forming agents clump together when exposed to an incompatible ingredient, usually a solvent, such as water, oil, or silicone,” explains Michelle Wong, MD, a cosmetic chemist based in Sydney, Australia. “It tends to happen when you rub the product.”
None of these ingredients are “bad” ingredients. But when you mix different skincare items (especially across multiple brands), you’re likely to run into bad matches. This is why you may notice that your SPF sometimes only contains pills. And not only does that make a mess, but it means the sunscreen doesn’t really stay on your face. “Pilling is sunscreen that peels off your skin,” says Dr. Wong.
To keep your SPF on your face and not in little balls on your bathroom counter, it’s time to be a little savvy.
How to Avoid Sunscreen Pilling
1. Limit skincare under your sunscreen
Your best bet is to keep skincare under your minimum SPF. “It’s hard to say which ingredients to avoid, I would just try to minimize the use of anything under sunscreen,” says Dr. Wong. But if your seven-step routine is shaking at the thought, keep reading.
2. Let your routine dry completely before applying SPF
This is a step you need to take whether you are worried about pilling or not. “Whether you put a mineral sunscreen on wet skinit doesn’t last,” says, Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist from Southern California. And while chemical sunscreen may blend into damp skin, it won’t work as well because it interacts with the top layer of your epidermis to absorb ultraviolet rays so they don’t cause damage. “If you apply it to damp skin, it will affect the absorption of chemical sunscreen,” says Dr. Chi.
3. Take a look at the ingredients
Unless you’re a real chemist and know how to interpret ingredients very well, this step can be quite tricky, but it’s a good place to start. For example, when I asked Dr. Wong why my two products didn’t like each other, she replied, “I don’t really know, I should play around with them and test how they interact with other serums and sunscreens. . I guess maybe it’s the cellulose acetate butyrate in the Odacite.”
To do your own analysis of funsies, you can pop the ingredient lists for your products Paula Beautypedia’s Choice. This is a skincare search engine where you can filter ingredients by purpose and see if any opposing ingredients appeal to you.
4. Give yourself time to start over if necessary
If all else fails and your new skincare-SPF combo doesn’t work well with each other, you’ll want to relaunch it and try again with different pairings. “Just make sure you have a little extra time to clear everything and start over if you’re about to test out a new combo,” says Dr. Wong.
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