How Do You Stop Piling on Skin?

May 22, 2020

How do you stop skincare piling on skin?

It’s a strange phenomenon mainly associated with knitwear, but pilling can strike your skincare routine as well as your cashmere, causing the pricey skin serum or high end foundation you forked out for to quite literally roll off of your face. Not okay from any angle and immensely frustrating when you’ve got a life to be getting on with.

Here’s why your skincare or makeup could be flaking off of your face in tiny grey worm-like ways and what to do about it, short of lint-rollering your head (this won’t work because you’re not a coat).


There are several skincare and makeup culprits that make pilling more likely, the main player being silicone. Silicones essentially sit on the surface of your skin, helping to to prevent moisture loss while also creating a smooth, silky, long-lasting canvas, which is why you’ll see ingredients ending in ‘cone’ on the label of most primers and foundations. As silicone doesn’t absorb into the skin, if you apply a serum or moisturiser containing silicone and follow up with a silicone heavy foundation too, you’ve got a potential pilling issue on your hands (face) as the double whammy of silicone that you’ve applied has nowhere to go.

Other pill-prone ingredients in skincare and makeup include iron oxide, talc, mica and fluorphlogopite (a synthetic version of mica typically used to create shimmer or ‘glow’ in makeup). Max out on these or layer too many products containing them and pilling becomes all the more likely. Ditto when you combine oil-based and water-based products at the same time - as you’ll know from rudimentary chemistry lessons, the two don’t mix all that well and can ‘separate’ on the skin, essentially opposing each other and causing skincare or makeup to shed off, snake-style. If the thought of interrogating every ingredients label in your bathroom and assessing compatibility makes you want to throw the towel in on this skincare thing, we don’t blame you, but don’t sweat the small stuff…

The solution: Tone down the silicone based products if you’re experiencing a lot of pilling and check that other flake-prone ingredients are towards the bottom of ingredients lists rather than at the top. Ensure that you’re not sandwiching in too many silicone heavy serums, primers and foundations too, which brings us to the next point on pilling...


As a general rule of skincare layering, apply water based products before oil based skincare, as the thinner textured water based products will have a chance to absorb, while any oil based products applied on top will ‘seal the deal’ and keep actives and moisture in. Do it the other way round and you’ve not only got a ‘pants over your trousers’ skincare scenario, whereby the precious rejuvenating ingredients in your serum, essence or lotion can’t penetrate into your skin, but any product applied on top of a heavier oil based layer is far more likely to ball up and run for the hills.

The solution: If you’re using a rich cream or facial oil, be sure to apply it as the final step in your skincare routine.


You’ve nailed the skincare layering thing but still the teeny weeny white balls keep rolling. This could be down to the fact that you’re using skincare or makeup that’s too occlusive for your skin, so it’s sitting around on the surface rather than melting in nicely. If your skin is also getting greasy pre-midday, your makeup won’t stay put and you’re noticing dullness or breakouts after using a particular lotion or potion, this could also be a sign that your skincare is weighing you down.

The solution: Lighten up your skincare and makeup textures and formulas to see if the pilling stops.


We’ve all gone too gung-ho on skincare application - when you’ve got a vial of something silky and comforting to hoe into it’s all too tempting, yet applying a surplus of product not only wastes your cash but it makes pilling more probable as loading on skincare and makeup decreases absorption and adherence to your skin.

The solution: You knew this was coming - apply less product to encourage penetration and nip pilling in the bud.


This is one of the most common factors in skincare and makeup pilling:

“Rushing your skincare application can mean wiping off one product when you apply the next – you lose some of the benefit and it can make a mess when you try to apply makeup as it won’t adhere well to skin.”

In short, pile it all on at once and you risk a ball pit rather than an even canvas.

The solution: Follow a slow protocol - there’s less risk of pilling and you’ll probably start the day in a far more relaxed manner too:

Taking your time means you build up a nice smooth base which ultimately leads to easy makeup application. Once your morning treatment product has absorbed (make a cup of tea at this point!), apply moisturiser where needed. Once absorbed (enough time to get dressed), then apply sunscreen. Once this has dried completely (check emails), apply makeup.


It’s not just slapping on skincare in a hurry that ups the odds of pilling - overzealous rubbing can cause skincare and makeup to ball up too, particularly if it contains silicone.

The solution: Pat and press, don’t rub. This will encourage products to absorb rather than travel around your face. you can use the '13 dot' technique, whereby you "dab products on evenly over the skin, which reduces the need to distribute it too aggressively with the hands. This minimises friction."

A tool could come in handy too if everything falls to pieces after you've applied your SPF.


If you’re applying skincare and makeup on top of layers of dead skin, the flakiness potential increases as product won’t sink in or stick as well as it would on freshly exfoliated, ‘newer’ skin cells.

The solution: Add an exfoliating acid to your skincare routine to encourage regular skin cell turnover and rejuvenation and even out skin texture, which will in turn optimise and speed up the absorption of any skincare or makeup you apply afterwards and decrease chances of pilling.


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