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4 Reasons Your Skincare is Pilling

We’ve all been there: we’ve painstakingly applied a layer of serum on top of a layer of essence on top of a layer of toner, and as we’re going in for a cute lil moisturizer moment, it all goes wrong. It’s like it happens in slow motion—our layers of product rub off into uneven patches, with those darn white pills absolutely decimating what was supposed to be a stress-free self-care routine. You’ve rubbed off enough white blobs to put the pills in Pillsbury Doughboy.

This universal experience among skincare enthusiasts is unfortunate, but can be avoided. Here are a few reasons why your skincare might be pilling, and what you can do to ensure your skincare goes on smoothly.

Why is Your Skincare Pilling?

Reason #1: You’re not applying your skincare in the right order.

Sometimes, the naming conventions of skincare can get convoluted. Maybe you have an essence thicker than your serum, but you’re applying the serum after to keep in line with the typical routine of toner, essence, serum, moisturizer, oil, and such!

Although it might seem counterintuitive, try applying your skincare from thinnest to thickest. The thicker, heavier layers of product on top are generally meant to seal in lower layers of thinner product after they have mostly absorbed into the skin. When you apply a thinner product on top of a thicker one that has not yet absorbed into the skin, you run the risk of rubbing off the already applied layers of product.

(There are exceptions, such as which actives you want to penetrate your skin. Your products with active ingredients should be applied right after cleansing so that there are no “barriers to entry,” so to speak!)

Reason #2: You’re not letting the products absorb before applying more.

But let’s say you apply in order from thinnest to thickest, and your skincare is still pilling like your knitted sweater after a rough tussle with the washer-dryer. The problem might be that you’re being too impatient, and not letting the current layer of product absorb into your skin before applying more.

It’s easy to give in to impatience, especially if you have a longer skincare routine, but waiting in between layering will allow your skin to absorb each product better! There’s no one-size-fits-all timeframe for how long you should wait after a layer of product since each product has a different consistency and function, but go by look and feel. Does your skin still feel tacky? Is there a substantial amount of residue? If yes, wait a bit longer so you don’t rub off the top layer of product.

There are, of course, some products that are meant to seal in moisture and thus remain on the skin longer. Just use your best judgment!

Reason #3: You’re using too much product.

There’s a limit to how much our skin can absorb, so if you feel like you do wait long enough between layering and your skincare is still pilling, you might just be using too much product. If this is the case for you, try cutting down your skincare routine to the basics or absolute essentials. The 10-step KBeauty skincare routine can be overkill for some people!

In the morning, a more minimalist skincare routine might look something like toner, serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen! At night, you could follow a routine of toner, serum, moisturizer, and oil. We find that around four steps after cleansing is a sweet spot, but your mileage may vary!

Reason #4: Your product formulas aren't compatible with each other.

If you’ve cleared Reasons #1-3, and your skincare is still on its rebellious streak, now may be a good time to put your reading glasses on and analyze your skincare products’ ingredients lists. Common pilling offenders include silicones (occlusives sitting on top of the skin), carbomer, and, surprisingly, hyaluronic acid!

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use these ingredients, though. Just make sure that you’re not using too many of these pilling offenders, and that you’re waiting extra long before applying the next layer of product.

Another thing of note: your water-based products should always be applied before your oil-based products since water-based products are meant to absorb quicker into skin and oil-based products are meant to seal in moisture. Since water and oil don’t mix, their respective skincare products should not be mixed together either. Leave that to the cosmetic chemists!

Final Thoughts

There are few things more frustrating to a skincare enthusiast than wasting time and expensive product to a horrible case of pilling. Hopefully, this article has helped you and your skin overcome this obstacle!

To brighter (and smoother) skincare days ahead!