Sunscreen pilling: Why it happens and what to do if it’s happening to you

Skincare peeves


By Phyll Wu

Images courtesy of Pexels
Sunscreen pilling: Why it happens and what to do if it’s happening to you

Fed up with your sunscreen balling up? Here, we get into the causes of sunscreen pilling and the simple solutions to get your beauty routine back on track.

Having your sunscreen pill on your skin is arguably one of the most irritating experiences ever. Your face is washed, you’ve layered on your skincare, and just as you’re wrapping up your routine with sunscreen, it starts to form bits of blobs all over your face, forcing you to wash everything off and start over from step one. Not to mention, your freshly-applied products are wasted, and skincare is not cheap.

Thankfully, sunscreen pilling is a problem that can be easily solved with little to no effort. If your sunscreen has been giving you a hard time, read on to find out why pilling happens and what you can do to prevent it.

READ: Sunscreen 101: Your guide to all things SPF (and PA++++)


What causes sunscreen to pill?


Perhaps the first and most common question that everyone will ask themselves when their sunscreen pills is: “Did I do something wrong or is it the sunscreen?” To answer that question, you probably did, but it’s also probably the sunscreen—or even both. There are many causes of sunscreen pilling, although the three main causes are your application, the ingredients in your sunscreen, and the skincare products you apply beneath it. With that in mind, let’s get into how you can prevent your sunscreen from pilling.


How to prevent sunscreen pilling

  • Exfoliate your skin regularly

For any skincare product to have a smooth, luminous finish, starting your routine with a clean slate is a must. That means thoroughly cleansing your skin before applying anything and exfoliating regularly, which will remove any dead skin cells, dirt, and built-up oil that may clump up with your sunscreen.



On top of that, exfoliating will also allow your products to absorb into your skin a lot more efficiently—but don’t do it too often! Excessive exfoliation can dry out your skin, thus increasing the chances of sunscreen pilling. A good rule to follow is to exfoliate twice a week, but avoiding harsh physical exfoliants as they can damage your skin. For a safer alternative, opt for chemical exfoliants or double cleanse with an oil cleanser.


  • Layer your products in the right order

Products with heavier formulas contain ingredients with larger molecules, while lighter formulas contain ingredients with smaller molecules. If they’re layered incorrectly, the larger molecules will prevent smaller molecules from properly absorbing into your skin, resulting in a sticky finish that could easily cause your sunscreen to pill.

The key is to apply them in the right order, starting with the thinnest formula like a vitamin C serum or toner, then gradually move up to the thicker ones before finishing off with sunscreen. That said, layering your skincare correctly would be pointless if you don’t…


  • Allow your products to soak in before layering

The timing between the application of each product plays a huge role in the final result of your skincare routine. Think of it this way: if you’re continuously shoving food down your stomach without stopping to chew properly, you’ll most likely end up with indigestion and a bad bloat.

Similarly, not allowing a product to penetrate your pores properly before moving on to the next layer will eventually lead to pilling, especially with sunscreen. The time it takes for a product to be fully absorbed into your skin ultimately depends on its consistency, so the best way to find out if you’re ready for the next step is to touch your face and check if the wetness has subsided. Sunscreen takes the longest to dry down, so give it around 15 minutes to soak in before applying makeup.  

READ: How to reapply sunscreen over your makeup without messing it up


  • Observe how your products react with each other

Sunscreens are made with various UV-blocking chemical or mineral ingredients that will sit on the surface of your skin as a protective layer, which can be split up when mixed with other products. Hence, if your sunscreen is pilling, you might want to reevaluate the products you’re using.



Generally, it’s best to avoid slapping on layers upon layers of product on your skin as it could cause irritation and block absorption, especially with oil-based skincare and heavy creams—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to ditch them entirely. Instead, streamline your routine by doing research on the benefits of each product, take a closer look at how it blends with others, and ask yourself if you really need it. Some products are only needed at night and some can be skipped on certain days, so you can alternate your products accordingly to avoid overlaying.


  • Check the ingredients

When all else fails, it boils down to the sunscreen you’re using. It’s no secret that finding the perfect sunscreen can be quite a challenge. What works for others may not work as well for your skin type, resulting in pilling or even breakouts. That said, in some cases, the root of the problem might not be your skincare or your skin type, but the sunscreen itself.



Some sunscreens are formulated with certain ingredients to protect your skin against environmental stressors like wind and water, although these ingredients are often the culprits of pilling. Hence, you should avoid purchasing a sunscreen with ingredients such as silicone (dimethicone, amodimethicone, and cyclomethicone), xanthan gum, and petroleum. Mineral blockers are also one of the ingredients that could cause pilling, however, not all mineral sunscreens will pill. The easiest way to find a sunscreen that doesn’t pill—be it mineral or chemical-based—is to look for high-quality options, which are generally a lot better for your skin.

READ: Ultra Violette’s founder on why their Australian ‘skinscreens’ are the best on the market






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