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8 Ways to Prevent Sunscreen Pilling

Sunscreen is a cornerstone of any effective skincare routine. It can protect your skin from the sun’s glare and harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, many people applying this product share a common frustration: sunscreen pilling. It’s when sunscreen forms small, ball-like clumps on the skin’s surface, compromising its effectiveness and appearance. It also becomes ineffective in protecting the skin.

Read on to learn more about sunscreen pilling—what it is, what triggers it, and how to prevent it—and keep your daily skincare rituals a smooth and trouble-free experience.

What is Sunscreen Pilling?

Sunscreen pilling is the formation of grainy or flaky residue on your skin when you apply sunscreen. It creates a less-than-desirable texture resembling tiny balls or pills, hence the name. It isn’t only bothersome but also compromises your sunscreen’s effectiveness.

Although sunscreen pilling may occur for various reasons, it generally happens when the product doesn’t properly adhere to your skin. This concern might initially seem minor. However, it prevents you from spreading sunscreen around your skin smoothly and evenly, leaving some patches exposed to UV rays and undermining your sunburn prevention efforts.

What Causes Sunscreen Pilling?

Knowing sunscreen pilling’s root causes can help you nip this problem directly in the bud.

Inadequate skin preparation

Problems often occur if you fail to prepare your skin for sunscreen. For instance, dead cells and debris may accumulate when you don’t correctly cleanse or exfoliate, creating a barrier that keeps it from absorbing sunscreen and other products.

Incompatible skincare products

Your cleanser, toner, moisturizer, serum, and sunscreen may have chemical formulations that don’t play well together. Layering such products could keep them from combining and lead to sunscreen pilling.

Incorrect application order

The sequence in which you apply your skincare products matters. Using them in the wrong order prevents some products from absorbing into your skin properly, especially when layering over thick ones, like moisturizers or oils.

Insufficient drying time

Rushing through your skincare routine and not allowing products to dry, particularly those with thicker consistencies, causes sunscreen pilling. Let each product set before moving on to the next to prevent this issue.


Moderation is essential when applying sunscreen because overapplication can lead to pilling. Excess products are also more likely to form clumps on your skin if it can’t fully absorb them. So, follow the recommended amount listed on the product label.

Expired products

Have you checked your sunscreen’s expiration date? Time can change a product’s formulation, especially its texture and consistency. As such, old products are more prone to pilling and may not provide adequate sun protection.

8 Ways to Prevent Sunscreen Pilling

Incorporating these practices into your skincare routine lets you enjoy the benefits of adequate sun protection without fuss.

  • Prepare your skin before applying sunscreen

As mentioned, your sunscreen may fail to do its job if you don’t prepare your skin first. Cleanse your face to remove impurities, excess sebum, and remnants of previous skincare products. Then, exfoliate to slough off dead skin cells and deep-seated dirt that might interfere with sunscreen absorption. A cleaner and smoother skin will allow the sunscreen to adhere more effectively, reducing the chances of pilling.

  • Choose compatible skincare products

Using compatible skincare products minimizes the risk of sunscreen pilling. So, consider their ingredients and textures to layer effectively under sunscreen. For instance, you can opt for water-based products to enjoy the hydrating ingredients of a moisturizer, cleanser, and serum without leaving an oily residue that undermines succeeding steps.

  • Apply the products in the proper order

The sequence in which you apply your skincare products impacts their ability to absorb into your skin. Typically, lighter textures go first, while heavier ones go later. Start with a cleanser, then a toner, your serums, moisturizer, and finally, sunscreen. Leave sun protection last because it’s usually the heaviest product you’ll use. Applying it in between steps could lift it and other products off your skin.

  • Allow sufficient drying time between products

Patience is essential to prevent sunscreen pilling. After applying each product, give your skin time to absorb it before moving on to the next step. This step is crucial if you’re dealing with varying consistencies. 

Allowing each layer to dry completely reduces the chances of products disrupting one another. Don’t want to wait? Consider drying your face with a handheld fan to speed up the process.

  • Pat the products into your skin

Pilling also happens when you rub or massage the product on your face. So, gently pat products onto your skin to encourage absorption without disturbing the layers underneath. You can do the same with your sunscreen to apply it smoothly and evenly.

  • Reapply sunscreen throughout the day

Your sunscreen’s effectiveness won’t last, especially if you spend extended periods under direct sunlight. In fact, experts recommend reapplying it every two hours. However, you should still reapply with care to avoid disrupting existing layers of skincare products. As mentioned, pat the product in and avoid adding layers in between in each application.

  • Avoid overapplication

While adequate sunscreen throughout the day is essential, excessive application may cause issues. So, spread the recommended ounce for your face and neck evenly. Contrary to popular belief, applying more than necessary doesn’t enhance protection and can even contribute to product buildup that ultimately leads to pilling.

  • Seek professional help

If sunscreen pilling persists despite your efforts, seeking advice from a dermatologist or skincare expert is a wise step. They can assess your specific needs, examine your current routine, and provide personalized recommendations to reduce its occurrence. In effect, you can achieve optimal sun protection without affecting the rest of your skincare routine.

Keep Sunscreen Pilling at Bay

Sunscreen pilling is often frustrating, especially since it keeps the rest of your products from working optimally. So, take the strategies we’ve discussed to apply sunscreen seamlessly without disrupting your entire regimen.

Each skincare product plays a role in your routine’s effectiveness, with sunscreen deserving particular attention due to the likelihood of pilling. However, by addressing and mitigating the factors contributing to its occurrence, you can apply it more optimally and keep the rest of your routine from lifting off your skin.

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