why skincare pills or balls up


You’ve spent 10 minutes putting your skincare on and now that you’ve reached the last layer, everything’s flaking off?! What’s going on here?!

Your face’s got a bad case of pilling.

What The Heck Is Product Pilling?

Let’s get something straight from the beginning: those little flakes you’re rubbing off your skin are NOT dead skin cells. It’s product.

Yep, you’re rubbing off one or two of the products you’ve just applied.

How? Why? What?

Here’s the deal: not all skincare products play well together. Most of them will get along just fine. But, every now and then, you’ll meet a couple who can’t stand each other. Try as you might, there’s no way to get them both to stay put. One or both is balling up and leaving your skin. That’s how much they hate each other.

Confused what products you should NOT use together? Download your FREE “How To Combine Actives Like A Pro” cheat sheet to find out:

Why Does Product Pilling Happen?

So your moisturiser hates your sunscreen. Your foundation can’t stand your primer. But WHY?

A few reasons:

  1. You mix products high in oils with others high in water
  2. You use products with a high concentration of silicones
  3. You apply products too quickly

Let’s go through them one by one, ok?

a'kin rosehip oil with vitamin C 01

Product Pilling Reason #1: Oil And Water Don’t Mix

Have you ever wondered why you can’t remove oil cleansers with water alone? Or why you need to shake your bi-phase eye makeup remover to make the layers mix?

Oil and water DON’T MIX. 

If you were to drop some oil into a glass of water, the two liquids would form two distinct layers. If you want them to play together, you need to add some sort of emulsifier.

Most products are balanced that way. They use water, oils and emulsifiers to get them to mix into the same lotion/serum.

Most. A few skincare products contain a lot of oils and no water while others are higher in water than oils. Put them one on top of each other and it won’t end well.

Oil-based and water-based products repel each other, causing the dreading flaking.


Take a look at the ingredient lists. You’re looking for oil-based products with little water and water-based products with little oil. Found them?

Don’t use them together! Apply the water-based product in the morning and the oil-based one at night. Simples.

Related: The Complete Guide To Facial Oils

vichy slow age fluid moisturizer

Product Pilling Reason #2: High Concentration Of Silicones

Me loves some silicones:

  • They give slip to a product, so that it glides on your skin smoothly
  • They fill in fine lines and wrinkles, so they look smaller
  • They make your skin silky soft to the touch
  • They form a barrier that traps moisture in

But you know what they say: too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Silicones are designed to stay on top of your skin. Their job is to smoothen out its surface. They couldn’t do it properly if they were absorbed.

Problem is, it’s hard to spread a new product on top of one that hasn’t fully absorbed. When you do, you tend to remove what you’re already applied!


Your primer is the worst culprit here. It’s usually the product most loaded with silicones. But your foundation, serum or moisturiser can have their fair share, too.

Your best bet is to avoid products that are too high in silicones. But if you have a special occasion to go to and really need that silicone-laden primer, try this: use less products and wait a few minutes before applying your makeup.

Related: Are Silicones Bad For Skin?

elemental herbology dry skin range

Product Pilling Reason #3: You Apply Skincare Products Too Quickly

Reason #3 is related to reason #2.

Remember when I said it’s difficult to spread a new layer over an old one that hasn’t fully absorbed? Well, sometimes you can use two products that are perfectly compatible (both water-based, for example) and still have them balling up. Why?

Because you didn’t give the first product enough time to sink into your skin.

Anything that hasn’t fully sunk in has the potential to compromise the absorption of what you use next. Sometimes, the next layer simply sits on top of your skin. Sometimes, it makes everything ball up.


I know it’s a pain. You want to apply all your skincare products in a couple of minutes and be done with it. But if you’re tired of the dreaded pilling, you need to wait for a layer to fully absorb before you go in with the next.

Related: How Long Should You Wait Before Applying The Next Skincare Product?

blissoma phototonic facial sunscreen + daily moisturizer SPf 25

What If I Only Use Moisturiser/Sunscreen And It Still Balls Up?

I know some of you like to use only one or two skincare products. If it works for you, it’s totally fine.

But sometimes, even that one product can ball up. How is that even possible if there’s nothing else interfering?

Your skin is interfering. Your skin’s natural protective barrier is oil-based so it could repeal any water-based products you put on it.


You can do several things here. You can switch to an oil-based product. Or, if you want to keep using your fave water-based moisturiser, you can try applying less, patting it on rather than rubbing it in, and exfoliating your skin before application.

Related: Pat Or Rub: What’s The Best Way To Apply Your Skincare Products?

The Bottom Line

If your skincare balls up, flakes off or pills, chances are some of the products you’re using are incompatible or take too long to absorb. Use skincare products with similar ingredients together and let them fully absorb. It takes a bit longer, but it’s a small price to pay to never have to deal with pilling again.