Pat or Rub: Which Makes Skincare Products Work Better?

by Gio

is it better to pat or rub your skincare products

Are you Team Pat or Team Rub?

No, it’s not a new reality show. I’m talking about how you apply your moisturizer.

I used to be a rubber. Once that cream was in my hands, I’d scoop up a tiny bit and automatically rub it all over my skin. It was as natural as brushing my teeth.

Only worse. Cos, turns out, rubbing ain’t all that good for your skin. Patting your moisturizer in, like you’d pat your cat, is a much more skin-friendly way to go about it. Why?

Here are three science-backed reasons why patting is better than rubbing:

1. Patting Is Gentler On The Skin

I did the switch when I realised rubbing gives you wrinkles. For real.

Rubbing stretches the skin. All those extra movements ain’t good for it. They break down collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep skin firm and elastic. Without them, skin can’t snap back to its original, smooth place as easily as before. So, it wrinkles and sags instead.

That’s even more true for the eye area. The skin there is so thin, you have to be ultra delicate. Any rubbing there is a no-no.

Rubbing your moisturizer in gives you wrinkles. Give it a gentle pat instead.Click to Tweet

Related: 8 Science-Backed Ways To Replenish Lost Collagen

2. Patting Enhances Penetration (But Not In The Way You Think)

It’s not like if you pat, the cream gets through and if you rub, it stays on top. Skin doesn’t work that way.

Skin is a trusted friend that never lets much enter through its doors (unless it’s broken – then anything can get in). If it lets something in, it’s because it’s small enough or cos it has the extra help of a penetration enhancer, like alcohol or propylene glycol.

But skin couldn’t care less if you pat or rub your moisturizer in. If an ingredient doesn’t fulfill its entry criteria, it won’t get in.

So, how can it enhance penetration?

Well, have you ever rubbed something in so hard or for so long, you’ve actually rubbed it off your face rather than in? If half your moisturizer won’t stay on your face, not many of its goodies will get in.

Patting fixes this. It’s much harder to pat something off your face. The goodies stay on your skin, slowly sinking in.

PRO TIP: This is why you should NEVER rub sunscreen. If you rub it in, you won’t create an even layer all over your skin. Rubbing creates tiny holes that are impossible to see with the naked eye. But those pesky UV rays spot them immediately, find their way through them and cause all sorts of damage.

Related: 4 Ways To Help Skincare Products Better Penetrate Your Skin

3. Patting Is A Multi-Tasker

When you gently pat your moisturizer in, you’ll get that moisturizer all over your skin AND still leave enough of it on your hands. 

See how soft those are too, now? And wirhout compromising its application on your face. Win win.

The Bottom Line

Rubbing your moisturizer in is so automatic, but your skin doesn’t like it. Pat it in with love and tender care: it keeps wrinkles off your face and makes your lotions and potions work much better.

Do you pat or rub your moisturizer in? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



Trisha March 10, 2015 - 5:05 pm

I have to admit: I’m a rubber. But definitely not vigorously or with a lot of pressure. I don’t think I’ll ever change, either…

Gio March 10, 2015 - 9:01 pm

Trisha, rubbing has its benefits too. It can give skin a nice glow. 😉

anubhuti March 11, 2015 - 9:15 am

I’m a patter 🙂

Gio March 11, 2015 - 9:35 pm

Anubhuti, me too! 🙂

Bianca Gallegly Horkan March 11, 2015 - 1:55 pm

I’m a patter when it comes to applying concealer/highlighter. I just pat gently until it’s blended in and I can’t really “see” it any more.

Moisturizer, BB or CC Creams, tanner, etc. are all applied by rubbing into the skin…just enough pressure to move the product around and blend, blend, blend, blend!

Gio March 11, 2015 - 9:37 pm

Bianca, rubbing is easier, isn’t it? I prefer to pat, but it takes a bit more time. But that’s definitely better for concealer. You get a more natural result. 🙂

Stavroula DrugstoreBLover March 12, 2015 - 7:20 pm

I’m a rubber, but a gentle one! I will try patting though, because I have redness in my skin! Wow I didn’t know that about sunscreen! x

Gio March 13, 2015 - 3:28 pm

Stavroula, patting takes a bit more time, but it is worth it, especially if you have redness. Let me know how it works for you.

Didid March 17, 2015 - 2:07 am

I think I’ve always been a rubber. Somehow patting SEEMS not to get the product into the skin.

Gio March 17, 2015 - 3:58 pm

Didid, patting feels quite awkward at first, I agree. You just need to get used to it. But rubbing works well too. 🙂

Airi September 9, 2015 - 3:51 am

Hi! This was such a good post, thank you! I’m a gentle rubber (since I use sunscreens that glide across effortlessly), but I want to try patting now 🙂 I have a couple questions about it though!
1.) When you pat your sunscreen, how exactly do you do it? Do you spread it across your hands first and then pat/press your face? Wouldn’t that leave some on your hands, though? (So perhaps you’d need to apply even more to compensate for the amount lost on your hands.)
2.) Or do you think it’d be similar enough to still apply it on your face (rather than using your hands), and then use a dabbing motion to spread it, instead of rubbing?
Thank you!

Gio September 9, 2015 - 11:46 am

Airi, I just put some on my hands and then gently pat it on. Yes, some will stay on your hands, but then they need protection too, so it doesn’t really go to waste. 🙂

Airi September 9, 2015 - 7:24 pm

Oh yes, I do love protecting my hands! It’s just that there seems to be a lot left on my hands, so I was worried I wouldn’t actually be applying the full 1/4tsp on my face. 🙂

Gio September 9, 2015 - 8:25 pm

Airi, I use a mineral sunscreen, so I can apply less than 1/4tsp. Mineral sunscreens provide a shield on the skin, so as long as you cover every inch, you’re fine. But I apply a bit more for good measure.

angela January 23, 2016 - 3:14 pm

Thank you for finally explaining. I’ve been seeing it in my feed a lot. AND I’ve been trying it for the past week.
The main difference I can perceive is that it’s made my tinted moisturizer seem much much dewier. Almost like it was a thin layer on top of my face.
But, that was basically it. So thank you for clarifying!

Gio January 23, 2016 - 6:50 pm

Angela, you’re welcome. Glad you find it useful.

Faby October 8, 2017 - 7:16 am

Wow that sunscreen one really scared me! I usually pat but now that I think about it, I always rub in sunscreen D: Also, I’ve seen a lot of buzz about face massaging and actually thought it sounded promising lol but… that’d be rubbing, right? Do you have any info on that topic? Like would it actually turn out to be worst for skin? Btw I love your posts, you do a really great job here! Thanks for giving us the science behind the BS (:

Gio October 14, 2017 - 10:09 am

Faby, I know it’s shocking right? I used to rub in my sunscreen too – not anymore!

Facial massages can be beneficial to boost circulation, which in turn brings oxygen and nutrients to the skin faster. But they need to be performed very gently so as not to rub and stretch the skin too much. Also, they’re not suitable for anyone with rosacea, eczema or other inflammatory condition.

Thank you!


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