Reader question: How do I stop my sunscreen (or any other skin product) from balling up and pilling on my face?

woman applying skincare to face

Ever had this problem? So did reader T., who had this question after I wrote my sunscreen slacker post last week (go back and read it if you hate sunscreen!):

I’ve been having a problem w/ zinc based sunscreens in that when applied, they ball or pill off the face. I know it must be applied in a light and careful manner, but I’m still having problems. The few times I’ve been able to apply it correctly, it ends up balling/pilling off when I attempt to apply my face powder. Any tips on how to avoid this? I’d rather use a physical sunscreen vs. a chemical one. Thanks!

Here’s (an edited version of) my advice:

The whole sunscreen/skincare balling up problem SUX. Especially when you otherwise love the product and it’s doing this to you. How rude!

So first of all, check your application procedure (and as you follow these steps try not to rub—just pat, gently).

Now—

The Golden Rule is: No matter what you’re putting on your face, you need to let every single layer absorb thoroughly before applying the next one.

woman applying sunscreen Reader question: How do I stop my sunscreen (or any other skin product) from balling up and pilling on my face?So, if you apply serum (which you definitely should, on bare, just-cleansed and exfoliated skin), wait 10 minutes to let it sink in.

Next, apply moisturizer (if you need it—most normal/oily types can get away without in the summer) and wait 10 minutes again.

THEN, you need to apply a layer of sunscreen on top, and—you guessed it—wait another 10 minutes to apply your makeup.

Now OKAY. I get it—all of this waiting sounds like a royal pain in the bum, right? Who has the time? So this is why we go for multi-tasking products—or at least sunscreens that double as moisturizers with added skincare benefits.

Of course, you wouldn’t need to do quite so much waiting if your products aren’t balling up on you—obviously. (Although it’s still a good idea to let your serum, at least, sink in—it’s the product that is chock full of beauty goodness… otherwise you’re sort of wasting your money by spreading it around and diluting it with other products.)

And all of this brings me to the sunscreen that I recommend time and time again, which NEVER DOES THE BALLING/PILLING THING TO ME.

Pure + Simple sunscreen line Reader question: How do I stop my sunscreen (or any other skin product) from balling up and pilling on my face?

Sorry folks, I just can’t resist plugging this product again (I swear they do not pay me!) because it is just THAT GOOD.

I’m talking about Pure + Simple’s sunscreen line, which was recently reformulated to remove the vitamin A after the Environmental Working Group released this report about a preliminary FDA study—apparently the ingredient causes skin sensitivity, resulting in an increased chances of skin cancer development.

They sent me some samples of the new version to try and I can confirm that they are as great as my original batch (and all smell so lovely!). I’ve been using the oily skin one in the summer but I might just switch to the slightly-more-moisturizing sensitive skin one for winter. My mom is testing the anti-aging one and loving it too.

And if you’re bored of me talking about it, then check out reader Angela’s testimonal here.

So those are my tips… Do you have any others to stop sunscreens or other skincare products from balling up or pilling on the face? Which sunscreen is YOUR fave?

36 Comments

Lesa
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 11:19 am

I don’t mean to be contradictory but I’m using Pure & Simple’s right now tooand it’s ALWAYS balling on me!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 11:23 am

Are you serious? Which one?

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Angela
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 7:48 pm

Yep, I discovered that it does for me too. Have you tried the Josie Maran Daily Sun Protection? I noticed that it’s included in the Fashion Magazine article you wrote. If so, does that ball/pill on you?

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Lesa
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 11:47 pm

Nope the Josie one most definitely does not pill. I just find it a bit too greasy, which i suspect is from the argan oil. Better for a drier skin type or for me to use in winter.

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Angela
Thursday, July 29/2010 at 2:40 am

Thanks for the info! I might consider ordering it in the fall or winter, when I run out of my P+S. Sometimes I wish I were a chemist so I could make my own perfect sunscreen, but science was never really my forté.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 5/2010 at 7:54 pm

Darn – not for me then either. I have a fear of that argan oil clogging my pores.

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Lesa
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 12:10 pm

Same as you–one for oily skin. I asked Celeste from Burt’s Bees why the pilling happens (i find the same result with the Burt’s Radiance Lotion) and she said the zinc and titanium naturally want to agglomerate and that unless you make them nano size there’s really no way to avoid it. Such is the trade off of using natural sun protection.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 1:48 pm

That’s so weird – I’ve been using for well over a year and it’s never done that to me. My skin just soaks it up.

Forgot to mention the nanoparticles…I thought Pure + Simple was using those and that’s why theirs doesn’t have the whitening effect. I’m going to check.

Oh and just found this on EWG’s site – apparently nano is pretty much ok in this case (although I’m sure Celeste may think differently). http://www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen/faqs-2010/#question_30

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Martine
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 1:29 pm

I love the Mary Kay 25 SPF. My fav!

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Lesa
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 4:10 pm

She’s actually ok with nano!! She told me if the pilling bothers me too much to get one that uses it. They just don’t do it with Burt’s products b/c of consumer concern.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 5/2010 at 7:57 pm

Hmm I’ll have to look into which brands use nano.

I checked with Pure + Simple and they use micronized particles – do you know if Burt’s does too?

Here’s what Pure + Simple says:

Pure + simple’s sunscreens definitely do not contain them as there is controversy surrounding nano-particles passing through the skin’s surface. We use micronized particles that sit on the skin’s surface. This also applies with our mineral makeup line.

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Janine
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 4:46 pm

I’ve been using Cliniderm Gentle Protective Lotion SPF 45, which is physical, and I’ve had no problems with pilling at all. No antioxidants, though, so I’ve been using a serum underneath. I just slap it on any which way and don’t wait to let the serum sink in. I should start doing that, though.

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Lesa
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 11:49 pm

I think the Cliniderm doesn’t do that because while it’s physical, it’s not natural; there’s other shit in there that’s helping with the texture.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 5/2010 at 8:00 pm

Yes – in another thread commenter Angela (who is a whiz at this ingredient research) says the Cliniderm contains alumina, which acts as a polymer… hence the better texture.

I guess it just depends on how pure you want to go. As I say, I have zero problems with the texture of the P+S… but I’m also very pale (so I don’t notice any whiteness), I don’t rub it in at all, and usually I’m not wearing makeup on top (ironically for a beauty person – since I work from home).

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Marc
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 5:42 pm

Hey everyone! I find that sometimes smoothing on the sunscreen and blending it out too much promotes the balling or pilling…kinda like you are rolling the product too much. Make sense? I find once you apply the product you are better off using a PATTING motion. Also, (this applies to moisturizers too) oil free products obviously use a substitute for oil, so there is a tendency for the “emollients” to fry when over smoothed…especially if it is over a serum, or treatment product. Anyways, hope my 2 cents was helpful! xo

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 5/2010 at 8:02 pm

Very helpful! Thanks Marc!

The PR, Yvonne, from Pure + Simple just wrote to say she agrees with you:

…Over-blending and over-rubbing will actually cause the product to pill. Patting on the sunscreen would be the best option. It also has something to do with the amount of product used. If you use too much it creates a residue where the excess will pill off. I would suggest a thin but even coat. It actually is the titanium + zinc particles that create the pilling as in their raw form they are a powder.

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Angela
Wednesday, July 28/2010 at 7:32 pm

I used the Pure+Simple for the second time today, and found that it does ball/pill on me, but I still like it and will continue to use it. This didn’t happen yesterday, when I first tried it, and I think it’s because I was only trying it on a small area of my face since I already had sunscreen on. I agree with Marc, a patting motion does help.

I’m really liking the scent of the Pure+Simple screen.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 5/2010 at 8:03 pm

Darn it. Glad you’re still liking it despite this… and I hope Marc’s tips help a bit. I really would feel bad if I recommended something that didn’t work for you! :-(

The scent is all kinds of amazing, isn’t it?

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Angela
Sunday, August 8/2010 at 2:56 am

That’s sweet of you. I know you had good intentions, so no worries. People experience products differently.

I’ve gotten into the habit of smoothing it on, like painting, and that’s most effective (better than patting motions). I use almost everyday, as it is nice and lightweight. The slight white cast isn’t too much of an issue for me either because I’m really pale as well.

The scent reminds me of bubble gum for some reason.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, August 10/2010 at 12:54 pm

Hey Angela – just a thought – as “T” mentioned below… the product might be more likely to pill if you are applying powder with a brush on top. (The brushing action might be what’s doing it.) I haven’t been using powders – just creamy stuff and applying with fingers. So that could be the reason why.

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Autstuff
Friday, July 30/2010 at 12:30 pm

I bought Pure + Simple’s natural sunscreen and when I did the girl who worked there (who was very pleasant and helpful) addressed this issue right away. She told me to rub it in until it is dry but stop after that. The pilling/balling happens when you keep trying to rub it in. I followed her advice and it absolutely works! It may seem odd because your face will still look a little ghostly at first but that fades away, especially if you use foundation or powder on top. I love this sunscreen very much! And now I cringe when I think of all the chemicals I was putting on my face before!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 5/2010 at 7:25 pm

Ok – phew! This has been my experience too – no pilling at all. I don’t rub it in very much either – just sort of smooth it around and then leave it. (Because I’m so pale I don’t even notice that it has whitish cast.)
Glad you love as much as I do!

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T
Friday, August 6/2010 at 12:12 pm

Wow my question set off a firestorm of discussion – awesome! Thank extra thanks to Michelle for a great forum in which to discuss!

Lesa – me too re Pure + Simple sunscreen! I tried it and I had the balling affect. I was majorly disappointed.

Marc – I DID pat the sunscreen on…..and managed to avoid the pilling upon application. However – the pilling occurred when I started to apply loose powder my powder brush. I’m guessing the action of brushing the powder on my face made it ball up!

I want to say though that I had a facial at P + S and it was a really great experience. The staff is well informed, well trained and are so pleasant. Can’t say enough about this spa!

I found a new organic and natural sunscreen from Soleo Organics. It doesn’t pill on me! Yay! However….it is VERY greasy afterwards….even after 15-20 minutes of leaving it alone. http://www.soleoorganics.com/our-products/soleo-organics.html. So far I’ve only found it in health food stores. If you’re in Toronto I found it in a health food store in Kensington. I will try and look for the name of the store and post if anyone wants it. Think it was about $30 for a 75g size.

Lastly, if anyone knows of any tricks on how to reduce greasiness on our faces after applying a greasy sunscreen, please share. We need to put our powder on afterwards so that we don’t look like oil slicks!

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Marc
Friday, August 6/2010 at 8:47 pm

Glad my tips worked out for some of you! (Glad to hear I know what I’m talking about! LOL) I myself don’t worry so much about the “natural” or “organic” labels, I just like great product, which includes being well formulated. I tend to be drawn to 100% physical sunscreens, as they tend to be drier on the skin (weird T’s “organic” sunscreen is so greasy!), and they don’t burn my eyes. If I look a little “ghostly”, well c’est la vie! While I have never tried Pure + Simple products, I’m sure they perform well for some people, and for others, it’s not their cup of tea! Vive la difference!
On another note, T, have you tried using a mattifier under your sunscreen, maybe something with an oil absorbing nylon? That should work well under your sunblock! I could think of a couple of products to suggest to you, but I hesitate because I don’t know your “criteria” for choosing your products…ie. how you feel about ingredients etc. Safe Sun Everyone!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, August 10/2010 at 12:51 pm

Great tips Marc, thanks again! Would love to hear about your top sunscreen/primer picks if you want to email me… I can give it its own post. I know you come across a lot of very cool niche brands!

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marc
Saturday, October 2/2010 at 1:47 pm

sorry, I missed your reply from awhile ago! Email me any time, would love to chat!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, August 10/2010 at 12:50 pm

T! You might have just nailed the issue – quite possibly why I don’t get the balling/pilling action with the P+S product is because right now I’m not using anything on top that’s a powder. Just primer (or a combo primer/foundation product like the Stila One Step) and cream blushes. So probably because I’m not brushing/rubbing too much I don’t get that side effect.

Have heard good things about Soleo – not sure where (these sunscreen threads are getting so long I can’t keep track!). But extra grease is the last thing I need… I agree with Marc about using a primer underneath. I did a round-up of some options here: http://beautyeditor.ca/galleries/7-ways-to-stop-shine-on-your-face/

The one I’m using right now I didn’t include as I just discovered it – it’s called Shu Uemura Under Base… and it is by far the most shine-stopping primer I’ve ever tried. However it is not at all natural and has chemical SPF – which would defeat the purpose of wearing it under your Soleo sunscreen I guess!

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Gimped
Monday, August 9/2010 at 3:29 pm

I recently purchased the Pure and Simple sunscreen in the Sensitive formula — so far so good as far as the pilling goes. I’m actually not that big of a fan of the smell of it though …

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, August 10/2010 at 11:23 am

Oh really? I’m sorry! I think it must be one of those scents that you either love or hate… I personally love really authentic, botanical scents so that’s why I can’t get enough. I hope you like it otherwise!

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T
Tuesday, August 10/2010 at 2:25 pm

Marc, great idea. I will try that. I’ve been having some pore clogging issues of late though and am a bit hesitant on using a mattifying product…..but I’ll try it and see if it does the trick (and doesn’t clog my pores!).

Just to be clear – moisturizer first, then primer, then sunscreen? Sorry for being dense about this!

Thanks everyone for sharing your awesome tips!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, August 11/2010 at 7:33 pm

Do moisturizer first, then sunscreen, then primer. (Consider the primer a makeup product, not skincare – so it goes on top.)
Make sure to let each layer sink in for as long as you can.
I’m interested to hear if this works for you – let us know!

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t
Friday, August 27/2010 at 11:24 am

Thanks Michelle! Unfortunately this was a hot tranny mess for me. The primer on top of the sunscreen was just not working. It was separating and was a gooey mess. Maybe it’s the sunscreen? In any case, I’m back to moisturizer, then sunscreen and then powder after that. I’m also extra careful these days w/ primer as I’ve had pore clogging issues of late which made my skin very reactive and sensitive. But thanks to the fabulous Pure + Simple team – it seems to be on the mend. Appreciate all the tips! Thanks all!

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, August 29/2010 at 11:29 am

Oh no! What primer were you using? I’ve never known one to go gooey… and I use them over the P+S sunscreen all the time.

You’re right that they can clog pores, though – so if your skin is prone to that, they’re best saved for special occasions. I certainly don’t wear primer every day.

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Chelsea C
Saturday, October 2/2010 at 12:48 pm

The one thing that I still haven’t mastered is the reapplication of Sunscreen over make-up. The scenario: You followed all your skincare steps including sunscreen, primer and foundation (which all have an spf in it). All this a 1/2 hour before going outside. So now you are outside – walking the dog, taking kids to school, shopping – then oh, according to research, if you are planning to remain outside longer than a 1/2 hour you must reapply your sunscreen. So you do. Now your foundation, concealer/corrector and blush is all smeared off. What is a make-up junkie, sunscreen worshiper to do??????

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, October 7/2010 at 7:09 pm

Oh I know—I just roll my eyes when I hear derms saying that. For women it’s just not realistic. What I would do is invest in a mineral powder with built-in sunscreen. No you won’t get as much protection as with a cream, but it’s something… and it won’t ruin your makeup. This is what I use, it’s a pressed powder with zinc and titanium oxide (not sure of the exact SPF): http://www.pureandsimple.ca/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=shop.flypage&product_id=1160&category_id=717&manufacturer_id=0&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=27

Or you could try the loose powder (it’s portable) from Colorescience: http://beautyeditor.ca/2009/10/02/review-colorescience-mineral-makeup/ It’s SPF 20.

Unless you burn very easily, I don’t think we need to become obsessive about applying sunscreen every 30 min when you’re just walking around during the course of the day (even though the derms/cosmetics companies want us to be… but that’s a whole other story and is actually related to the amount of polyunsaturated fats in our diets). However, if you’re out in direct sunlight for a prolonged period of time from 10-3, like Marc says, a hat is a really good idea. Our bodies are made for some sun, but we’re not meant to roast ourselves!

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Marc
Saturday, October 2/2010 at 1:45 pm

Chelsea C., how do you look in a big floppy hat? :)!

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