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Skincare 101

Why Your Makeup is Pilling and How to Prevent It

We're often told to apply skincare and makeup products in layers or stages. From cleansers and serums to primers and finishing powders, the art of complexion perfection can involve a lot of products. 

The build-up of these products on your skin can result in what’s known as “makeup pilling.” Just like the tiny bobbles that can build up on wool products like sweaters and gloves, your skincare and makeup products can create little flakes and minuscule balls that sit on the surface of your skin and make your complexion look anything but perfect.

This problem is often caused by products that aren't being absorbed properly or by mixing products that don't work together. The good news is that there are easy ways you can avoid makeup pilling and ensure a smooth and polished look that stays that way for hours. 

Why is My Makeup Piling?

Makeup pilling can be really frustrating when you don't know the cause. You start off with a clean, fresh face, but as you apply more products, you notice that your skin is becoming progressively flakey with uneven coverage. It's a common problem and one that many people experience during their beauty routine, particularly when working with new products. There are a number of reasons this might be happening. Let's take a look.

Rushing the Skincare Routine

It's 8 am and you're already late for work. You speed through your skincare routine, applying products before the prior has had time to dry; there's no time for primer, no time for proper blending or waiting for products to set. 

Pilling could be a sign that certain products are sitting on top of your skin and not absorbing. For example, moisturizing creams need time to sink into the skin and primers may need a few minutes to rest before your foundation goes on. 

Remedy: The easy solution is to give yourself more time to complete your routine. If you're not an early bird, trimming your routine down to the bare essentials might be the better answer. Use micellar water to quickly lift away grime and refresh your skin, use a tinted moisturizer instead of a separate moisturizer & foundation, and use a tinted lip gloss that you can apply on the go. You can always dab a little lip gloss to cheeks for a rosy glow. 

Using Too Many Products or Too Much of One Product

From moisturizing creams to eye creams and serums, all of these products need to be fully absorbed to deliver the best results. Using too many skincare and makeup products can result in overload, especially if they’re not applied in the right order or the recommended amounts. Using too much of a single product, such as foundation, can also result in flakes and clumps on the skin. 

Remedy: Always follow product instructions when applying. Less is usually more, so reduce that big pump down to a pea-sized dab. Rubbing moisturizer in your palms to warm it can make your product go a lot further and make it easier to apply. You'll save money as well as your skin in the process! 

Check the Ingredients in Your Products

Some ingredients in your beauty products could be doing more harm to your skin than good. Talc, for example, is often added to eye shadows, foundations, finishing powders, and creams as it creates a silky and soft texture. However, talc can sit on top of your skin and expand as it soaks up the moisture and oils in your skin. This can lead to clumps and pilling. Makeup products that contain silicone, such as primers, can also cause pilling in some cases. 

Remedy: Choose your skincare and makeup products wisely. Look for products that offer light but effective coverage and that work with your skin type. For example, if you deal with oily skin, a product containing talc may not be the best choice for you. Test out different products on your skin to see which works.  Instead of using products that contain talc, look for products containing mica as this blends into the skin much easier and gives a smoother finish. 

You're Applying Products in the Wrong Order

We're told by many beauty brands to cleanse, tone, and moisturize. Seems easy, right? You've probably done it for most of your adult life. But did you know that the order in which you apply your products is only the start of the story when it comes to reducing makeup pilling? It's also important that you apply water-based products before oil-based products. For example, water-based cleansers will absorb faster than oil-based cleansers and prepare skin to receive an oil-based moisturizer. This means that while you're still layering products, the first product will be completely absorbed before the next is applied. Always avoid applying an oily product over another oily product. 

Remedy: Always use water-based cleansers and toners and apply facial oils or moisturizing creams as the very last step in your skincare routine. Use a silicone-free primer before applying an oil-based foundation.

Your Foundation or Skincare Products Are Too Heavy

So, you've nailed the skincare layering thing, but the annoying flakes and little bobbles on your skin keep appearing. What's going on? Well, it could be that some of the products you’re using are too heavy for your skin. When products are too heavy, or occlusive, they sit around on the skin's surface rather than melting in. If you find your skin becomes greasy by mid-morning, you're noticing more breakouts after using a new product, or your makeup won't stay put, it could be a sign that your foundation is too heavy or your skincare is weighing you down. 

Remedy: Lighten up your skincare and makeup routine with lighter products that can be layered easily and which absorb quickly. If you find finishing and setting powders too heavy for your skin, look for a non-comedogenic setting spray to keep your makeup in place. 

You're Not Exfoliating Enough

You could have the best beauty products available, but if you're applying them on top of layers of dead skin, you could be in a world of flakiness and pilling. When the skin is flakey, skincare and makeup products won't adhere to the skin or blend as well as they would on freshly exfoliated skin. Using an exfoliator is one of the best ways to avoid makeup pilling.

Remedy: By adding an exfoliating product to your skincare routine, you can encourage the turnover of new skin cells and look forward to brighter, rejuvenated, and radiant skin. This in turn will help to optimize how quickly skincare and makeup products are absorbed and reduce the chance of pilling.

How to Layer Makeup For the Best Results

Once you've completed your skincare routine in the right order, it's time to focus on the staying power and texture of your makeup products. By knowing how to layer makeup, you can increase its staying power and reduce pilling. 

  1. Apply your primer and color corrector if you’re using one. 
  2. If you’re wearing foundation, apply a light layer and then build gradually using a blending sponge or foundation brush. For a lighter look and feel, use a tinted moisturizer. 
  3. Apply your concealer. Always apply concealing products after your foundation, as this will prevent a cakey look and pilling around your eyes and other trouble spots. Build up coverage using a blender brush. 
  4. Apply blush, highlighter, and bronzer to add a pop of color and definition. If you’re using any cream products such as cream blush, layer these underneath powders. 
  5. Apply your eyeshadow and eyeliner first. Mascara-coated lashes can get in the way when you're trying to nail eyeliner wingtips, so always apply your mascara last. 
  6. Your eyebrows should always match the intensity of the rest of your makeup look. Apply brow pencil or powders in the final steps of your routine so that you can build up the color gradually. 
  7. Lipstick is the easiest of all makeup products to apply as the day goes on. Lips can also suffer from pilling, so apply lipstick in light coats and build up the color gradually. You can also find lip exfoliators in the beauty aisle to create that smooth and polished look. 
  8. Apply a setting powder or spray. For an ultra lightweight finish, use a finishing mist that gives you long-lasting staying power. 

Pilling doesn't have to be a problem you just put up with. By choosing the right ingredients, building up skincare and makeup gradually in the right order, and using lightweight products, you can keep things fresh without a flake or bobble in sight. 

Nava MD helps with common skin conditions like acne and hyperpigmentation – just like a dermatologist, but all from the comfort of home. We use telemedicine to prescribe custom formulas, and you can connect with your clinician any time through our Member Portal. It’s easy and affordable, and it's all delivered to your door.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency