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Why Does My Face Cream Roll Off?

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When it comes to makeup, hair and accessorising, we’ve all experienced the odd style faux pas. Especially if we lived through blue eyeshadow with matching mascara, wild eyebrows and fake beauty spots, otherwise known as the 1980s. 

And let’s not even go there with the clothing. Neon leg warmers and non ironic mom jeans, anyone? 

When we’re young, we go through a wonderful stage of experimentation. We practice with our makeup ‘look’ among lots of other things, trying to discover who we are. But we don’t always get things right or learn from our mistakes on the makeup front. 

My regular mistake, that thankfully I can look back on now (and cringe), was eye liner so badly applied it ended up half way up my eyelid. It was so far from the lash line it might as well have been a brow liner. As for my actual, non existent, brows, let’s leave those for another time. I just thank the makeup gods for HD brows these days.

But now, in adulthood, we’re all supposed to be sorted aren’t we? Even if the trend of the day is heather shimmer lipstick (remember that?), we know how to apply our skin care and makeup right, right? 

Not always. And if you’ve ever experienced your cream or your foundation clumping up and forming little embarrassing rolls all over your face, you’ll know what I mean. 

So why does this happen? Are there certain products that are more prone to this so-called ‘pilling’ than others? Are we applying these products right? Are we preparing our skin correctly? Let’s find out…

What is skin care product pilling?

If you’ve ever noticed little rolls of face cream or foundation (or a mix of both) on your face after you’ve carefully applied everything, you’ve experienced product pilling. You may not have heard of it, but most of us have experienced it at some point. 

Pilling can occur straight away after applying face creams and makeup (or after just applying face cream, it doesn’t just happen with makeup, it can still happen if you don’t wear makeup). Or it can happen a few hours afterwards. If it does happen, it’ll feel like little oily balls of product resting on your face. 

If you have experienced pilling, try as you might to brush away all those annoying little rolls, they won’t disappear. Short of taking all your makeup off, washing your face and starting all over again, there isn’t much else you can do in that immediate moment.  

Just like the annoying bobbling on your favourite woolly jumper, if you try and brush those pesky bobbles off, you’ll just create more. The clothes care equivalent of washing it all off and starting again is one of those battery operating de-bobbling machines. Or a razor. (What do you mean, you've never shaved your clothes…?)

So how do we deal with product pilling?

How to prevent (and fix) pilling

There are a few reasons why pilling happens. Here’s a list of the most common reasons why your face cream is rolling off, and what you can do about them.

Less haste, more speed

Being in a hurry can be a surefire road to skin care pilling. If we rush to slap on our serum, moisturiser, concealer, foundation, blusher, bronzer and powder, our skin sometimes just holds up its hands and says “enough already”!

Taking aminute between each product is best to help each one have enough time to sink into the skin. Otherwise, a build up of products on the surface of the skin will cause them to clump, ball up and roll off - classic pilling. 

If you’re pushed for time, try to build a routine where you add one product and then do something else important. Such as styling your hair, making a coffee or deciding what to wear, before applying the next. 

Less rubbing, more patting

It matters too,how we apply our products. Softly patting each product on with clean fingers, a makeup brush or sponge will help to deliver them into the skin. 

Where possible, try not to rub anything into your skin. Doing so will encourage pilling but can also irritate sensitive skin or even cause broken capillaries (small blood vessels) andminor bruising

Instead, a gentle pat should do nicely. Also avoid usingtoo much of each individual product at once, which can overload the skin and cause pilling. 

Oil and water don’t always mix

If you think back to school chemistry lessons, somewhere among all the fun with a bunsen burner and some iron filings, you might remember that oil and water don’t mix. We only need to think about olive and balsamic vinegar as a bread dip to know that. No amount of stirring will make them mix. 

Most skin care products, including ours, include water based ingredients and oils based ingredients. In order for them to mix and stay together without splitting, they need another ingredient called an emulsifier present.

An emulsifier, for example, sunflower oil, helps to keepoil and water based ingredients mixed together in a thick, creamy moisturiser such as in ourSidekick Day Cream

But if you’re using lots of different products that don’t mix well together on the face, then youmight experience pilling. For example, using a water based moisturiser followed by an oil based foundation, might cause the tell tale rolling and balling of products on your face. 

Never underestimate the power of exfoliation

Exfoliating, either using a mechanical exfoliant such as a facial brush, or a chemical exfoliant such asalpha hydroxy acids is very beneficial for the skin. The process ofexfoliation sloughs away dead skin cells, excess oil, stubborn dirt and old makeup. All of which can clog the pores and lead to dull skin.

But not only that, if we haven’t exfoliated, clogged pores can only take so much. Adding layers of creams, serums and makeup over the top of blocked pores canquickly lead to pilling.

Aim to exfoliate once or twice a week. If you have stressed out, acne prone or very sensitive skin, aim for just once a week. Your skin care and makeup products will then stick to your fresh, smooth skin more easily and will be more inclined to sink in and refrain from pilling. 

If you think you might have clogged pores, try ourClear Out Face Mask. Made from zeolite and bentonite clay, it helps to flush out the pores, leaving the skin feeling super clean and decongested. The perfect blank canvas for a smooth makeup look with zero pilling! 


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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