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Skincare Pilling: Everything You Need To Know About Pilling & How To Avoid It

Gesichtspflege 07.04.22 4 min. read

They're incredibly annoying when you're in a hurry: these small, primarily elongated rolls, nodules, or crumbs on your face that may sometimes occur after applying lotion or when using your make-up. The bad news is: once a product (or several) has rolled off, only a facial cleansing will help. The good news is we’ve got you covered for everything you need to know about how to prevent the pilling effect. 

Article Contents:

  1. The pilling effect: This is why cosmetic products roll off your skin
  2. Which ingredients promote the formation of rolls?
  3. Six mistakes in your skincare routine that lead to pilling and how to avoid them


The pilling effect: Why cosmetic products pill

About two years ago, women's magazines in German-speaking countries started using this term for a similar effect in facial care because your cream or makeup can also form small nodules or globules on your skin. But while loose or simply too short fibers in combination with friction are responsible for fluff or knots on your clothing, the causes in this skincare area are somewhat more differentiated.

In addition to applying skincare products in the wrong order, ingredients are among the primary triggers for product agglomeration (the technically better term) occurring on your face.

In conventional cosmetics, in particular, ingredients are used that cause face cream, for example, to crumble off your skin depending on the quantity and combination of the product.

Which ingredients promote the formation of rolls?

In particular, ingredients that determine the consistency of a skincare or make-up product can promote pilling. Here, formulations with polymers, microplastics, and silicone compounds come first. These substances are typically not used in natural cosmetics. However, an unfavorable proportion of plant-based ingredients, including an unbalanced formulation with hyaluronic acids or natural lipids, can also cause the skin to roll off.

You can recognize the best-known polymer compounds from the list of ingredients in your conventional skincare or make-up products in the list below:

Polymer and micro or liquid plastic compounds such as

  • acrylates copolymer
  • acrylate cross polymer
  • butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer
  • cellulose acetates
  • ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer
  • methacrylate copolymer
  • polyacrylic acid (carbomer)
  • polymethyl methacrylate
  • polyethylenes
  • polyethylene glycols (PEG)
  • polyethylene terephthalate (phthalates) (PET)
  • polypropylene glycols (PPG)
  • polystyrene (PS)

Silicone compounds, which you can recognize by the ending “-con,” “-cone,” “onol” or “-xane”, such as:

  • cyclopentasiloxane
  • cyclohexasiloxanes
  • cyclomethicone
  • dimethicone
  • dimethiconol
  • methicone
  • polysiloxanes

The Verbraucherzentrale Hessen (consumer advice center in Hessen, Germany) also provides a detailed list. Of course, synthetic compounds are not used in This Place cosmetics - due to our commitment to sustainability. Doing without these ingredients is worth considering, not only from the point of view of your skin. According to the Naturschutzbund Deutschland (German Nature Conservation Union), almost 47,000 tons of dissolved polymers get into the wastewater in Germany alone – for example when removing make-up or taking a shower.

Six mistakes in your skincare routine that lead to pilling

Six mistakes in your skincare routine that lead to pilling and how to avoid them

Perhaps you will catch yourself right away, having made one of the following mistakes yourself. Don't worry! If you follow these tips, the issue of “pilling on your skin” will be a thing of the past.

1.Your skin is not adequately prepared.

Dead skin cells on the surface of your skin prevent your care products from being absorbed (more on error 3). Instead, they accumulate on the surface and agglomerate there with each additional layer of product or due to friction from, for example, your hands.

Also, rough patches of skin make it easier for products to build up at that spot on your skin. A gentle scrub helps to smooth the skin and prepare it for care.

2. You apply skincare products in the wrong order.

If your beauty and grooming routine involves the use of multiple products, you are more likely to see pilling on your skin. It is important to heed the following rules of thumb to prevent creams or make-up from rolling off the surface of the skin under your hands, the brush, or the beauty sponge: wear the products from light to heavy, from watery to oily, or from liquid to (becoming) solid. Specifically, this means toner - serum (first water-based formulations, then oil-based) - face cream - face oil - sun protection - make-up.

3. You are not giving the products enough time to absorb.

If a product cannot absorb properly, in the worst case, subsequent products will layer on top of it until they unroll. For example, when you get to the sunscreen or makeup step. The rule of thumb here is that your skin should be as dry as possible before you apply the next product.

4.You layer formulations containing silicone or polymers on top of each other.

As mentioned before, products containing silicone and plastic tend to roll off. Especially if you like make-up, you should take a look at the list of ingredients. Because many make-up primers often contain silicones.

Consider whether the effect of silicone - the velvety soft skin feel and the filling of bumps - is so important to you that you want to accept a certain risk of pilling. If you do not want to do without it, make sure to apply such formulations as little and as late as possible, also because their film can make it difficult or even prevent the absorption of active ingredients.

5. You are using too much product.

Especially when you apply several layers to the skin's surface, less can be more. Try to find out the right amount for you and your skin.

By the way: Powdering shiny areas of skin can also lead to a pilling effect. An alternative for you when applying make-up can be the use of so-called blotting papers (matt paper sheets), which absorb unwanted shine without bringing another layer of product onto the skin.

6. The product is not suitable for your skin type.

Especially on oily (combination) skin, products that are not suitable for this skin type can loosen or roll off. Pay attention to astringent and matting formulations in your products and slowly approach the amount of facial oil that you want for your personal care effect. Please note that the products may take a little longer to absorb.

Wrap up: The Pilling Effect

Due to the pilling effect, small rolls can form on the skin during your facial care routine. The cause of creams or make-up rolling off is in particular the ingredients and their unfavorable combination, but also various errors during skincare.

However, there are tricks that will help you to avoid pilling on the skin in the future. In addition to the correct order, you can also make sure not to apply too much product and give the product time to penetrate the skin.