What Is Makeup Pilling & How Do I Stop It?

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
Do you ever find that when you apply your foundation post-beauty routine, your makeup starts to... ball up on your face? Like when your knitwear has seen better days and small balls of fabric sit on the material. This is makeup pilling, and it's ruining the impact of our well-chosen foundations. But why is it even happening? "Product pilling is to do with the ability of product to be absorbed by the skin. The less a product is absorbed, the more likely it is to ball/pill", co-CEO of cult brand Deciem, Nicola Kilner, tells me.
Can we prevent this with the type of product we're using? Vanessa Crawley is a biochemist who worked on Epara's skincare formulations: "Common materials that tend to create a pilling effect are silicones. Many products contain various forms of silicones which when rubbed, or applied in a large volume, can cause this effect." Pixi makeup artist Amanda Bell also warns against the use of too many varying ingredients at once: "It's caused by ingredients being mixed that are too dissimilar – water, silicone, wax – and the main culprits are: talc, iron oxide, mica, synthetic fluorphlogopite. Also look at ingredient listings and stick to the same family groups – face oil with a foundation containing oil is effectively layering like for like." Crawley tells me that "the Epara serum has been formulated by avoiding the use of silicones, allowing it to be more readily absorbed by the skin rather than forming a ‘layer’ on the surface." Other silicone-free products we love that will prevent pilling are dermalogica barrier repair, Elemis' Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm and Phyto's Secret de Nuit Intense Hydration Regenerating Night Cream.
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Remember, less is more. You don't need to waste money and product by slathering it on your face when a little goes a long way, Kilner tells me: "Certainly with Deciem products they are formulated in a way that means you really only need 2-3 drops of a serum and a pea-sized amount of any heavier products (such as our Hydration Vaccine). Any more and you increase the chances of product pilling."
Now you're sure you're using the right formulas and the correct amount, which order should we be applying them in? Kilner says: "It is worth looking at the order in which you apply products. Always go from the lightest weight and viscosity to the heaviest. Water-based products should be applied first (most toners/serums) and end with oil-based products (most creams/foundation/sun block)." And if you're already following this rule, perhaps take your time with your routine, allowing each product to absorb and dry before applying the next: "If you like to use multiple products and steps in your regime, then it can also work to spread out your regime a little further. If you do other tasks such as brushing your teeth, blow-drying your hair, etc in between layers, it will make sure the skin has enough time to absorb the products fully and still allow you to have the best of everything!"
And finally, now we have our skincare routine on anti-pilling lockdown, how can we prevent our makeup from causing it? Hydration. "Keep skin damp when you start applying your base, as this aids absorption of products", Bell explains. So a damp Beauty Blender or brush is actually beneficial. Goodbye pilling, our bobbly nemesis – our skin will look clean and glowing from here on out.
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