An important part of sticking to your sun care routine is understanding how to avoid common sunscreen complaints, like removing sunscreen from your clothes and protecting yourself from irritation. Another challenge that many people face is sunscreen pilling—when your sunscreen rubs off of your skin in tiny flakes or clumps when you're trying to put it on.

So, why does sunscreen pill, and how can you prevent it? Sunscreen is crucial to maintaining healthy skin, and knowing how to guarantee smooth application can make it a breeze to include in your daily regimen. Read on to get to the bottom of this sunscreen mystery and learn how to prevent sunscreen from pilling.

Why Does Sunscreen Pill?

When your sunscreen pills, it means it isn't fully absorbed into your skin. Instead, it remains on your skin's surface and clumps into tiny balls. The resulting flaky or grainy texture may resemble peeling—but rest assured it's not your skin.

The products you're using underneath your sunscreen are usually to blame for pilling. Certain skin care products can prevent proper absorption or may include ingredients that react with your sunscreen formula and cause clumping. Oily or dry skin can also contribute to pilling.

How to Prevent Sunscreen from Pilling

No matter the culprit, here are some ways to help ensure your sunscreen glides on effortlessly each and every time.

Apply Your Products in the Right Order

One of the best ways to prevent pilling is to apply your skin care products in the correct order. As a general rule of thumb, start with products that have the lightest consistency and work your way up to thicker formulas. This will help ensure that everything absorbs properly. Starting with a thick cream may prohibit active ingredients in your lighter products, such as serums, from penetrating the skin and doing their job. It can also result in a layer of residue on your skin's surface, which can lead to pilling.

Gently Exfoliate

Consider exfoliating your skin to promote a smooth foundation for your skin care products. Regular exfoliation prevents dead skin cells and debris from piling up, helping your complexion stay clear and encouraging sunscreen absorption. It can also improve skin texture, which makes it easier to apply your sunscreen evenly. Just be sure to take it slow if you have sensitive skin, as exfoliating can irritate some skin types.

Examine Your Skin Care Ingredients

Products rich in ingredients like Silicones, Talc, and Mica Oxide may cause pilling for some people, especially if applied too heavily. That doesn't mean you need to avoid them completely, but only use them as much as you need. You may want to do a little trial and error to see which formula works best for your unique complexion and skin care regimen. For example, EltaMD UV Clear Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 has a silky, lightweight texture and doesn't leave behind any residue—one of the main causes of pilling.

Consider Your Skin Type

If you have dry or oily skin, your skin texture may be uneven due to flaking or excess oil production. This can make your sunscreen more prone to pilling since uneven texture often prevents products from absorbing fully into the skin. Opt for skin care products that lock in moisture and wash away excess oil.

Kiss Sunscreen Pilling Goodbye

Remember that sunscreen is an important part of your personal care routine, and wearing it daily is key to reaping its protective benefits. After all, sunscreen offers the best form of protection against the sun's ultraviolet rays, which heighten the risk of skin cancer. Take the time to experiment and identify a routine that makes sunscreen pilling a thing of the past—it's more than worth the effort!


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.