Have you ever applied your usual skin care products in the morning only to find small flakes or clumps appearing on the surface of your skin later in the day? Sunscreen pilling is probably to blame. This common concern occurs when oil-rich skin care products like serums and moisturizers mix with your sunscreen. Not only is the effect unsightly, but it also means you aren't getting the full benefits that your products have to offer.

So, what should you do if you're tired of your favorite sunscreen pilling after moisturizer? Is there a sunscreen that doesn't pill under makeup? Read on to learn how to apply your skin care products so you can make clumping a thing of the past.

What Is Sunscreen Pilling?

Sunscreen pilling happens when your skin care products collect and combine on the top layer of your skin, forming little clumps. Pilling is common after applying sunscreen due to the way it reacts with oilier formulas in your routine. It's often most noticeable along the jawline and neck where you've blended down your products.

What Are the Common Causes of Sunscreen Pilling?

Some of the reasons you might be dealing with clumping and flaking after applying sunscreen include:

  • Developing excess oil or dry skin on the top layer of the dermis, as with dry or oily skin types
  • Applying your skin care products in the wrong order
  • Using too many oil-based products
  • Over-applying sunscreen

How to Apply Products to Avoid Sunscreen Pilling

One of the best ways to prevent sunscreen pilling is to optimize your skin care routine. It can take some time to figure out how to apply your skin care products in the best order, but getting it right can make all the difference. Start with this as a guide.

1. Cleanse and Tone

The first step in any skin care regime is to wash with a gentle cleanser to clear the pores of oil and debris and create a smooth base for the rest of your products. Then, follow with a toner suited to your specific skin type. This will support your complexion with key ingredients to hydrate and balance your skin's pH. Some toners also include liquid exfoliants like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) to rinse away dead cells and enhance your natural glow. EltaMD Skin Recovery Essence Toner helps to deliver essential nutrients to the dermis while improving your skin's ability to absorb and retain moisture.

2. Select a Serum

Next up is a serum, a brilliant way of delivering active ingredients directly to the deeper layers of your skin. Serums can address a range of concerns, including fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and redness. The type of serum you apply will depend on your individual needs and skin care goals. Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide, for instance, can help with dryness and dehydration, while antioxidants such as Vitamin C can improve radiance.

3. Moisturize

Once your serum has had a minute or two to dry, gently apply a thin layer of lightweight moisturizer to help seal in hydration and support your skin's natural barrier function. Just make sure your daytime moisturizer isn't too heavy or oil-rich, as this may react with your sunscreen and lead to pilling.

4. Apply Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

Last—but by no means least—is your broad-spectrum sunscreen. Apply a teaspoon-sized amount of facial sunscreen to your face, neck, and chest to ensure even coverage. When you're looking for a sunscreen that doesn't pill under makeup, look for lightweight formulas that contain hydrating ingredients to create the smoothest base possible.

For example, EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is formulated with Hyaluronic Acid (one of the lightest moisturizers available) to help boost moisture retention and diminish fine lines. Its lightweight texture and high absorbency also work well with other products, and it's ideal for wearing beneath makeup and reapplying throughout the day.

Pave the Way for Smooth, Radiant Skin

Now that you know a little more about the causes of sunscreen pilling after moisturizer, you can make a few simple tweaks to your morning routine and call it a (pill-free) day. Your skin should look smooth and hydrated while receiving all of the sun protection it needs for a busy day out and about. Congratulations—your most puzzling skin care bugbear just disappeared!


  • Catherine Hufton

    Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.

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