Why Does Sunscreen Pill and How to Prevent It

Imagine applying sunscreen diligently, eager to shield your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, only to encounter the frustrating phenomenon of sunscreen pills. Those pesky little balls of product not only undermine the effectiveness of sun protection but also leave you puzzled about their cause. Fear not, as we embark on a journey to unravel the mystery behind sunscreen pills and equip you with practical solutions. From understanding the factors that contribute to pilling, such as incompatible product combinations and improper application techniques, to exploring the science of sunscreen formulation, we leave no stone unturned in our quest for answers. By gaining insights into the causes and implementing preventative measures, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to enjoy smooth, effective sun protection without the interference of those unwelcome sunscreen pills. So, let’s uncover the secrets behind the question “why does my sunscreen pill”.

What Causes Sunscreen to Pill?

Pilling occurs when sunscreen forms small balls or flakes on the skin instead of being smoothly absorbed. Several factors contribute to this frustrating experience. Let’s delve into each one:

Incompatibility with Other Skincare Products

Some skincare products, especially those containing silicone-based ingredients or heavy moisturizers, can interfere with the proper absorption and adhesion of sunscreen. Incompatibility between different product formulations can lead to pilling. The interaction of certain ingredients in the products can create a slippery or uneven surface that causes the sunscreen to ball up.

To prevent this problem, ensure that you allow ample time for each skincare product to absorb fully before applying sunscreen. Additionally, consider using products with similar bases or consult a dermatologist for recommendations on compatible combinations.

Incorrect Application Technique

The way you apply sunscreen can also influence whether it pills or not. Rubbing the sunscreen vigorously or applying too much pressure during application can cause the product to roll into tiny balls. Remember, sunscreen should be gently massaged onto the skin until it is evenly distributed.

To avoid pilling due to incorrect application, start by applying a small amount of sunscreen and gradually build it up if needed. Use gentle, circular motions to blend the product into your skin, ensuring thorough coverage.

Excess Product Build-Up

Using excessive amounts of sunscreen can overwhelm the skin and result in pilling. When you apply more sunscreen than your skin can absorb, the excess product may not adhere properly, leading to clumping or flaking.

It is crucial to use an appropriate amount of sunscreen, typically a teaspoon for the face, to ensure optimal coverage without overloading the skin. Less is often more when it comes to sunscreen application.

Reaction with Sweat or Sebum

Sweat and sebum, the natural oils produced by our skin, can potentially interact with sunscreen and cause it to pill. The combination of these substances with the ingredients in the sunscreen can create a less stable formulation, leading to pilling when exposed to heat, humidity, or physical activity.

To minimize this issue, consider using sweat-resistant or water-resistant sunscreens specifically designed for outdoor activities or prolonged exposure to moisture. These formulations are less likely to react with sweat or sebum, providing better adherence to the skin.

Low-Quality or Expired Sunscreen

The quality and freshness of your sunscreen can also play a role in its tendency to pill. Using low-quality or expired sunscreen may increase the likelihood of pilling. Over time, sunscreens can break down, losing their efficacy and causing changes in texture that contribute to pilling.

Investing in high-quality sunscreens from reputable brands and checking expiration dates before purchase is essential for ensuring a smooth application and effective sun protection.

How to Stop My Sunscreen from Pilling?

Choose the right formulation: Opt for a sunscreen that has a lightweight texture and is specifically designed to be non-greasy or non-comedogenic. Look for terms like “quick-absorbing” or “non-sticky” on the product label.

Apply sunscreen on clean skin: Make sure your skin is clean and dry before applying sunscreen. 

Don’t overload your skincare routine: Layering too many products can increase the likelihood of pilling. Give your moisturizer enough time to settle before applying sunscreen.

Use less product: Follow the recommended amount specified on the packaging, usually about a teaspoon for the face.

Pat, don’t rub: Instead of rubbing the sunscreen into your skin vigorously, try patting it gently with your fingertips. This technique helps the product to absorb better without causing friction that can lead to pilling.

Wait before moving on: Allow the sunscreen to fully dry and set on your skin before proceeding with your makeup application or other skincare products. Waiting for a few minutes can make a significant difference in preventing pilling.

Consider using a primer: Applying a primer specifically formulated to work well with sunscreen can create a smooth base for makeup while minimizing the chances of pilling.

Check for product interactions: Certain combinations of skincare products or makeup can cause pilling. Experiment with different combinations to identify if specific products are incompatible. Silicone-based primers, for example, can sometimes create issues when layered over certain types of sunscreen.

Consider using a different sunscreen: If you’ve tried various techniques and still experience pilling with a particular sunscreen, it may be worth exploring alternative brands or formulations. Everyone’s skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.


Sunscreen pilling can be frustrating, but understanding the underlying causes can help you prevent and address this issue effectively. Incompatibility with other skincare products, incorrect application techniques, excess product build-up, reaction with sweat or sebum, and low-quality or expired sunscreen are all factors that contribute to sunscreen pilling.

By adjusting your skincare routine, using compatible products, applying sunscreen correctly, and choosing high-quality formulations, you can minimize the chances of pilling. Additionally, considering sweat-resistant or water-resistant sunscreens for outdoor activities and using a primer can further improve adherence and reduce pilling.

Remember, sunscreen is crucial for protecting your skin from the damaging effects of UV rays, so don’t let pilling discourage you from using it. With the right approach, you can enjoy the benefits of sunscreen without the annoyance of pilling.


  1. Can I prevent sunscreen from pilling by changing my skincare routine? Yes, adjusting your skincare routine can help prevent sunscreen pilling. Avoid combining incompatible products and allow ample time for each product to absorb fully before applying sunscreen. Additionally, opt for lightweight moisturizers or serums that are less likely to interfere with sunscreen absorption.
  2. Is there a specific sunscreen formulation that minimizes pilling? Yes, certain sunscreen formulations are less prone to pilling. Look for sunscreens with a lightweight texture, such as gel or serum formulas. These formulations tend to absorb quickly and evenly without leaving a residue that can lead to pilling.
  3. Can reapplying sunscreen throughout the day cause pilling?Reapplying sunscreen is crucial for maintaining protection, especially during prolonged sun exposure. However, if you notice pilling when reapplying, consider gently wiping off any excess product from your skin before applying a fresh layer. This will help prevent build-up and improve adherence.
  4. Are there specific ingredients I should avoid to minimize sunscreen pilling? While everyone’s skin may react differently, some common ingredients known to contribute to pilling include heavy emollients like dimethicone and petrolatum. If you experience recurring pilling, consider trying sunscreens with lighter formulas that are free from these potentially problematic ingredients.
  5. Can using a primer before sunscreen application help prevent pilling? Yes, using a primer can create a smooth base for sunscreen application and help minimize pilling. Primers work by filling in pores, smoothing out the skin’s texture, and providing a barrier between the skin and sunscreen. This can create a more even surface for the sunscreen to adhere to, reducing the chances of pilling.