When Product Pilling Is A Good Thing

Read any two-star review of a skin-care product and odds are good you’ll see the word “pilling” in there somewhere.  For the uninitiated, pilling refers to a product that, upon application doesn’t completely absorb and instead rolls up into tiny balls — similar to those you see on a sweater after too much wear or a particularly rough washing.

While the automatic assumption is that it’s because the product doesn’t work or is “cheap,” it’s actually not as simple as that. And, in some cases — like with the Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask — it can actually be a good thing.

To help you get to the bottom of your pilling problem, here’s a handy reference guide on what causes pilling, how to avoid it, and how to tell if it’s the good kind or the bad.

The Good Pill
We like looking on the bright side, so let’s start with the positives. Many people assume that when they see those little white balls, it’s just rolled up product that didn’t make it into the skin where it belongs. While that’s mostly true, there is one exception to that rule: exfoliation.

Products like the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, which has potent alpha-hydroxy acids, exfoliate away dead skin cells and can be fast-acting. Applying them to those flakes, especially the ones that are close to shedding, speeds up the process and can happen on contact, causing the dead skin to ball up immediately when rubbed on. It’s immediate exfoliation gratification.

For those more stubborn cells, it might take some time to un-glue them. With the Watermelon Glow, you might wake up to find those telltale pills on your face or pillow. That’s because the sleeping mask spent the night working hard to slough off while you snooze. The balls are actually dead skin, not product. Once you wash your face, you’ll see how clear, bright, and glowy your skin will look.


The Bad Pill
Now for the not-so-good. When the product itself pills, it will feel sticky and you won’t really see a difference in your skin’s tone and texture. That’s because those active ingredients aren’t actually penetrating the skin’s surface — they’re just hanging out on top, not really accomplishing anything.

There are a few reasons this can happen. The most common is user error, meaning you aren’t properly applying a product. Usually, it comes down to applying too much of it on your skin — if you don’t follow the directions on the suggested amount, you wind up with more product on your face than your skin can absorb. The excess will then pill up when you rub it in. Avoid this issue by following the instructions on the back of the product — if it says a dime-size amount, don’t use a golf ball-size. Those instructions are there for a reason, which is to tell you how to get the best possible results.

Another common cause of pilling is not applying your products in the right order. As any dermatologist will tell you, the golden rule of skin care (well, after wear sunscreen every day) is to apply your products from lightest to heaviest, i.e. an essence is followed by a serum, is followed by a lotion, is followed by a cream or sleeping mask. It’s also key that you give each product time to fully absorb before applying the next. If you can feel any residue on your skin, that product is not fully absorbed and you need to hold off applying your next step. And, always apply your skin care on freshly cleansed skin to make sure there’s no dirt, dead skin, or oil messing with potential absorption.


Finally, always check the expiration date on your products. Once your lotions and potions expire, the formula begins to break down and separate, making them unstable and unable to absorb properly into the skin.

So, the next time your product starts balling, pause a beat and remember these simple rules. Once you know the reasons behind it, you can quite literally take a chill pill because you’ll know exactly how to handle it.

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