Have you experienced this? Moisturiser rubbing off? As you seal in serum with a layer of face cream, it looks like you're rubbing off balls of dead skin? As you apply a primer after your moisturiser it balls up? Or, as you very savvily apply SPF 30 you see sunscreen flaking off? The more you try to rub in, the more you rub off. You are not alone. Product balling is very common. Here’s how to fix it…

Why Does My Moisturiser Rub Off?

In Being Savvy at Skincare by Cheryl WoodmanLeave a Comment

Have you experienced this? Moisturiser rubbing off? As you seal in serum with a layer of face cream, it looks like you’re rubbing off balls of dead skin? As you apply a primer after your moisturiser it balls up? Or, as you very savvily apply SPF 30 you see sunscreen flaking off? The more you try to rub in, the more you rub off.

You are not alone. Product balling is very common.

Today’s exposé on how to avoid moisturiser rub off is in answer to a lovely readers question, aka you, aka yes this is proof you have moisturiser balling up friends (!)…

“If you’re reading this thank you so much! I have a very simple question, yet I can’t find any answer to it online. I recently bought niacinamide 10%+ zinc 1% and hyaluronic acid 2% +b5 from The Ordinary. Can I use them both together in my evening skincare? Because whenever I do – they both dry and then they ball up and it looks like my whole face is flaking. P.s. I use the hyaluronic first and then the niacinamide secondly. If you would answer and help me solve this issue I’d be extremely thankful!!”

Are you ready for answers my friend? Ready to say goodbye to moisturiser rub off, primer balling and sunscreen flaking? Let’s do this…

Have you experienced this? Moisturiser rubbing off? As you seal in serum with a layer of face cream, it looks like you're rubbing off balls of dead skin? As you apply a primer after your moisturiser it balls up? Or, as you very savvily apply SPF 30 you see sunscreen flaking off? The more you try to rub in, the more you rub off. You are not alone. Product balling is very common. Here’s how to fix it…

Why Does My Moisturiser Rub Off?

It’s morning, you’re just about shaking the bed head look and it’s now time to wake-up your face. One serious splash of cold water, followed by skincare, SPF, primer and foundation. You have a routine and you need it to work.

Rubbing in moisturiser, sunscreen or foundation for it to ball up is not part of the perfect morning equation.

So just what is happening? Which sneaky side factor is making your face cream roll off?

Firstly know this. When you experience ball up, you’re not rubbing off dead skin. Thank goodness for that ‘eh. Instead here’s what’s happening.

You’re rubbing off 2 or more products you’ve just applied to your face.

It could be 2 serums. It could be your foundation and moisturiser. It could be sunscreen and primer. Whichever products are doing the blue-sky thinking, one thing’s for sure, you have yourself a balls up party.

And it’s a phenomenon known as product pilling.

Moisturiser pilling. Foundation pilling. Sunscreen pilling.

Long story short. You’re using 2 products which don’t get on. They’re arch enemies fighting out their differences.

Why Does My Moisturiser Pill?

Moisturiser rub off does not have to be a fact of life. Oh no my friend. This small skin issue is fixable, resolvable, solvable. You just need to know what causes your moisturiser, foundation, primer or sunscreen to ball up and therefore what can be done to stop it from happening. Simples.

Skincare pilling happens for 2 key reasons;

  1. You mix skincare products which are made from very different ingredients aka one’s high in oils/waxes and the others high in water
  2. You use too many products with ingredients designed to sit on top of your skin

Let’s chat through number 1 first.

Have you ever noticed how oil and water don’t mix? Homemade balsamic olive oil dressings need to be shaken not stirred. 100% natural oil cleansers can’t be washed off with water, instead needing the helpful hand of a trusty cotton pad. Vaseline jelly is a plaster to water, needing hand wash to wave goodbye to your skin.

Oil and water are like black and white, gold and coal, summer and winter.

They’re similar but different… and things that are very different, usually don’t gel but instead repel. #RapIt

When you rub in moisturiser for it to rub straight back off, chances are you’re applying a cream on top of something very different.

All of your skincare is a balance or mixture of oils and water based ingredients. Serums have more water based extracts and rich moisturisers have more oil or wax based actives. Oils dissolve into oils really easily and water based ingredients dissolve into other water based ingredients really easily.

However oils and waters alone, repel each other. Aka they cause your moisturiser to ball up, your primer to peel and your sunscreen to flake off.

Why Does My Primer Pill?

Reason number 2 for your skincare to ball up, is usually why foundation or primer pill. You’re using a lot of skincare products with ingredients designed to sit on top of your skin.

Pro-tip; Sometimes this is by design i.e. in a primer, foundation or sunscreen… sometimes it’s a hint you’re using a slowly absorbing moisturiser.

Most serums and moisturisers are designed to sink into skin, but some can have ingredients similar to those found in primers e.g. silicones.

Silicones are in your skincare products for 2 reasons;

  1. They make the texture of your skin feel instantly smooth and even
  2. They help form a skin barrier to prevent your skin’s hydration levels from evaporating.

Number 2 is the magic reason why primer’s often ball up or pill. And the reason why some serums and moisturisers do the same thing.

Silicones are designed to stay on the top layers of your skin.

Imagine frosting a cake, you take a yummy dollop of icing and with a pallet knife, spread it over your double chocolate fudge brownie cake evenly. Just as you finish, you notice a little sink hole. You take another dollop of icing, this time smaller, and try patching it up. As you put fresh icing on top of your half set beginning icing, the new spread, takes the old one off and you end up with a fluffy crater where there was once a small sink hole.

Been here?

It’s the exact same concept as makeup pilling. It’s very hard to spread a new layer ontop of skincare which hasn’t absorbed without moisturiser rub off, primer balling up or sunscreen flaking.

How to Stop Skincare Balling Up

Now you know why you’re seeing moisturiser rub off, it’s all about how to stop it. I bet you’re one step ahead of me here already ‘eh. Stopping your moisturiser from rubbing off, your primer from balling up and your sunscreen from flaking away is all about doing the opposite of the 2 reasons why it happens, which means;

  1. Using skincare products that are similar together aka oily stuff with oily stuff and watery stuff with other watery stuff
  2. Avoiding or using less of products with lots of silicones (or other texturizing/barrier forming) ingredients in them

In our reader’s question, The Ordinary’s niacinamide 10% + zinc 1% and hyaluronic acid 2% + b5 are showing an incompatibility. The Ordinary’s niacinamide 10% + zinc 1% is a thin water based solution and the hyaluronic acid 2% + b5 is a slightly more jelly-like water based serum.

How do you tell?

By looking at the first couple of ingredients on the list. For both The Ordinary’s niacinamide 10% + zinc 1% and hyaluronic acid 2% + b5 this is water. For other products you might see silicones or oils.

This example of balling up is a little more unique because both products are water based, seeing balling up when using products like these may be because;

  1. You need to wait a little while longer for the first layer to absorb in (here for example zinc PCA is a salt i.e. it has a positive and negative side whereas hyaluronic acid is an anionic polymer i.e. it has an overall negative charge), remember how magnets with the same charge stick like glue and with the opposite charge repel like water and oil?
  2. Sometimes higher weight hyaluronic acids can behave similarly to silicone i.e. they sit on the first few layers of skin

While this example is a little more complicated, in general you’ll solve moisturiser balling up by;

  1. Waiting a little while longer in-between applying the products which are balling up
  2. Using less
  3. Avoiding moisturisers with high levels of silicones
  4. Using similar skincare products together e.g. following the rules of skincare layering
  5. Identifying the culprit product and switching it to your AM or PM routine i.e. away from the other product it doesn’t like

What Should You Do If Moisturiser Rubs Off from Clean Skin?

Finally, if you’re experiencing moisturiser rub off without using it on top of any other kind of skincare, know this, your skin’s top layers are oil based, so sometimes you can get the same kind of repel reaction between your skin and a moisturiser.

You can fix it by working through these steps;

  1. Using a little less
  2. Exfoliating before applying moisturiser to help prep your skin to absorb
  3. Patting in your moisturiser instead of rubbing

Now my friend, tell me your ballsing up skincare stories… which products are you using which rub off the more you try to rub them in? Have more skincare questions? Let’s chat in the comments below…