Discover the Surprising Reasons Your Makeup Keeps Pilling (and How to Stop It for Good!)

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Have you ever asked yourself, “why is my makeup pilling?” after you just spent time and effort getting glam?

Pilling happens when skincare stuff doesn’t soak into the skin well and instead forms those annoying little clumps or balls, especially when you put on makeup afterwards. It’s like a skincare faux pas! So make sure to avoid it by choosing products that play nice together.

Makeup piling is a common problem faced by many people, but there are surprising reasons behind it. In this blog post, we will explore the surprising reasons why your makeup keeps piling up and provide effective tips to stop it for good!

The Role of Excess Oil

One of the main culprits behind makeup piling is excess oil production on the skin

Prevents absorption

Oil is one of the major reasons why your makeup might be pilling. Oil can prevent proper absorption of makeup, leading to pilling as the makeup doesn’t adhere properly to the skin. Excess oil on the face can create a slippery base that can cause makeup to slide around and bunch up, which leads to unnecessary piling. And if you have oily skin, using excess oil can create a barrier, preventing makeup from adhering to the skin and causing it to become patchy or roll into small balls.

Uneven texture

Excess oil production on the skin can mix with makeup and accumulate in pores, potentially leading to clogged pores, breakouts, and an overall less smooth makeup application or uneven texture, which can lead to pilling. If this is the case for you, try using a “pore filling” or “smoothing” primer before applying makeup that will create the right barrier between your skin and makeup.

These usually are silicone-based primers, which create a smooth surface for your makeup. The silicone creates a nice layer that prevents the oil from breaking through to your makeup. Try to look for primers that are labeled as non-comedogenic to avoid clogging pores and exacerbating the issue. You can also opt for one that has a “matte” finish, which is a good base to control excess shine.


If you have oily skin and breakouts, incorporate oil-control skincare products into your skincare routine, such as oil-free moisturizers and cleansers formulated for oily skin, use blotting papers throughout the day and use a suitable silicone-based primer to smooth out any uneven texture.

If not, try to just stick with oil-free and long-wearing makeup products, including foundations, concealers, and powders. This also reduces the risk of mixing incompatible ingredients.

The Importance of Proper Skincare

An improper skincare routine

If your makeup is pilling, you might need to improve your skincare routine. Not following a good routine regularly, with products that are suitable for your skin type can impact your makeup application and be a contributing factor to piling.

Without a clean, well prepped canvas, you introduce risk that your makeup will pill and look cakey. But. if you have a proper skincare routine, you can create a smooth canvas for makeup and allow it to adhere properly with no issues. Makeup products usually adhere better to skin that is well-prepped and moisturized but not overly oily.

What does a proper skincare routine for makeup application look like?

Cleanse daily

Properly cleansing your skin twice daily removes dirt, excess oil, and impurities that can interfere with makeup application. A clean canvas allows makeup products to adhere better and reduces the likelihood of pilling.

Regular Exfoliation

Regularly exfoliating helps slough off dead skin cells that can create a rough texture on the skin’s surface. Smooth skin provides a better foundation for makeup, preventing it from bunching up or pilling.


Well-hydrated skin is more plump, and smooth, which is the optimal surface for makeup. Moisturized skin helps prevent dry patches that lead to pilling.

Use skincare products suitable for your skin type

Using products that are suitable for your specific skin type is crucial for a successful makeup application for several reasons:

  1. Balanced Texture: Products formulated for your skin type can help balance its natural texture. For example, oily skin benefits from oil-free products that prevent excess shine, while dry skin benefits from moisturizing products that provide hydration.
  2. Preventing Excess Oil or Dryness: Using products that don’t match your skin type can lead to issues like excess oiliness or dryness. Excess oil can cause makeup to slide off or pill, while dryness can lead to flakiness and uneven makeup application.
  3. Improving Makeup Adherence: Products designed for your skin type provide an optimal base for makeup. For instance, a mattifying moisturizer can create a smoother canvas, while a hydrating product can prevent makeup from clinging to dry patches.
  4. Longevity: Skincare products tailored to your skin type can help makeup last longer. Oil control products for oily skin can help makeup resist breaking down, while moisturizing products for dry skin can prevent makeup from looking dull or cakey and remain longer lasting.


Cleanse your face twice a day, exfoliate regularly, and use a suitable moisturizer for your skin type.

Ensure your products are suitable for your skin type

Using Products with Incompatible Ingredients

Every beauty product has its own unique formulations, whether it’s your toner, serum, moisturizer, SPF, foundation, or concealer. It’s important to be mindful of what you’re combining so you don’t mix ones that are incompatible.

Which products don’t mix well and cause piling?

Silicone-Based Primers + Water-Based Foundation: cause separation.

When a water-based foundation/concealer are applied over a silicone-based primer, the silicone based primer creates a separation between your skin and makeup. Silicone based products are designed to sit on the skin’s surface for longer, whereas water based formulas are meant to adhere and absorb. However, the silicone repels water, which means that water-based products can struggle to spread and absorb evenly over the silicone barrier created by the primer.

This isn’t to be confused with never mixing these two types at all. What’s important is the order and rate of absorption. For instance if you use a water based primer first, and then a silicone based foundation, that is ok.

Oil-Based Products + Water-Based Products: oil and water don’t mix.

Oil can block water from being absorbed into the skin. If you prep for makeup with a thick oil-based cream and then layer a water-based foundation or concealer on top, over it will form an occlusive layer leading to pilling. It’s always best to start with water-based products first, making sure they’re fully absorbed before the next step.

Note that when taking care of your skin, you can end your routine with oil on top, which will help seal in moisture. However I wouldn’t recommend doing this before applying makeup.

Vitamin C + AHAs or BHAs: doubling up on active acids can lead to irritation, flakiness, and can cancel out their benefits.

Vitamin C + Retinol: strong acids that mixed together can cause irritation, redness, or cause your skin to peel.

Retinoids + AHAs or BHAs: mixing these together is a no-no.

Mixing active acids at the same will cause irritated and dry skin, and can be even worse for sensitive skin.


Try to stick to products with similar bases, and make sure to layer what you’re using in the proper order.

For drier skin types: If you opt for a primer, use a water-based primer and water-based foundation

For oily/combination skin types: use less oily products if possible, and if you need an extra smooth base or prefer a more matte look, opt for silicone primers + a silicone based foundation. Apply the primer in areas you’d like to blur/fill in pores or all over the face.

If you can’t avoid mixing products that might have different bases, these tips are helpful for everyone:

Allow extra time to set in between layering. This goes for all products you’re layering on, but when prepping for makeup, definitely try to allow your base to set thoroughly, especially in the case of a silicone based primer.

Opt for a foundation with glycerin in it, which will allow it to stick to whatever base you prepped with.

Use thin layers. Less is more, especially when it comes to foundation and concealer! If you properly prep and apply the makeup, a little goes a long way and it will correctly do its job without having to use too much product.

Improper Application Techniques

Too Much Product

One pump of product will usually do, whether it’s moisturizer or liquid foundation. But if you use too much, where does the excess go? If it doesn’t get absorbed fully, it just mixes up with the rest of the stuff you’re putting on, and it’s harder to work with. Excessive layering can overwhelm the skin and cause pilling.

Not Blending Properly

If you’re not tapping your products in to make it adhere and absorb and blend evenly over your skin, you increase the chances of pilling because of excess or having uneven texture.

To avoid pilling, it’s important to use the right tool and apply foundation properly. The choice of tool and technique can affect how the foundation looks and how long it lasts. For more guidance, watch this video by Korean makeup artist Saerom Min: Link to video.

When it comes to liquid foundation you can use brushes, puffs, sponges, or your hands (not recommended for beginners, even though your hands are free).

There are several different types:

  1. Flat brushes – good for thin skin appearance, facial glow. Hydration and tightness. Use with liquid and watery foundation. You must touch these before using them, so they are not split, and don’t cause streaks.
  2. Pore brushes – the dense hairs absorb the oil and moisture from a foundation, so are good for a semi-matte appearance. The dense hairs fill in pores. Highly recommended for those who have many pores. Definitely do not use a lot of product with these.

Puffs are good for patting and making a foundation get stuck on your skin. Using them with water will hydrate your skin and make foundations more adhesive.

  1. Rubicelle puffs (air puff)
  2. Polyutherane puffs (aka beauty blender)
  3. Latex puffs

Tips and Tricks for applying liquid foundation

No matter what, always apply foundation in the direction of the hairs on your face. When applying it on the nose, which has many pores and is curved, hold whatever brush your using vertically (make sure the hairs are standing on the nose, not on its side) and sort of “poke” the bridge.

Allow each product to absorb properly before applying the next one.

Avoid using too much product.

When it comes to applying the actual makeup, make sure to use the right tool:

Matte foundation: use a flat brush, and a sponge.

For very matte foundations, it’s better that the brush is thin. Apply it in small sections one at a time, not all over the face at once, since it dries out quickly. If you use this kind of brush, the powder that’s in matte foundations will get in between the hairs, so it won’t get cakey. For matte foundations, the important thing is that you need to apply several thin layers a few at a time that are the size of the brush, then blend. Then follow up with little taps (similar to patting your skin with skincare but using the brush instead), and then use a sponge (with water) very lightly to make it more adhesive.

Semi-Matte foundation: use a pore brush.

Apply it in sections.

Hydrating foundation: use soaked sponges or a flat brush.

You shouldn’t use a pore brush for this type of foundation. Pore brushes absorb and emit foundation, but cannot emit moisturizing foundation easily, so they might remove your base and skincare products in response.

To Prevent Pilling, Follow These Tips:

Layer wisely.

Use products with similar textures and bases in your skincare routine. For example, if you’re using a water-based moisturizer, pair it with a water-based primer or foundation.

Allow each product to absorb

This will prevent excess, and allow the products to do what they were designed to do.

Use Thinner Layers

Build up as needed only.

Consider Application Technique

Pat, don’t rub. This will help the products absorb better, always (whether it’s skin care or makeup.) By following the proper application technique, such as gently patting versus rubbing and using the right tool for the type of formula, your makeup will adhere to the skin, and last longer.


Remember, taking care of your skin and using the right products are essential steps in preventing makeup from piling up. By understanding the role of skincare, being aware of expired products, and mastering proper application techniques, you can achieve a flawless makeup look that lasts all day. So, say goodbye to makeup buildup and hello to a fresh-faced beauty routine!


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