Sunscreen Pilling: 3 Tips for Prevention

Why does sunscreen pilling happen to me? Hint: It’s not the weather.

Why does my sunscreen pill? In this week’s podcast episode of Hot & Sweaty Beauty, we cover the bane of every Singapore girl’s existence — hot it must be, but sweaty is never beautiful. Welcome to Hot and Sweaty beauty by Dr.TWL, board certified dermatologist and chief scientific officer at Dr.TWL Pharmacy, where we give real life skincare, makeup and haircare tips to keep you looking cool in sweltering Singapore weather.

Ep4: Why Does My Sunscreen Pill?

Sunscreen pilling is annoying. Long ago, I was once a dermatology resident at the National Skin Centre in Singapore, where we were the happy recipients of lots of free sunscreen samples from a bunch of skincare brands looking to bribe.. I mean share their skincare with us. So back in those days, we would try on literally every single brand of sunscreen available because — well. They were free. But other than the fact that I am now a board certified dermatologist, I want to to share that I do— have extensive personal experience with sunscreens that do what they are supposed to dro; i.e. block UV rays (which we ought to be terrified of, right?) but even more traumatic memories of those that would turn my skin into a ghastly, ghostly flaky white… 

@drteowanlin 7 steps to skincare perfection with me @drtwlderma #sunscreen #sunscreenviral #sunscreenisimportant #dermatologist #doctorsoftiktok #fyp #whattowatch ♬ original sound – Dr. Teo Wan Lin – Dermatologist Dr.TWL

I once had a plastic surgeon colleague ask me “what happened to your face?”, until he realised that dermatologists wear pilling sunscreen under their BB cream. Yup, let me clarify that that was a long time ago, about 10 years to exact. So CC creams weren’t even in existence then. And so today’s podcast must be about this all important topic of sunscreen pilling — since it looks like not many people are aware of such a thing. And even if they do… do you have a solution? 

Well, I do. So carry on listening. 

#1 How to Prevent Sunscreen Pilling: Choose the Right Sunscreen 

The first thing to realise is why your sunscreen is pilling. A couple of factors are at work here. Firstly, most dermatologist-recommended pharmacy brands use physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which have a rather clunky texture. This is also the reason why many sunscreens leave a white cast on skin. There is an alternative— by increasing the chemical sunscreen component, one can actually reduce the unpleasant whiteness caused by the physical blockers— but physical blockers are actually more tolerable for sensitive skin types. That means they are less likely to cause skin irritation and sensitivity.

If you’ve experienced stinging or burning sensations on skin after applying sunscreen, it is likely to be due to the chemical sunscreen component such as avobenzones, oxybenzones, octisalates, homosalates… the list is quite long and difficult to remember. It’s also not extremely relevant other than the fact that the more cosmetically appealing sunscreens tend to have a well formulated proportion of physical and chemical sunscreens that result in better cosmetic effects. 

SunProtector to prevent Sunscreen Pilling
The SunProtector™ is exquisitely formulated for humid climates. Broad-spectrum sunscreen that also regenerates and soothes sensitive skin. Designed with unique pigments blended to be almost invisible under make-up.

Best Sunscreens According to Dermatologists

From a dermatologist’s point of view, I think we always regard pure physical sunscreens as a “safer” alternative simply because of the lower risk of allergies — we call that allergenicity. If you have sensitive skin or eczema for instance, it may be better for you to choose a physical blocker. But, realistically speaking, I do not know I of any pure physical blocker based sunscreen that doesn’t pill and doesn’t leave a white cast. Not naming brands here but I think that would be 99% of the western/european brands I have tried.

The best formulas are actually K-beauty sunscreens which are usually a mixture of physical and chemical sunscreens. The best part is, the Koreans have figured out how to make the white cast disappear! So it turns out that we’ve stolen the K-beauty secrets as well in the making of our K-beauty inspired SunProtector. A sunscreen that does just that—disappear! A property specifically engineered for our local Singapore climate. Which by the way you must already know is hot and sweaty, So, the result is? A perfectly invisible finish that also does not pill. Provided you wait 60 seconds before applying the CC cream which we formulated to be compatible with the sunscreen.

@drtwlderma #question from @Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals The best sunscreen for Singapore weather? Shop the SunProtector- dermatologist formulated for universal skin types, non-stinging, a complete adaptogenic sunscreen formula that boosts your skin health #dermatologistskincare #dermatologistrecommended #bestsunscreen #bestsunscreen2022 #sunscreenreview #sunscreenviral #sunscreenisimportant #sunscreentips ♬ Paradise – Ikson

Which brings us to tip #2 How To Prevent Sunscreen Pilling: Use a Compatible CC cream or Foundation

This is the second biggest reason why you may find your sunscreen pills. It’s a bit too technical to go into the specifics. But usually, I would advise testing it out first with a sample or getting both the sunscreen and foundation from the same brand to avoid the hassle. I think one of the biggest annoyances us girls have is dealing with questions about our skin. I mean as if we aren’t aware enough, people still imagine that we need them to remind us about our imperfections? Please let me know in the comments if you agree. But it did annoy me a lot whenever someone pointed out to me that my skin was peeling… and I had to say. Well it’s not peeling. It’s XXX sunscreen. Very annoying and I’m sure you understand. 

But I know what you are thinking…why is my skin peeling after putting on sunscreen? Okay, here’s the truth. If your skin is peeling without sunscreen, it’s going to peel even when you have sunscreen on — which will likely make it worse. But if you, like me , didn’t have peeling skin, it’s actually the sunscreen that is peeling. Oops, I meant, pilling. 

And it all boils down to one final point, which is also the last tip I have.

#3 How To Prevent Sunscreen Pilling: Make Sure Your Sunscreen Absorbs 

@drteowanlin #sunscreenqueen #sunscreentips #drtwl #sgbeauty #dermatologistrecommended ♬ Sea Waves Sounds With Relaxing Dreamy Music – prosoundlab

I’m sure you are asking right now… why won’t my sunscreen absorb? That’s a tricky question. Firstly, if your sunscreen is a physical sunscreen— it isn’t supposed to be absorbed! Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are physical mineral particles that block UV rays— even the “invisible sunscreen” by our pharmacy that I’m bragging about actually relies on a cleverly crafted optical illusion to achieve this. The particles are still there, they are simply micronised. In layperson terms, they have become miniscule. So tiny, that the cast becomes invisible.

So the answer to your question is— most likely your sunscreen is not appearing to be absorbed because the physical sunscreen particles are not small enough. This is unfortunately the case with most of the offending sunscreens I mentioned earlier. And where K-beauty formulas really stand out. On top of the cosmetic appeal of the SunProtector, it is also infused with potent plant based antioxidants like Portulaca Oleracea, aloe and piper methysitcum— which essentially function as adaptogens or what is popularly known as “green UV filters” that ought to be harnessed by the beauty savvy in 2023 as the SPF boost we need in all our skincare. 

@drtwlderma Can your sunscreen withstand the desert? Introducing SunProtector, our bestseller sunscreen at the pharmacy. A sunscreen inspired by and built for the harsh desert environment. Formulated with adaptogens such as purslane, it contains barrier repair and anti-aging ingredients that reduces fine lines and wrinkles while keeping your skin hydrated. #dermatologist #dermatologistrecommended #sunscreenviral #bestsunscreen2022 #sunscreenreview #sunscreenisimportant #sunscreentips #fyp ♬ Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys

Well…I hope you enjoyed today’s rant about how everything awful ought to be blamed on the hot and sweaty Singapore weather… I mean, not. Till the next episode!

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