Do Copolymers hate my face?

A question from a guy in the UK for the wonderful Brains, and anyone else who can help.

Do Copolymers hate my face / does my face hate Coplolymers? Is this a thing, or am I alone / a lone freak?!

Is it possible that “Sodium Acrylate / Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer” and “Hydroxyethyl Acrylate / Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer” two in particular, in creams/lotions/serums just will not play nice with my face? 

I think I had a light bulb moment, after a few years of seemingly random product annoyance, when I recently purchased two day creams, which both rubbed off and so led me to my investigation.

I am SO sick and tired of wasting my money, and having my hopes dashed with products that just rub off, or don’t even rub in. Could I finally have got to the bottom of it?

In two of my latest same brand day creams containing Sodium Acrylate / Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer I can sometimes apply the product OK, but an hour or so later (if I’m lucky) if I touch my face it all balls, piles, rubs off, turns into white crumbs etc. In an effort to get to the bottom of it, I applied it over my usual serum, no serum, bare skin, I rubbed it in, I patted it in, and smoothed less on, and if I overworked it on initial application it would come straight off! It makes no difference if it’s on freshly shaved smooth skin or two day stubble either. 

I’m wondering if it may well be an oily skin compatibility issue? I have crazy skin, which definitely veers on the oily side, but it doesn’t happen at all when I apply it to my hands for example.

My buddy, with (annoyingly) very normal skin, can use the same products and experience no rubbing off at all, either immediately or at the end of the day when I rubbed and rubbed his forehead and nothing happened. I however can sit watching TV in the evening and make face dandruff balls (my party trick!).

I was tempted to say it was perhaps a dual issue with Silicones, but, I think I have had other products with silicones that don’t cause such a problem. And one or two of the evil suspicious problematic products don’t contain any silicones. 

I used to assume that sometimes two products just didn’t play well with each other, and would present compatibility issues, but now I’m thinking that wasn’t the case, and it was a copolymer in one (or both?) of them that just came straight off?

For the record, I also have tons of other products, without any coplolymers (or silicones for that matter) that work as one would expect, so I know my skin can’t be entirely to blame for everything.

What are they? 

Why are they?

Are the in anyway beneficial, or is it just all about the slip and feel? And if so, and many other brands don’t use them, is it just a quick and easy 'feels good' formula?

I’m also wondering if I’m getting any benefit from any of the other ingredients if it’s balling off? Or, is it just the copolymer itself that’s coming off? 

Have I made this whole thing up?

I now feel like I’m on a mission (a very tricky one it seems) to avoid all Copolymers in anything, to save my sanity and my wallet!


  • Very strange! 

    These copolymers are primarily used as thickening agents and, yes, under certain circumstances become less soluble and cause the "balling up" phenomena that you're experiencing. Your guess about the cause being oily skin makes some sense since that could change the solubility environment of the products but I'm surprised that they're THAT unstable. Rubbing will make the problem worse so if you are touching your face a lot that could hasten the problem. 
  • I experience the same balling up when layering products too. I know those white crumbs too well, hahaha, especially with sunscreen! But I just rock the look without a care in the world.
    I googled it and the best I could find is that it's some sort of solubility problem as Randy mentioned; combining silicone based, oil based, or water based products can mess up the emulsions.

    But I want Randy to explain in further detail what exactly is this solubility problem? Why does adding silicone to oil (and other combos) mess things up?
    My guess is that a lotion that is an oil in water suspension can only tolerate so much oil in it because of the amount of emulsifier, so when you spread an oil over top it reaches this breaking point. Why does it make big sticky glue balls rather than forming a suspension of oil over water or something? Does it have to do with polarity or something?
    What are basic guidelines about what combines well and what doesn't?

    Also, does this come into play when choosing make up? I heard you just can't combine primers and foundations and concealers from different brands willy-nilly because some are water based, some silicone based, etc. Is there such thing as mismatched primer and foundation that won't spread well and look funny?

    Didn't expect to digress so much, this probably should have been a new thread. Sorry!
  • The polymers are water soluble (or at least water dispensable) so as the water evaporates (and/or as the environment around the polymers becomes more oily aka hydrophobic) the polymers can kick out of solution and form the white balls. 

    This only happens with certain types of polymers so you typically don't have to worry about this in most products. 
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