I found an acne patch stuck to my laptop at work once. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but it probably fell off during the night and made its way there. This was disappointing for me because taking the sticker off and discovering what it’s sucked out from my skin is one of my favorite things about these patches—and you can’t exactly inspect your pimple’s purges during a work meeting.
But another day, another pimple, another night falling asleep with stickers on my face. I’ve often wondered how exactly these little patches work. They almost seem magical, sucking out the zit goo and who-knows-what from my pores. If you too reach for acne patches during a breakout, you might have wondered the same thing, which is why we asked skin experts to give us the lowdown on these zit-zapping stickers.
How do acne patches heal breakouts?
Acne patches come in the form of round, semi-transparent stickers. They are made of hydrocolloid dressing, a type of wound bandage that draws out moisture from within pores (or in its usual application, open sores) without drying out the surrounding skin. When applied to pimples, the principle is the same, according to NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “They work by absorbing excess fluid, and this pulls oil and dirt away from the pimple,” Dr. King says, while adding:
That secondary benefit of preventing you from touching your face too much can be a skin saver for those who are chronic pickers or absent-minded touchers, no matter what type of breakout it is. But to truly benefit from acne patches, you need to use them on the right type of zit. “These patches can be helpful for more superficial pimples—small whiteheads or pustules,” explains Dr. King. Dr. Anna Guanche, board-certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert, echoes her statement. “They work really well for cystic lesions and pustules, but do nothing for blackheads and underground bumps/congested pores.”
In my experimentation, I too have found that acne patches work best on raised pimples that have an open pore, an easy pathway for the insides to ooze out. If needed, I’ll safely pop the pimple before I apply the patch. So unless your goal is to stop yourself from touching it too much, only apply the patches to surface breakouts with a whitehead or opening. You can wear them whenever you want, but to get a good eight hours of wear, put them on before you go to sleep.
As mentioned earlier, one of the best parts of putting on an acne patch is taking it off. That’s because, if it’s done its job, you’ll now have white specks on the patch where it had absorbed everything it’s pulled out of your pimple. And no, it’s not actually white because of the gunk in your whitehead. “The white stuff is just hydrated hydrocolloid. Moisture turns it white, kind of like chronic moisture turns the skin on your fingers white. The more moisture it absorbs, the whiter it turns,” Dr. Guanche explains, much to my disappointment.
Put a patch on that pimple
Both dermatologists I spoke to agreed that acne patches are a good solution to spot treating breakouts. “I think these patches offer a spot treatment option that can be helpful for mild acne. And they generally don’t dry out the skin and leave it flaky like more classic acne spot treatments containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. So that means that they can be particularly helpful for people with sensitive skin and mild acne,” says Dr. King.
It’s best to try a few different brands and styles to find the one that works best for you and your acne type. Fortunately, acne patches can usually be bought in bulk for cheap. COSRX Acne Master Pimple Patch is one of the most popular options and comes in at $5 for 24 patches. The patches are clear and available in three different sizes.
Some patches come with extra medicinal power, like the Avarelle Acne Cover Spot Patches with Tea Tree & Calendula Oil ($8.50/40 patches). They claim to blend in with all skin tones, so if they are a match for you, you may be able to wear them out during the day, but so far, I’ve never been brave enough to do this.
Whichever you choose to use, just make sure they’re still on your face when you wake up in the morning, and then make sure you remember to take them off before you leave the house for the day. That is, unless you’re into wearing acne patches as an accessory. We won’t judge.