The truth about how those trendy acne patches really work, according to dermatologists
I found acne patches stuck to my laptop at work once. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but they probably fell off during the night and made their way there. This was disappointing for me because taking the stickers off and discovering what they 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 are typically 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 Hadley King, M.D. “They work by absorbing excess fluid, and this pulls oil and dirt away from the pimple,” Dr. King says. She adds: “While stuck to the skin, acne patches also have the added benefit of preventing you from picking or trying to pop the pimple—which is good because picking a pimple increases inflammation and healing time and increases risk for infection, discoloration, and scarring.”
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. Anna Guanche, M.D., a 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 have white specks on the patch where it absorbed everything it 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 way to spot-treat 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. Here are some of the best acne patches currently on the market:
1COSRX Acne Master Pimple Patch
The brand’s OG hydrocolloid pimple patches are one of the best on the market, and this new iteration of their formula comes in the form of an oval, versus the original circle. This shape helps cover multiple blemishes at once, but works especially well on larger curved areas that need attention, like the hairline. 26 patches come in each pack, and rest assured it’s a product you can trust—it won a Beauty Crush Award.
Most pimple patches are made to blend into the skin and be as transparent as possible to avoid being spotted, but not these ones. These star-shaped pimple patches celebrate acne while simultaneously saying “Thank U, Next” in a fun way. Acne isn’t something to be ashamed of, so if you’re going to get rid of it, why not have fun doing so? Each box comes with 32 star acne patches, and every refill (sans box) retails at $18. We love that the container has a mirror to make application easy, and the top of it has a pretty cute smiley face, which just makes us happy. It’s a skincare star (pun intended), which is why we gave it a Beauty Crush Award.
3ZitSticka KILLA Kit
Shop it! ZitSticka KILLA Kit, $29, amazon.com
These acne patches flatten and calm early-stage pimples thanks to their micro-dart technology. These teensy, tiny darts lightly penetrate your skin and help deliver ingredients like hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid directly to your blemish within two hours, which is why we gave them a Beauty Crush Award. They help prevent pimples from growing, so they’re a great go-to product when you first feel a pimple starting to come along. “These little pimple patches are an overnight fixer to make whiteheads, blackheads, and picked zits disappear by morning,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist. “The patch protects the zit from further irritation and infection by providing a ‘sealed’ environment for skin to heal itself.”
4Avarelle Acne Cover Patch
Some patches come with extra medicinal power, like these from Avarelle. 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. So far, I’ve never been brave enough to do this.
5Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Original
This drugstore-priced hydrocolloid acne patch has won a handful of awards for its effectiveness in draining blemishes overnight. Each pack comes with 36 patches, and all you have to do is peel it off, apply at night, and go to sleep as the patch works over the next six hours.
6Dr. Jart+ Focuspot Blemish Micro Tip Patch
Like the ZitSticka, these acne patches uses micro-darts to gently penetrate the skin’s barrier and help deliver the pimple-fighting ingredients straight to the source. These contain hyaluronic acid, peptides, and vitamin B3 to help attack the blemish while also working to prevent side-effects like hyper pigmentation.
Whichever patches 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.