Beauty

Are pimple patches the magic cure for blemishes?

We spoke to a dermatologist to find out.

A woman taking a pimple patch off of her face. Credit: Hero Cosmetics

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It’s a stretch to say that acne is trendy, but pimple patches certainly are—just scroll through Tik Tok. These sticky patches, popularized by K-beauty brands like CosRX are usually discreet, clear dots. (One notable exception: the popular, bright yellow, star-shaped patches from Starface that aim to bring acceptance and positivity to having and caring for acne.).

But as we all know, just because a skincare trend is popular, doesn't mean it’s the most effective method for achieving what it claims to—whether that’s clearing acne with patches, or stimulating collagen growth with jade rollers. To help us understand why people look to these small dots for blemish healing, we spoke with Dr. Isha Tiernan, a dermatologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

What are pimple patches?

CosRX
Credit: CosRX

Acne dots are actually just small hydrocolloid dressings.

Acne patches are small hydrocolloid dressings, which the FDA describes as “sterile wound dressings” composed of an adhesive side that keeps it in place and can absorb “moisture vapor” (the “hydro” in the name) and an outer layer that keeps water and bacteria out.

“We use hydrocolloid dressings in wound healing because they tend to draw water or fluid out of a wound, and water and fluid can be very inhibitive to a wound being able to heal,” Tiernan says. “[A pimple is] like a little mini wound on the skin—you have bacteria and dead skin cells forming inflammation and rupturing under the skin—so if you stick a little patch of the hydrocolloid dressing and it sucks up the water, it can help it heal a little faster.”

Some acne patches also have additional pimple-fighting active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in them that help dissolve pore-clogging dead skin cells.

How do you use pimple patches?

Hero Cosmetics 1
Credit: Hero Cosmetics

Acne patches usually come in sheets.

On clean, dry skin, stick the patch directly on top of the pimple or blemish. You can use the patches on any pimples, regardless of whether it’s come to a head or is still under the skin’s surface, though the efficacy may vary. Follow the instructions that come with your acne patches, but in general, plan to wear one overnight or until the patch turns from clear to an opaque color (this is an indication that the patch has absorbed fluid). Replace the patch and let the process repeat until your pimple clears up.

Are the different brands of pimple patches actually different?

Starface
Credit: Starface

There are dozens of acne patch brands, but they all perform similarly.

I tried a handful of brands—Starface, CosRX, Peace Out Acne, Hero Cosmetics, and Spa Life—and think they’re all about the same. Each of these stick to the skin without fuss and stay on for a long time (though the star-shaped patches from SpaLife pull up at the tips of each point, but stick fine at the center). I found them to all be equal in acne-clearing efficacy, though it’s hard to tell if that’s because the pimples were already on the mend or because I was consistent with my use of the patches. The best part for me, though, wasn’t that the patches cleared up blemishes, but that they kept me from picking at and irritating the spot.

The best part for me, though, wasn’t that the patches cleared up blemishes, but that they kept me from picking at and irritating the spot.

Bottom line: If you’d like to try hydrocolloidal pimple zapping, you really can’t go wrong with any of these patches. If you have a preference in price tag, quantity of patches, variety of sizes, or the look of them, factor those things into your buying decision. You can even buy full sheets of the dressings (in the first-aid section of the drug store) and cut them to fit, say, for treating body acne.

Should you use pimple patches on acne?

Hero Cosmetics 3
Credit: Hero Cosmetics

For the best results, use acne patches consistently.

Do you have a pimple right now? Do you get pimples? If so, yes! Not only do tons of reviewers swear by them, a study done at a hospital in Taiwan found that there was a “statistically significant greater reduction” of acne and inflammation for the group that wore hydrocolloid dressings over their acne when compared to the group who only wore skin tape. Plus, those with the hydrocolloid dressings showed an improvement in redness, oiliness, dark pigmentation, and “sebum casual level” over the course of the test. And, again, if you’re a pimple picker, you’ll be less likely to fuss with your skin, which is all around better for healing. Why not give ‘em a try?

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