Do Pimple Patches Work

The results aren’t that surprising considering that experts say a microneedle patch can’t halt a burgeoning hell-cyst in its tracks, nor can it kill one that’s already come to a head. The only true magic bullet for cystic acne is a cortisone injection from a dermatologist—and even that isn’t ideal. Really, you don’t want to just spot-treat acne; “you want to treat the whole face,” Dr. Marchbein explains. “[Patches and/or cortisone shots] would not be my primary treatment strategy by any stretch of the imagination.”

Can a Pimple Patch Actually Do Anything for Acne?

Products that claim to zap zits overnight are old news, but recently they’ve taken a novel form: a pimple patch, or individual zit-sized bandages that you slap on and forget about overnight. In the morning, you’ll wake up to a calmer, clearer complexion—or so the packages say.

These claims are as appealing as they are bold. Whether you get lots of small pimples or a couple huge ones, persistent acne is incredibly demoralizing—which makes products that promise to fix it overnight very tempting. I’ve been there: For most of my twenties, I had the kind of acne that drives you to buy literally anything that could help. Had pimple patches been more of a thing even three years ago, I’m sure I would have tried them all.

Generally speaking, pimple patches are just hydrocolloid bandages in cuter, smaller, single-serve packaging. (Hydrocolloid bandages are made of a sticky, gel-like material that’s excellent at absorbing liquid; you’ve probably seen them in the first aid aisle as “blister bandages.”) They’re great for protecting lesions that leak fluid as they heal, which is how most pimple patches market themselves.

But some brands are impregnated with medications like salicylic acid and niacinamide, and others even contain dissolving microneedles designed to enhance the penetration of those medications. What they all have in common is how they claim to help acne sufferers: namely, by accelerating the healing process and stopping—or even reversing—the progression of emerging zits.

That sounds great, but do they work? Like, even a little?

To find out, I stuck six popular brands of pimple patches to my face for a couple of weeks and judged them accordingly.

Here are the products I tested:

  • Starface Hydro-Stars ($22, Starface)
  • Peace Out Acne Healing Dots ($19, Sephora)
  • Dr. Jart Focuspot Blemish MicroTip Patch ($18, Sephora)
  • CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patch ($5, Soko Glam)
  • C&C by Clean & Clear Over Zit Spot Patches ($16, Amazon)
  • ZitSticka Killa Kit ($29, ZitSticka)

There’s no such thing as scientific rigor in a one-person test with no controls, so I tried to compare the patches with a known quantity: my usual acne-fighting routine. My go-to procedure for treating a zit is to wash the area thoroughly with gentle soap (I use Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bars), dry it off, and apply an extra dab of my azelaic acid cream. Usually, this takes care of things within a day or two. That’s what the patches were up against.

I used the patches according to their instructions, which are pretty consistent across products: Clean your skin thoroughly, let it dry completely, and apply the patch directly on top of your targeted zits. At least two hours later (for the microneedle patches) or the next morning (for the others), peel the patch off and repeat the whole process if desired. Sometimes I found the patches left a little bit of sticky residue behind, but it came off easily with soap and water.

As someone who is prone to isolated clusters of deep-rooted, rock-hard cysts that hang around for weeks on end, I wasn’t expecting much. But I was intrigued to see how well these products would stand up against my usual methods.

The science on pimple patches is spotty—and dermatologists aren’t convinced.

For this experiment I spoke with two board-certified dermatologists—Olga Bunimovich, M.D., at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Shari Marchbein, M.D., at NYU Langone—to get their takes on the trendiest new thing in acne treatment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s no peer-reviewed data on pimple patches as an acne treatment, the experts tell SELF. Hydrocolloid bandages are usually studied as a dressing for pressure ulcers, where they haven’t been found any more effective than other methods, rather than acne. There are a handful of small studies on dissolving microneedle patches impregnated with antiaging ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, which have shown promising wrinkle reduction results. While this could be good news for wrinkles, there’s no evidence yet that the patches work with acne-fighting ingredients.

Clinical opinion is similarly mixed. Both of the dermatologists I interviewed were pretty “meh” on pimple patches as a concept. Although they agreed that patches are helpful for their patients who compulsively pick at their faces, neither was ready to cosign the universal claims of faster healing and cyst reduction—and they have concerns for sensitive skin.

The biggest concern shared by Dr. Marchbein and Dr. Bunimovich has to do with occlusion, or covering your skin in a way that blocks or slows airflow. Pimple patches are strongly occlusive, and putting medications under occlusion increases their potency. If a topical medication doesn’t evaporate fully, it can cause irritation and even chemical burns. Never, ever put topical acne medications underneath a pimple patch—and if your skin is prone to irritation or contact dermatitis, approach medicated patches with caution.

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Dissolving microneedles are also potentially problematic because it’s unclear how deep they actually go. Penetrating the skin with any foreign body poses a risk of infection or an antigen response, particularly for people with sensitive skin, Dr. Bunimovich says. If the needles are actually getting where they’re supposed to go—through the epidermis and into the dermis—and then dissolving, “that’s problematic on many levels,” she cautions.

Dr. Marchbein agrees, but ultimately thinks the risk is pretty low: “It is highly unlikely that [microneedles] reach the dermis,” she says. Still, if your skin is especially reactive, you’re better off with a plain, flat patch.

So do acne patches really work? Well, here’s what happened to me:

Can pimple patches make acne heal more quickly?

All of the brands I tested seemed to encourage the healing process to some degree, either by reducing inflammation on emerging zits or absorbing pus from those that had come to a head. Although none of the patches helped more than my trusty azelaic acid, I did find that my pimples healed relatively quickly.

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It’s impossible to say whether the patches themselves did anything or if the simple fact that they kept me from touching my face was helpful. And both dermatologists I spoke to say that the biggest potential benefit from using pimple patches is their ability to keep your fingers out of healing zits.

Can microneedle patches stop a pimple from fully forming?

I tested the two microneedle patches (from ZitSticka and Dr. Jart) on a couple of emerging lumps, and both seemed to leave the spots a little less red and more hydrated than the plain patches. But I couldn’t really discern a difference between the two patches, and the effects were subtle at best.

Surprisingly, I found the microneedle patches far more effective on zits that were on their way out. Both of these patches contain similar soothing ingredients—like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide—which could explain why they were so good at, well, soothing the dried-out husks of past zits. However, neither managed to fulfill their promise of fully sending zits back whence they came. And neither worked better or faster than my trusty azelaic acid.

The results aren’t that surprising considering that experts say a microneedle patch can’t halt a burgeoning hell-cyst in its tracks, nor can it kill one that’s already come to a head. The only true magic bullet for cystic acne is a cortisone injection from a dermatologist—and even that isn’t ideal. Really, you don’t want to just spot-treat acne; “you want to treat the whole face,” Dr. Marchbein explains. “[Patches and/or cortisone shots] would not be my primary treatment strategy by any stretch of the imagination.”

One other thing to keep in mind here is that, while applying a needle patch to a small, relatively noninflamed zit didn’t hurt, it also didn’t feel good. Just thinking about pressing prickly little needles into a rock-hard, under-the-skin cyst in training made me shudder.

My two favorite pimple patches were…

I found both the CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patch ($5, Soko Glam) and Peace Out Acne Healing Dots ($19, Sephora) to be conveniently packaged, sticky enough to stay where you stick ’em, and thick enough to absorb zit goop.

However, neither was perfect. For instance, the Peace Out patches are more expensive, likely because they contain salicylic acid. And although the CosRX patches come in three sizes, only one of those was big enough for the zits I get. So, if you also tend to get larger pimples, you might find that many of the patches in a pack don’t fit your zits.

Ultimately, there is no single answer to the question of whether pimple patches actually work. In that they’re guaranteed to keep you from picking at zits while they heal, yes, pimple patches absolutely work as advertised. But the claims of faster healing and arrested cyst development didn’t hold up. To me, pimple patches are best used like Band-Aids for zits to help keep your gross fingers off your face while your zit takes care of itself.

And, of course, your experience with pimple patches will come down to a few different factors, including the type of pimples you get, what other types of treatments you try, and your expectations for an acne patch. If you’re looking for something to slap on a zit so you aren’t tempted to dig it out with your fingernails, any pimple patch in your budget will do just fine. But if you’re expecting a miraculous overnight cure for a mountain of a cyst, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Save your money for a dermatologist appointment—or at least an over-the-counter treatment that actually works.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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What Are Hydrocolloid Patches for Pimples?

Almost every dermatologist and beauty expert advises people to “not pick” their pimples, whiteheads, or acne, but some people can’t control this urge and pick their pimples anyway. Doing so turns the tiny, harmless bump on their face into an open wound with pus, oil, and sometimes blood.

Hydrocolloid patches, more commonly called pimple patches, are a popular acne-reliever. These are over-the-counter patches that soothe inflammation in your skin caused due to acne or pimples. Many dermatologists vouch for hydrocolloid patches.

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These patches work as a spot treatment, though, so don’t consider them treatment or cure for your overarching acne issue.

How Do Hydrocolloid Patches Work?

Hydrocolloid is a gummy-like gel that heals wounds. It is present in pimple patches, which are small stickers about the size of a pimple. You may also find large hydrocolloid patches for bumpier and inflamed pimples or blisters.

These patches aim to promote skin healing. Amy Kassouf, MD, says that pimple patches absorb the liquid from the pimple and cover the wound adequately. This prevents further swelling or inflammation of the affected area.

Many people wonder: “Do pimple patches work on aggravated forms of pimples like papules and pustules?” Dr. Kassouf answers this question with a yes. According to her, hydrocolloid pimple patches best heal open wounds, papules, cysts, and pustules.

You can apply these patches to your pimples if you have acne lesions. You’ll feel less inflammation, irritation, and redness in the affected area.

Hydrocolloid patches are the best choice for people who are habitual pimple pickers. They cover the pimples, preventing them from scratching their face.

What Hydrocolloid Patches Can’t Do

Pimple patches can be pretty effective on pimples and lesions, but they can’t work on every bump. Dr. Kassouf explains that pimple patches don’t work on closed wounds, deeper lesions, and comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).

Hydrocolloid patches are an inexpensive spot treatment method for active wounds and bumps. But they may not be effective if you have not picked or popped your pimple.

She further says that pimple patches can’t prevent acne from returning, cleanse clogged pores, or treat acne flares. These patches also won’t work on cystic acne, worsened breakouts, or any other skin concern other than acne and pimples.

How to Get Rid of Pimples With Hydrocolloid Patches

Most hydrocolloid pimple patches take a few hours to show their effects, so the best time to apply them to your pimples is before going to bed. This way, the patch will have the entire night to produce results.

You may also find some pimple patches that are unnoticeable enough to be applied during the day.

Make sure your skin is dry before applying the pimple patch. Wet skin may adversely impact the adhesiveness of the patch. If your pimple is oozing pus or blood, wipe the drainage with a clean cloth before application.

Take out the patch from the packaging and apply it directly to your pimple. Leave it for the time mentioned on the product. It’s good to continue wearing pimple patches for 3 to 5 days to get more hydrocolloid benefits.

You can also cut them according to the size of your pimple or zit. Keep changing the patches when needed. Peel them after a few days, and you’ll see significant improvement in the bumpiness and inflammation of your skin.

Do Hydrocolloid Patches Have Any Downsides?

Hydrocolloid pimple patches have no side effects on people with normal skin. These waterproof patches allow you to wash your face without removing them. They can easily be left applied on your face for 5 days without causing any harm.

Pimple patches work wonders in stopping people from picking their pimples. Popping your pimples may lead to aggravated inflammation, scabbing, scarring, and secondary bacterial infections.

If you have sensitive skin, it’s better to avoid using pimple patches, as they contain adhesive glue that can cause irritation.

You may also come across benzoyl peroxide acne bandages. These patches work on pimples, but they can also irritate your sensitive skin.

Consult a professional dermatologist before applying any pimple patch on your face.

Do Pimple Patches Make Acne Worse?

Pimple patches may not give similar results to everyone. Many people find these patches ineffective for their pimples and acne.

However, that doesn’t mean that pimple patches worsen acne. Instead, in some cases, they just don’t make the inflammation better.

That being said, people with sensitive skin may experience more irritation and inflammation after applying a pimple patch. According to Dr. Kassouf, these patches have adhesive that enables them to stick to your face. If you’re sensitive to the glue, it can aggravate the skin around your pimples.

Many brands use salicylic acid and tea tree oil in their pimple patches. These ingredients can also irritate or dry out sensitive skin.

Alternatives for Hydrocolloid Patches

Hydrocolloid pimple patches are harmless dressings for acne spot treatment. They may improve your inflammation or give you no results at all. Many experts believe that these patches work only on a specific type of pimple.

Pimple patches are helpful, but they are not an overall treatment for acne. If you have cystic acne or want to treat your condition, you must visit a dermatologist to get an expert opinion.

Your skin expert may suggest over-the-counter medications that work wonders on pimples, acne, and related conditions. You can try these alternatives for hydrocolloid patches if you have sensitive skin:

  • Salicylic Acid. It is available in cleansers and topicals. This beta hydroxy acid helps exfoliate your skin to protect it from pimples. Salicylic acid topicals may also reduce acne inflammation.
  • Adapalene. It is a vitamin A derivative that reduces the stickiness of skin cells, stopping them from clogging the pores on your face. This can prevent acne from occurring and help in healing. Adapalene comes in topical form.
  • Cleansers. These remove dirt and pollutants from your face, protecting it from inflammation and acne breakouts.

The above alternatives may give you slow but effective results, so you can talk to a dermatologist if you want instant results for an upcoming event. They may recommend you get cortisone or antibiotic injections.

Pimples can also occur due to hormonal imbalance. Your dermatologist will identify the cause of your acne breakout to prescribe you effective and better options.

Show Sources

Cleveland Clinic: “Amy Kassouf, MD,” “Do Pimple Patches Actually Work?”

Journal of Cosmetic Science: “A pilot study on efficacy treatment of acne vulgaris using a new method: results of a randomized double-blind trial with Acne Dressing.”

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: “This TikTok acne remedy really does work.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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