Here's How Pimple Patches Actually Help Get Rid of Zits
Find out exactly how pimple patches work (and, no, it's not magic), plus the best acne patches to buy right now.
When it comes to the wild world of skin care, few inventions can truly be considered "the greatest thing(s) since sliced bread." Sure, groundbreaking discoveries such as the Clairsonic (RIP), scar-targeting lasers, and, oh yeah, LED therapy masks are BFDs. But over the past few years, nothing has seemingly come close to the revolutionary creation that is the — drum roll please — pimple patch. (Seriously, even celebrities such as Lili Reinhart have been showing off their pimple patch-covered skin on IG.)
Boasting an ability to zap zits overnight (yes, overnight) pimple patches are designed to be applied directly to the skin to reduce inflammation, redness, and sebum levels of a pimple sans any Rx-level meds or additional topical treatments. (And that means none of the typical drying-out that can come with even the best acne spot treatments.) But, umm, how? Great question. Ahead, exactly how these skin-saving stickies work — plus the best pimple patches to buy right now.
What Are Pimple Patches, Exactly?
Like a bandaid, but way better.
Ranging in size and shape from stars and hearts to regular old oval stickers, most, if not all, acne patches are made of hydrocolloid, a substance composed of gums such as cellulose or gel-forming agents such as gelatin that draw moisture away from the skin.
"Hydrocolloid feels and acts like a layer of skin," says Daniel Kaplan, a co-founder of ZitSticka. Meaning: it blends in somewhat seamlessly (unless, of course, you opt for the more decorative options on the market), stays in place even in the shower, and absorbs fluid — namely, the gunk inside your pimple. (Related: Hydrocolloid Bandaids Are TikTok's DIY Alternative to Pimple Patches)
"A hydrocolloid patch is ideal for a pimple that's ready to pop," says Fedora Stojkoska-Hristov, a global product development manager behind the Patchology Breakout Box 3-in-1 Acne Treatment Kit (Buy It, $20, skinstore.com). "Instead of squeezing acne, causing an injury that leads to a scab and possibly a dark mark, you can apply a patch to vacuum out the debris and protect the area from pollutants — including potentially dirty hands."
How Do Pimple Patches Work?
In Stojkoska-Hristov's words, like a "vacuum." Think of the hydrocolloid in a pimple patch as a hoover that's on a mission to suck up whatever yuck lies beneath the skin. And good news for the fans of Dr. Pimple Popper, you can see this happen IRL: as the sticker gets to work sucking up the fluid from the pimple, the clear patch will gradually start to turn white and expand.
Some patches are also infused with acne-fighting medicines, making them ideal for pimples in the earlier stages of their life cycle. Those with salicylic acid exfoliate the dead skin layers that clog pores and are ideal for newly formed pimples. For notoriously painful underground pimples (aka cystic acne), there are adhesives with teeny, tiny needle-like pricks with a cocktail of acne-fighting ingredients that go beneath the skin to target even the deepest of zits.
Pretty incredible, right? Keep reading to scout out the best pimple patches you can buy, and give them a try for yourself. (And if you find yourself getting down about your breakouts, check out the work these acne-positivity influencers are doing on Instagram.)
The Best Acne Pimple Patches On the Market RN
Try these acne patches, and you'll never go back to regular old, skin-drying spot treatment again:
COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch
Easy-to-use and effective AF, each COSRX pimple patch is essentially a little hydrocolloid bandage that that sucks up oil and pus while protecting your blemishes from added bacteria and your own fingers. Yup, one of the major benefits of pimple patches is that they keep you from hacking at your skin. Sure, you know that you shouldn't try to pop your pimples, but sometimes (err, oftentimes) you can't help it — and then you're left with a worsened skin situation. Slapping on a COSRX pimple patch, however, can help you keep your hands to yourself and encourage effective healing. Plus, they contain liquid paraffin (highly refined mineral oil) to form a barrier and lock moisture into the skin, betaine salicylate to exfoliate, and white willow bark, which acts as an anti-inflammatory. (BTW, this brand's acne patches and other skin-care products are beloved by Riverdale's Madeline Petsch, so you know they've got to be good.)
Patchology Breakout Box 3-in-1 Acne Treatment Kit
Featuring three different acne-fighting products, this skin-care collection ensures you're ready and armed for whatever blemish comes your way. It comes with 12 Blemish Shrinking Salicylic Acid + Tea Tree Dots (to use at the first signs of redness and inflammation to target sub-surface problems before they erupt), 12 Whitehead-Absorbing Hydrocolloid Dots (to absorb gunk from whiteheads while protecting from bacteria and dirty fingers), and three Blackhead-Eliminating Nose Strips (to evacuate dirt, oil, and dead skin cells from your nose using detoxing charcoal, Moroccan lava clay, and calming witch hazel). Consider any acne problem solved. (Related: Do Pore Strips Actually Work to Remove Blackheads?)
Remember those medicated microdarts? That's what the ZitSticka Killa acne patches are all about. Each cyst-busting sticker has 24 self-dissolving microdarts filled with salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B3, and a bacteria-killing peptide. Together, this concoction kills bacteria, breaks down the pimple, hydrates, and calms inflammation — all within, at most, two hours. Think of ZitStick as one of the best pimple patches for tackling those throbbing, deep cysts before they swell up. "The microdarts painlessly penetrate the skin and disperse the ingredients directly into the zit's epicenter," says Kaplan. "This can stop the pimple even before it surfaces." (Take it from one Shape editor, the ZitSticka Killa really does just that — and she's obsessed.)
Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots
While most pimple patches are intended to be worn at night, you can technically wear 'em during the day. The only problem? Not all clear adhesives were created equal. Meaning: some are a bit more obvious than others. So, if you're concerned about your coworker calling out that "dot" on your chin, look no further than these translucent stickies from Peter Thomas Roth. They're made of an especially thin material that allows the pimple patches to seamlessly blend in with your skin while still delivering salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and hyaluronic acid to treat and heal.
Peace Out Acne Healing Dots
Each hydrocolloid acne patch is packed with a skin-saving combination of ingredients: salicylic acid to exfoliate and unclog pores, aloe vera extract to soothe and reduce redness, and vitamin A to promote cell turnover and, thus, clear skin going forward. (ICYDK, retinol is a vitamin A derivative which is why that ingredient is so great for both acne and anti-aging.)