Pimple Patches Are A Popular Way To Treat Acne. But Do They Work?

Waking up to a newly budding pimple can make any day take a turn for the worse. This is especially true if its appearance happens to coincide with a special occasion, such as a first date, public speaking event, or the dreaded school picture day — yikes.

Zits, spots, and pimples all fall under the umbrella of acne. These unwelcome visitors are the product of clogged pores, most often due to an accumulation of oil and skin cells. Fluctuating hormones, certain medications, use of heavy skin or hair products, as well as excessive sweating or touching of the skin can all contribute to the development of acne (via Penn Medicine). Although anyone can experience acne at any age, adolescents in particular are often no stranger to acne. Rather, Medical News Today reports that 80% of teens struggle with acne vulgaris, the primary culprit responsible for pimples. 

Naturally, the skincare industry is booming with soaps, washes, and products purported to help reduce the appearance of acne — pimple patches being one of them. But just how effective are they really?

What are pimple patches?

Pimple patches usually take the form of a clear or colorful sticker. They're coated with hydrocolloid, which operates by extracting the fluid from a pimple in order to dry it out (via Healthline). In doing so, they may cause the pimple to heal more quickly. Some additional ingredients you might also find on the label of pimple patch products include tea tree oil, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, or niacinamide (via NBC News Select). Some of these ingredients may further help unclog pores, hydrate skin, preserve moisture, and boost skin texture.

Even more, a pimple patch can provide added benefits by acting as a protective layer over the skin. "Another good thing about the stickers is they act as a cover-up and prevent you from picking at your acne," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lavanya Krishnan told Healthline. Not only do they protect us from our own fingers, but pimple patches may also provide cover from the sun's UV rays, which may otherwise cause more skin damage.

Pimple patches may only be effective for certain kinds of acne

Sadly, pimple patches aren't a miracle cure for acne. While pimple patches may be worth your while in some cases, they're not designed to combat all forms of acne. They won't do anything in the way of addressing deeper, cystic acne, but they are potentially better suited for treating whiteheads and blackheads (via Healthline). 

However, some experts feel that pimple patches may not even be effective on these surface-level zits either. "Pimple patches don't work at all on closed lesions or deeper lesions or even blackheads and whiteheads, which are called comedones," dermatologist Dr. Amy Kassouf told the Cleveland Clinic. Rather, Dr. Kassouf states that these products may be more effective on open lesions such as pustules or papules. 

If the thought crossed your mind of using a pimple patch as a preventative measure instead of a treatment method, unfortunately, they won't safeguard against the development of pimples either. In fact, for some people, pimple patches may actually have a negative impact on their skin. This might be true in the event that someone has sensitive skin or are allergic to the adhesive ingredients in a pimple patch.

Steps for applying a pimple patch

If you're interested in trying out a pimple patch product, you'll want to do a couple of quick things to prep ahead of time. Pimple patches are said to work best on open lesions, but be sure to first clean the affected area if your zit is leaking fluid (via Cleveland Clinic). Then, ensure that skin is dry before applying the pimple patch, as any moisture will make it harder for the product to adhere to the skin. Finally, secure the patch over the pimple. Different patches will have different instructions as to how long the product should remain on skin, but many of them advise letting it sit for a few hours. Therefore, it may be easiest to sleep with the patch in place overnight.

Try shopping online for pimple patches and you'll encounter pages upon pages of product search results. To help narrow down your search, New York board-certified dermatologists Dr. Orit Markowitz and Dr. Hadley King shared their top-recommended pimple patch products with NBC News Select. ZitSticka Killa Kit came out as the top choice. Made with salicylic acid, niacinamide, and oligopeptide-76, the product works its way deep down into skin, but without leaving skin uncomfortably dry.