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Acne is one of the most common skin care concerns people deal with — and breakouts aren’t isolated to teenagers. In fact, more than 50 million Americans are dealing with acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA). While most of us have experienced breakouts in our teens and 20s, acne can affect people later in life, too, the AADA reports. And now that Covid-19 has resulted in the normalization of face masks, many of us who outgrew teen acne are facing breakouts on our noses, around our mouths and on our cheeks — what is popularly referred to as maskne. One remedy to help spot treat your pesky breakouts is to employ pimple patches.
But what exactly are pimple patches? Acne stickers, another name for pimple patches, are small, usually circular hydrocolloid sheets, which are bandages that trap moisture. They adhere to the skin and absorb excess fluid like oil and dirt away from pimples, explained Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. These pimple patches force those impurities to transform into a gel-like substance that sticks to the pimple patch. "While stuck to the skin, acne patches also have the added benefit of preventing you from picking or trying to pop the pimple," added King. Sporting a pimple patch rather than scratching a pimple off is beneficial because picking acne increases inflammation, healing time and the risk of infection, discoloration and scarring. If you’re looking for a pack of pimple patches, you’ve got lots of options and can find a variety at retailers like Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Dermstore, as well as at mega retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart, along with department stores such as Nordstrom and Macy’s.
Do pimple patches work? Yes, but acne patches are more effective on mild breakouts and superficial pimples like small whiteheads and pustules just popping up or recently having come to a head, explained King. Pimple patches are less likely to be helpful for deeper, more cystic lesions.
"If you are experiencing this kind of acne, see your dermatologist, who can help with intralesional cortisone injections and prescription medications," she advised. King noted that another pro about over-the-counter pimple patches is that they generally don't dehydrate your skin or leave it flaky, compared to more harsh acne spot treatments featuring salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. She added that overall, pimple patches are most beneficial for sensitive skin and mild acne patients, although those with oily, combination, normal and even dry skin can utilize pimple patches.
Best pimple patches of 2021
We consulted two New York-based dermatologists — King and Orit Markowitz, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin in NYC — about their go-to pimple patch recommendations.
"I like that ZitSticka fills its patches' microdarts with salicylic acid, niacinamide and oligopeptide-76 to treat pimples," said King, who noted the microdart tech enables the ingredients to penetrate "a little deeper into the skin." Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that penetrates clogged pores and boasts anti-inflammatory properties. Niacinamide improves your skin's texture and tone, while hyaluronic acid is "a great humectant," meaning it retains moisture.
Both dermatologists recommended Zitsticka and noted the hyaluronic acid added to these pimple patches helps balance out the potential drying effect of salicylic acid. These highly-rated pimple patches boast a 4.2-star average rating from more than 1,640 reviews on Amazon.
King is also a fan of these pimple patches — available in packs of 20 and 40 — that combine hydrocolloid and salicylic acid to help remove oil and keratin debris from pores. She noted aloe vera leaf extract has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe and calm redness, while vitamin A helps improve the appearance of texture and tone.
Shopping readers have previously gravitated toward Peace Out — we featured the Peace Out strips in our guide to the best pore strips. The brand’s top-rated Healing Dots flex a 4.2-star average rating from more than 2,000 reviews at Sephora.
King recommended readers wear these highly-rated acne patches, which are available in three sizes and have a 4.6-star average rating from nearly 230 reviews on Amazon. "The smallest is one of the smallest options I've seen, and they are also thinner than most hydrocolloid patches — so this makes them easier to wear without it being obvious," she explained.
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Markowitz is a fan of these acne patches that melt into your skin and are filled with niacinamide and turmeric, the latter an antioxidant-rich ingredient that also soothes the redness of "very inflamed pimples." Dr. Jart offers two types of pimple patches: Blemish and Dark Spot.
Blemish features vitamin B3 to help fade discoloration, peptides to help clear breakouts and hyaluronic acid for hydration, while Dark Spot boasts vitamin C to help fade discoloration, in addition to peptides and hyaluronic acid. These acne patches have a 4-star average rating from 95 reviews at Sephora.
You'll know these thin, hydrocolloid pimple patches are working because as they draw out all of the fluids from your acne, the invisible patches turn white. The brand claims these patches flatten acne and calm redness within six hours. That timeframe is relatively quick since other patches typically produce similar results overnight or require all-day wear, depending on the severity of your acne.
If your skin tends to scar due to breakouts, consider the Micropoint for Dark Spots pimple patches, as well. Overall, Hero Cosmetics pimple patches are popular, clean, award-winning and debuted at Target last fall — you can find them at Ulta Beauty stores nationwide, too. These boast a 4.7-star average rating from 1,380 reviews at Target.
Cosrx is by far the most in-demand brand of pimple patches on our list, based on its high rating of 4.6-stars from more than 11,600 reviews on Amazon, plus it's available at many retailers, including Macy's, Asos, DermStore and Ulta Beauty.
Each pack of these Cosrx pimple patches contains Small, Medium and Large hydrocolloid bandages to cover up and heal your acne of various sizes — other brands on this list only carry one size of acne patches per pack. These pimple patches are dermatologist-tested and hypoallergenic, which is likely very appealing to those with sensitive skin.
Starface wants to change the negative stigma around acne through friendly design and created these vibrant yellow star-shaped pimple patches to encourage wearers to own the fact that they are dealing with breakouts publicly.
Because of their unique shape, they can cover acne that pops up on the sides of your nose or near your mouth, which is perhaps caused by maskne, or breakouts caused by wearing a face mask. These vibrant pimple patches earned a 4.4-star average rating from more than 1,300 reviews at Starface.
Do pimple patches make acne worse?
As long as you're not allergic or sensitive to an ingredient found in the patches, then the pros say they are generally safe to use. King noted that pimple patches with salicylic acid could be more irritating, and tea tree oil can cause irritation and allergic reactions. If you’re unsure about these concerns, book a consultation with your local board-certified dermatologist to be sure.