Back in my day — AKA the late 1990s/early 2000s — we only had a couple of options to get rid of pimples. You could pop and pray the redness goes away before you had to face anyone, or use some of that white spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide that got rid of the zit, but left a big dry (and red) spot in its place.
So yeah, things were bleak for those of us who had to deal with breakouts on the regular.
Luckily, times have changed — and pimple treatments have, too. The pimple patch is arguably the greatest advancement in dermatology and skincare in recent years, and these little stickers have the power to get rid of the bacteria and dirt that finds its way into your pores. The best part? You can wear them out and about and no one will notice.
But what exactly is a pimple patch, and how do they work?
How Do Pimple Patches Work?
Pimple patches are made of hydrocolloid technology, a jelly-like substance made of gelatin and pectin that’s often “used in hospitals for the treatment of deep wounds, has powerful water-absorbing properties,” says Yoram Harth, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of MDacne.
“The good pimples patches can absorb excess fluids and pus from the acne pimples without over-drying the surrounding skin.”
Not only that, but these acne patches are able to create a physical barrier that helps jumpstart the healing process — and keep you from picking at the pimple (so tempting!). And, bonus: Many brands of pimple patches protect against sunlight and prevent the hyperpigmentation that’s so common after a breakout.
How Long Do You Wear an Acne Patch?
As for how long to wear acne patches? It depends on the brand — and longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. “For most brands, you’ll wear it for six to eight hours,” says Dr. Harth.
It’s often easiest to slap on a pimple patch right before you head to bed at night. You can wear them during the day, though — especially if you had a blemish sprout up out of nowhere — and no one will be the wiser. Some are even waterproof, so you don’t have to take it off before a shower.
Just don’t plan to keep one on for more than 12 or so hours, because it could irritate your skin (and maybe even cause another pimple.. ugh).
Do Pimple Patches Work on Cystic Acne?
Pimple patches are meant to be spot treatments for occasional pimples, not the end-all, be-all treatment for more aggravating cases of cystic acne.
“These patches can reduce the size of one to two big pimples, but would not prevent the next acne breakout,” advises Dr. Harth.
So if you want to treat more aggressive breakouts, you would need to visit a dermatologist “to start an effective medical-grade topical or oral acne treatment.”
Do Pimple Patches Work on Blackheads?
Sorry, but a pimple patch won’t do squat for your blackheads, according to Dr. Harth.
“The best way to remove blackheads would be with blackhead strips or a clay mask,” he advises. One way to do it? Use Bioré Original Deep Cleansing Pore Strips.
Pimple Patches vs. Zitsticka: Which is Better?
If you’ve been on Facebook lately, chances are pretty good that you’ve seen an ad — or several — for the Zitsticka. These little dots look a lot like pimple patches, but they’re actually not the same thing.
“Hydrocolloid patches use a medical grade wound healing technology to absorbs pus and fluid form help and help heal it faster,” says Dr. Harth. The Zitsticka patch, on the other hand, contains 24 little spikes, known as microneedles, that can penetrate the top two layers of the skin to zap acne at the source.
“These spines contain tiny amounts of hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide that are supposed to help with acne,” says Dr. Harth.
That said, “although some of these compounds are used for the treatment of acne — like salicylic acid — using them on a sticker seems to be much less effective than applying them all over the area with acne in a proper amount.”
Bottom line: Pimple patches are designed to eliminate a pimple once it erupts through the skin, while the ZitSticka is meant to stop a brewing pimple before it gets that far.
Best Pimple Patch: 6 Options to Try
Pimple patches are having a moment now — and a ton of different options are now on the market. How do you know which patches are worth it, and which ones are a waste of cash?
At a minimum, “the perfect pimple patch should be thick enough to absorb fluids yet transparent and easy to use during the day and night,” says Dr. Harth.
Using that criteria, we found the best pimple patches that are affordable, easy to use and, most of all, work.
Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch
While we’re not sure if the Cosrx Pimple Patch is the OG option for blemishes, it’s probably the most well-known. The reason: It works.
The Cosrx is a “basic hydrocolloid dressing,” according to Sheila Krishna, MD, a board-certified dermatologist who serves on the advisory board for Smart Style Today.
Wondering how to use the Cosrx pimple patch? It’s simple. Just wash and dry the area with the pimple, but don’t add any extra serum, witch hazel, or moisturizers. Then, peel a patch and place it over the pimple. That’s it.
It might seem too easy, but it works to clean out the gunk that comes with pimples.
MDacne Pimple Master Patch
Dr. Harth’s go-to pimple patch is the MDacne Pimple Master Patch for one good reason: It was developed by his company, so he knows it works.
“This unique pimple patch is ultra-thin and transparent, blends with all skin tones, suitable for daytime and overnight use, hypoallergenic, safe for sensitive skin,” he says.
Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots
No two pimples are the same — or the same size — so why settle for only one size of blemish dots? You don’t have to.
Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots “come in two sizes, which allows for customization of size depending on the size of pimple being treated,” says Dr. Krishna.
Peter Thomas Roth products are on the higher end of the price range, but these spot patches are on the affordable end of the spectrum. And they’ll stay on all night, even if you’re a flip-flopper at night.
Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Surface
While most pimple patches are round dots, this version of the Mighty Patch Surface is decidedly different. Made of vegan-friendly ingredients, the Surface is a rectangular shape that can cover a larger cluster of pus-filled pimples (like on the chin or along the hairline). Even better: You can cut them down if you need to.
And they work just as well as the smaller patches, too.
Nexcare Acne Cover
The Nexcare Acne Cover is for you if you’re looking for cheap pimple patches. Safe to use on a variety of skin types, this brand of pimple patch is budget-friendly but still made with the same materials are the more expensive brands.
And they work just as well, too.
Avarelle Acne Absorbing Cover Patch
Like the Peter Thomas Roth patches, the Avarelle Acne Absorbing Cover Patch comes in three different sizes — small, medium, and large — and is housed in a resealable package so you can take them on the go.
These pimple patches are made with hydrocolloid, along with a touch of tea tree oil and calendula oil (to tame inflammation) and CICA (centella asiatica) to eliminate redness. Each package contains 40 patches, which will more than take care of the job.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.