Pimple patches what they do and how to apply

The truth about pimple patches: Do hydrocolloid acne stickers actually work?

11th April 2022 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Pimple patches. Acne strips. Hydrocolloid dressings. Whatever you know them as, there is a growing market for small stickers that help get rid of acne and blemishes overnight.

They’ve been around for years.

In fact, hydrocolloids were first patented back in 1967 so they’re not a new technology, but thanks to the likes of TikTok and an increase in products, they’ve soared in popularity in recent months.

In short, they typically don’t contain ingredients that get rid of acne and blemishes per se.

Instead, they create an environment to help your own skin system tackle the problem.

Below we explain how pimple patches work and how to use them.

You can scroll through the article, or use the links in the box to the left to jump to the relevant sections.

What are pimple patches? 

Pimple patches are small stickers – typically circular in shape, but they can be bought in a range of sizes and designs – that are placed over blemishes, spots, blackheads, and even cuts. They resemble standard plasters with a silicone layer on the outside and a protective layer on the underside.

The biggest difference is that the underside layer of pimple patches is made of what’s known as a gel-based hydrocolloid.

Hydrocolloids were initially designed for use in stoma care but were later found to be beneficial in helping wounds to heal. As a result, hydrocolloid dressings are used in medical practice. Hydrocolloids can even be used as a paste or granules that can be used to fill and help heal deeper wounds.

Best pimple patch UK

Best pimple patch UKDots for Spots

Dots for Spots Pimple Patches

These Dots for Spots pimple patches are vegan-friendly, cruelty-free, affordable, and effective. You get 24 pimple patches in one pack and they vary in size, allowing you to treat large spots and smaller blemishes. What’s more, Dots for Spots contribute a percentage of sales to the reforestation projects of Treeapp. They’re good for your wallet, your skin and the planet!

Price: £5.99

Number of pimple patches: 24

Where to buy: Amazon

Best pimple patches UKCOSRX

COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch

COSRX is one of the most well-known pimple patch brands and it’s because they work so well. They can be used on whiteheads, blackheads, and picked zits. Even those caused by cystic acne. They’re so effective that they can be applied under makeup, and you can even wear them in the shower! There are three different-sized patches in each pack.

Price: £5.99

Number of pimple patches: 24

Where to buy: Feelunique

Are pimple patches effective? Patchology Breakout Box isPatchology

Patchology Breakout Box

These pimple patches from Patchology cost a lot more than our other recommendations, but this is because they contain extra features designed to help clear your skin even faster and more effectively. In addition to flattening whiteheads and blackheads, the pimple patches in this box contain salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and witch hazel. These ingredients clear bring the added benefit of clearing your pores, killing bacteria and taming redness.

Price: £18

Number of pimple patches: 24

Where to buy: Cult Beauty

Is hydrocolloid good for skin? 

Hydrocolloid is great for skin. Although the design of hydrocolloid patches and dressings can vary, so-called “classical” hydrocolloids consist of:

  • 40% polyisobutylene – this is used as an adhesive and is what keeps the patches in place
  • 20% sodium carboxymethylcellulose – also known as cellulose gum, this is used to grab and keep hold of (or suspend) the oil and pus that leaks fro mthe skin
  • 20% gelatin – this helps keep the skin moist and protected
  • 20% pectin – similar to gelatin, pectin helps keep the skin moist. It also helps promote cell renewal

Each of these ingredients has been shown to be safe for topical use. Cellulose gum, gelatin, and pectin are so safe, that they can also be found in food.

It should be noted that gelatin comes from animal proteins. There are vegan alternatives to this ingredient but if pimple patches contain regular gelatin, it means they can’t be classed as vegan-friendly.

What does hydrocolloid do for acne?

What does hydrocolloid do for acne?Dots for Spots

There is a simple answer and a more technical answer.

The simple answer is that gel-based hydrocolloid layers found in pimple patches create a protective seal over the pimple in question. This serves three main purposes:

  • Pimple patches stop bacteria from getting in. They prevent you from touching your face or picking at the spot, and (when worn overnight) make sure you don’t transfer bacteria from your pillow
  • Pimple patches absorb excess oil and pus. This means they flatten and clear spots faster while reducing swelling. In particular, the patches convert the oil and pus into a jelly-like mass that sticks to the patch and is removed when the patch is removed.
  • Pimple patches create a moist environment. Creating a clean, moist, and humid environment speeds up the natural healing process of the skin and prevents scarring.

The technical answer is that amorphous hydrogels, which includes hydrocolloid, are a category of products used for something known as debridement. Debridement is the official term for the “removal of damaged tissue and foreign objects from a wound.” In the case of acne, the spots are the wounds.

According to a study released in 2009, “these gels function by keeping the wound moist” and thereby enhance what’s known as the “autolytic debridement of necrotic tissue by enzymes generated in the body by inflammatory cells.” In layman’s terms, this means it enhances the natural immune system’s ability to kill off cells and get rid of dead tissue.

Is hydrocolloid same as salicylic acid?

No, hydrocolloid is not the same as salicylic acid. Instead of being an individual ingredient or formula, the term hydrocolloid actually refers to any “substance that forms a gel in the presence of water.”

By contrast, salicylic acid is part of a family of acids known as beta hydroxy acids, or BHAs. BHAs are made of small molecules that penetrate into the lower layers of the skin to clear your pores and help get rid of excess sebum and bacteria which can lead to breakouts and acne.

Once salicylic acid dissolves the debris, it also helps reduce redness because it comes from willow bark, which is an anti-inflammatory.

In this way, hydrocolloid pimple patches and salicylic acid have a similar end result, but their methods are different.

Can I use a pimple patch every day?

Yes, you can use a pimple patch every day. However, they are not a long-term solution to acne or persistent breakouts. They can’t prevent spots from appearing, for instance. They just make it easier and faster to deal with them.

If you are suffering from acne or persistent breakouts, speak to your doctor or a dermatologist for advice. Also, make sure you’re gently exfoliating the skin and using other skincare products alongside pimple patches to improve the overall condition of your skin. You can read more in our What causes acne and how to get rid of it guide.

Do pimple patches work on popped pimples?

Do pimple patches work on popped pimples?Getty Images/iStockphoto

The short answer is yes, but it’s worth explaining more about what is meant by the term “popped pimple.”

The success of a pimple patch is very much dependent on at which stage of your spot cycle you apply it. Due to the fact pimple patches absorb pus and excess oil, they only work on spots where the pus is visible. You don’t have to have squeezed the pus out, you just need to be able to see it, but the pimple patch will work in either instance.

Pimple patches won’t work if you can’t see the pus. They don’t penetrate the skin and this means that if you have sore spots and blemishes that are sitting underneath the skin – the kind of spots you know will be massive in a few days but can’t yet be seen or squeezed – the pimple patch won’t do much good.

There is a school of thought that if you pierce the skin above these under-the-skin spots then the pimple patch will help draw it out. However, we don’t recommend piercing the skin because you can end up putting bacteria in, or making the situation worse.

Are pimple patches effective?

When used at the optimal stage of a spot’s cycle, and when applied to clean, dry skin, pimple patches are incredibly effective.

If the skin isn’t dry, the patch may not seal against the skin properly. It may still absorb pus but it won’t create a moist environment to speed up the healing process.

If you haven’t properly cleaned your skin ahead of using a pimple patch, you’ll be trapping bacteria against the skin. This can lead to more breakouts or could make your spot worse.

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