As hard as it may be to remember a time before acne patches, it was only a few years ago that zit creams were still the go-to spot treatment for a breakout. Now there are so many patch options out there that it can be difficult for anyone to figure out which patch to use when. While all three types of pimple patches help you keep your hands off your breakouts and prevent further irritation, they are not interchangeable. Each type of patch is designed to treat a different type of acne.
Today, we’re going to explore how each patch works and when you should use it, so you can feel confident that you are treating your acne (and not just walking around with a sticker on your face).
Your pimple patch cheat sheet
If the word needle made you cringe, fear not. The microneedles in these patches are so teeny-tiny that they don’t hurt at all. If anything, applying a microneedle patch is #oddlysatisfying, in the sense that you can feel a slight sensation, which makes you think the patch is doing its job. Because they can penetrate the skin, microneedle patches deliver active ingredients to fight acne that’s under the surface, including early-stage pimples, blind pimples, cysts or nodules.
“Microneedling or microdart pimple patches may help with absorbing drainage and providing an adhesive protective barrier,” says Dr. Rina Allawh, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in the Philadelphia area. “These are helpful for painful pus bumps and pimples.” To sum it up, the right pimples for a microneedle patch are under-the-skin, sometimes painful, early stage pimples – all pimples that are “unpoppable” (without a visible head).
RELATED READ: Blind Pimples: What They Are and How to Get Rid of Them
Recently, a new category of microneedle patches has emerged: hyperpigmentation patches, such as Micropoint for Dark Spots. These patches use microneedles to dissolve powerful brightening ingredients in order to target dark spots and even out skin tone. They can be especially helpful in treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or the dark spots that appear following a breakout.
What to look for in a microneedle patch
“Medicated pimple patches often contain salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide which help to dissolve dead skin cells and skin debris, hydrate the skin and decrease skin inflammation, respectively,” says Allawh. Other helpful ingredients include beta-glucan to soothe, totarol to prevent bacteria from spreading, tranexamic acid to fade dark spots, and vitamin C to brighten acne scars and sun spots.
And don’t forget to check for the number of microneedles per patch. You’ll need quite a few (as in 150+) to really deliver blemish-busting ingredients to a deep, under-the-skin pimple. The 173 hyaluronic acid microneedles in Micropoint for Blemishes are able to unleash a super-dose of acne-fighting ingredients right into a pimple’s core.
The OG patch that began the whole pimple patch craze, these non-medicated patches use only hydrocolloid to absorb pus and gunk from a pimple that has already come to a head. “Hydrocolloid dressings are used by dermatologists and wound care RNs for open, non-infected wounds – including pressure ulcers and bedsores, as well as in the treatment of eczema,” explains Allawh. “These dressings may provide a protective barrier for those who frequently pick acne pimples (termed acne excoriee) and absorb drainage from acne bumps.”
Hydrocolloid patches are the ideal spot treatment for whiteheads and “poppable” pimples, as they pull out pus from the pimple, prevent secondary infections and act as a moisture barrier to speed up recovery time. People are often surprised the first time they use a hydrocolloid patch, because you can actually see the pus on the patch when you remove it. It’s like the tiny patch did the job of popping your pimple for you, but without leaving your skin angry and inflamed.
What to look for in a hydrocolloid patch
This one’s pretty simple: high-quality hydrocolloid. Basically, the better quality the hydrocolloid is, the longer the patch is going to stick, which is quite essential for it to do its job of clearing the pus. Patches made with high-quality hydrocolloid can also be designed in ultra-thin versions for daytime use.
How do you know if a patch is made with high-quality hydrocolloid?
Trust the reviews. If beauty editors and thousands of reviewers are raving about a patch that’s so thin they literally forget it’s on their face (yes, we’re talking about Mighty Patch Invisible+), it’s a safe bet that it’s made with quality ingredients. The best known hydrocolloid patches are the Mighty Patch and COSRX patch, but there are other brands that have recently developed their own versions. Just be sure to avoid counterfeit and super-cheap patches, as they may contain less-than-desirable ingredients.
Medicated acne patches
Flat medicated acne patches are filled with active ingredients that help to kill acne-causing bacteria, soothe inflammation or repair skin at various stages in the lifecycle of a pimple. While they don’t penetrate the skin like microneedle patches or absorb fluid like hydrocolloid patches, medicated treatment patches still prevent active ingredients from being rubbed or wiped off the skin.
Depending on the ingredients of the patch – which can range from salicylic acid to tea-tree oil, these patches can help to reduce bumps, pain, redness or other acne-related issues.
What to look for in a medicated acne patch
It really depends on what condition you are treating. To reduce the size of nodules or cysts, look for salicylic acid and tea tree oil. To regulate excess oil production, try a patch with vitamin A.
Patch pro tips
Regardless of which type of patch you choose, here are a few tips to follow to maximize effectiveness:
Cleanse and dry your face before patching. The last thing you want to do is trap dirt between the patch and your skin, especially if you are using a microneedle patch. Start with a clean slate and dry thoroughly, so the patch will stick.
Press down for a few seconds. You want to make sure you have a good level of stickiness for any patch. For microneedle patches, pressing down will ensure that the actives are getting where they need to go.
You may need more than one patch to finish the job. Always follow the directions on whatever patch you are using, but you’ll probably want to wash and dry again between patch applications.
- Visit a dermatologist if you find yourself buying patches like they are toilet paper during a pandemic. If acne is a recurring issue, or patches just don’t seem to help, book an appointment with a derm so she can examine your breakouts and help develop a long-term treatment plan.