How to Use a Pimple Patch (the Right Way)
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We’ve all been there. You’ve got a big event coming up but your skin isn’t playing ball – you’ve broken out in a *huge* pimple that foundation and concealer just. won’t. cover.
The stuff of nightmares.
But what if we told you there is a tiny translucent shield that acts as a guardian angel for your skin, battling blemishes while you rest?
That’s right, we’re talking about the magic that is the pimple patche, where you’re not just concealing your pimples but actively working to conquer them.
LTG HQ spoke with leading board-certified dermatologist Dr Leah Ansell, and celebrity aesthetician Ian Michael Crumm, to get all the goss on pimple patches and how to use them effectively.
Say goodbye to the days of concealing, caking, and contouring in a desperate attempt to mask the evidence of a breakout.
We’ll uncover the secrets of when, where, and how to use these translucent warriors effectively to battle your pimples.
What actually *is* a pimple?
So, what *exactly* is a pimple?
A pimple (AKA the zit, spot or blemish) is a small pustule or papule that is known medically as acne vulgaris. These are raised spots, often with a white centre, that occur when blocked hair follicles and sebaceous glands become inflamed or infected with bacteria or oils.
When a blockage or deep inflammation occurs deep inside the hair follicles, this creates cyst-like lumps beneath the surface of your skin.
There are 4 main types.
1. Papules are inflamed blemishes. They appear on the skin’s surface. They look like red bumps or lumps on the skin and they don’t have a white head.
2. Pustules are red and inflamed with an obvious head that is often white. The head can also be cream to yellow in colour.
3. Nodules are serious acne pimples that are large, inflamed lesions. They feel like hard, painful lumps under the skin. Ouch!
4. Cysts are very large, inflamed lesions that feel like soft, fluid-filled lumps under the skin. Acne cysts are the most severe form of pimple and can be very painful.
What do pimple patches do?
Pimples, or spots, usually last between 3 and 7 days. Most do go away on their own, but it could take some time. Deep pimples that are under the skin and do not have a head may take a few weeks to go away, possibly even longer.
Waiting for pimples to go down is *definitely* a game of patience, since popping spots is not advisable since this can cause the infection to be pushed further into the skin and can also create scabs. Not what we’re going for.
This is where pimple patches come in.
Generally made up of a translucent patch (although you can also get some pretty cool star-shaped and heart-inspired stickers), they form a protective seal on the zit, preventing further bacteria getting to it.
On the inside of the patch is normally hydrocolloid gel, which works to absorb oil, pus (yes, we know) and bacteria from the pimple. This combination allows the blemish to heal in a moist, (somewhat) sterile environment.
This does mean the zit stickers aren’t actually using any actives to reduce your breakout, or doing anything to “suck” the dirt out (a common beauty misconception). But they are working to help the pimple heal with less of a chance of scarring.
Do they actually work?
Dr Ansell tells LTG HQ that these patches can be surprisingly effective, but they have their limitations.
She explains, “I love pimple patches for focal acne spots. It is one of my favourite acne spot treatments (unfortunately nothing works all that great for this except for extraction/injection with cortisone at your dermatologist’s office.)”
A clinical trial carried out by Johnson & Johnson in 2021 backs this up, showing that using a pimple patch for one week on either popped or unpopped pimples did improve their appearance and helped them heal faster.
So, in short, yes, pimple patches do actually work by creating an atmosphere of healing and protection and covering the wound to prevent further infection.
Their effectiveness will depend largely on the type of blemish you have though, and pimple patches will generally work best on superficial acne.
For severe or persistent acne, it’s best to consult a dermatologist for proper treatment.
How to correctly use a pimple patch
Ok, so we know what they are and that they work, but how do you actually use a pimple patch correctly?
We asked the experts for their advice on this.
To get the *best* results from your pimple patch, Dr Ansell advises trying to “use it as soon as you feel the pimple come on. Do not try to squeeze the pimple, particularly if it is a deep one.”
Crumm adds his instructions on how to apply one. “Start with a clean, dry face and gently wash the area around the pimple with a mild cleanser,” he explains.
“Ensure the skin is completely dry before applying the patch for optimal adhesion. Peel the patch from its backing and carefully place it over the pimple, making sure it adheres properly,” he adds.
Crumms explains, “Once you’re done, gently peel off the patch and dispose of it.”
Do you pop a pimple before using a patch?
No popping is necessary for pimple patches – or to get rid of pimples in general (we know, this can be super frustrating.)
If you have a pimple with a visible head or pus and the pimple hasn’t popped, cleanse your skin, let it dry and then apply a patch and you’re done. Six or so hours later, remove the patch and cleanse the area again.
If your pimple has already popped, don’t worry. Simply cleanse and gently dry the area, then place the patch over the pimple.
How long do you leave a pimple patch on?
Pimple patches are designed to be left on for around 6 hours or overnight (pimple removal as we sleep? Yes, please!)
Crumm tells us, “Pimple patches are often left on for several hours or overnight, allowing them to absorb excess oil and impurities from the pimple.”
It’s advised not to leave a pimple patch on for longer than 10 hours though, as this could actually cause more irritation rather than reducing the pimple.
What do you do after removing a pimple patch?
We asked Crumm what to do after removing a pimple patch, he tells us to follow these steps:
Cleanse the area: Gently wash the area with a mild cleanser to remove any residue left from the patch.
Moisturise: Apply a light, non-comedogenic moisturiser to keep the skin hydrated.
Continue your skincare routine: Resume your regular skincare routine, including any acne treatments or spot treatments you use.
Avoid touching the area: Try not to touch or pick at the treated area to prevent further irritation or infection.
The best pimple patches
Since most patches work in the same way, you’ll get pretty similar results whichever brand you go with.
Here are some of our FAVE (and really cute) pimple patches though for their ease of use and price.
Mighty Patch pimple patches from Hero Cosmetics ($12.99 on Hero Cosmetics or £7.99 on Amazon UK for 36 patches) are award-winning hydrocolloid patches that visibly help to flatten pimples.
Made of medical-grade hydrocolloid, they’re chemical-free, allergy tested, and a great basic (and affordable) choice for all types, including sensitive skin.
Starface pimple patches ($14.99 on Starface World or £11.99 on Starface UK for 32 stars) are made with 100% hydrocolloid. They’re also vegan, cruelty-free, dermatologist tested, gentle, and safe for every skin type (even sensitive) – bonus!
While they may not be made up of anything too different to other brands (and are a little pricier), what we like here is how fun they are to use. By taking some of the stress out of dealing with acne we’ve found we’re more likely to use them, in turn giving us a better chance of avoiding scarring and further infection.
Peace Out Acne Healing Dots ($19.00 on Peaceout.com or £17.00 on Cult Beauty UK for 20 dots) contain hydrocolloid, salicylic acid (a BHA which helps to unplug clogged pores), and vitamin A (essentially retinol, which both helps cell turnover and can combat scarring).
They also contain aloe vera leaf extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe and calm redness.
These ones may be even more expensive again but we love the addition of salicylic acid here, which we’ve found can help cut our healing time even further.
So, the verdict is in – pimple patches DO work but you’re going to need to use one correctly for best results.
Refrain from popping any pesky pimples, and make sure to gently cleanse and dry the area *before* you apply your chosen pimple patch.
But, overall, you can find vegan, cruelty-free, dermatologist-tested, and sensitive skin versions of these little patches, as well as brands that have chemical-free and non-irritating ones. AND they work while you sleep to actively reduce redness and inflammation – a no-brainer!
Bear in mind though that if you suffer from acne or particularly painful blemishes and spots, it’s best to visit a dermatologist to determine the best course of action for your skin type.
Meet the experts
Celebrity aesthetician and beauty expert Ian Michael Crumm is co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr Elyse Love.
Ian is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety and is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness, and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.