Do pimple stickers actually work? The lowdown on the Instagram favourite

Why these patches are among the most popular beauty products for those with acne-prone skin.

Written by
Marni Dixit
Medically reviewed by
min read
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You've likely seen pimple patches being used, but how do they actually work? One of the most important rules when it comes to pimples is something you've likely heard thousands of times — don't pick or pop them.

Unfortunately, while this may be a universal rule, there are probably many times when you've taken those bad boys into your own hands and been left with open, sore pimples that are leaking pus and potentially even blood. Not ideal!

This is where pimple patches can come in handy. Below, you'll learn why these invisible patches are among the most popular beauty products for those with acne-prone skin.

What are pimple patches?

There are two types of acne stickers. While both styles are small, translucent stickers that are designed to pop on a blemish, the way they work differs. One form of pimple patches features a wound-healing gel called hydrocolloid, you may have previously seen these in the form of large patches for blisters or burns.

The other is one infused with AHAs and BHAs like salicylic acid to kill acne-causing bacteria within the follicle while also exfoliating the skin.

An acne sticker is a pain-free solution that's designed to help speed up the skin's healing time and protects pimples from the elements — as well as our urge to pick at them!

Pimple patches are suitable for surface-level acne, however, they aren't helpful for deeper, cystic types of acne.

How to use pimple patches

If you've previously picked at a pimple and it's been left oozing or bleeding, pimple patches are a great way to kick start the healing process.

If your breakout hasn't been popped, a pimple patch can act as a helpful barrier to stop you from picking. Keep in mind that hydrocolloid patches are designed to work on open lesions, however, they can still prove effective at drawing out gunk from pimples that aren't open.

AHA and BHA patches, on the other hand, can be used on a breakout that hasn't been popped thanks to the effectiveness of these ingredients.

Software's AHA/BHA Pimple Patches have microdarts embedded in every patch to penetrate pimples and kill off bacteria deep within the follicle, which helps contain the spread.

The combination of AHAs and BHAs helps unclog pores by removing dead skin cells, while also working to dry out excess oil. To apply a patch, cleanse your face, dry the skin and then put the patch over the pimple and leave for the recommended amount of time.

In the case of Software's Pimple Patches, we recommended leaving the patch on for two hours before removing it to reveal visibly clearer and less inflamed skin. After applying the patch, you can use other skincare as usual — just remember to be gentle in the area surrounding the pimple patch.

How do pimple patches treat acne?

In the case of hydrocolloid pimple patches, these absorb excess fluid and oil from whiteheads and form a gel that is then trapped in the bandage away from the skin, turning the patch white.

AHA and BHA-based pimple patches deliver active ingredients directly into the breakout to dry out excess oil and unclog pores by removing dead skin cells.

These patches also reduce acne-causing bacteria in the area, helping to reduce the spread to other areas of the skin. And, acne stickers also stop you from being able to touch the pimple, allowing it to heal without being tampered with.

When you remove the pimple patch, the pimple should appear smaller and less inflamed.

Do pimple patches work on cystic pimples?

Sadly, pimple patches work best on open whiteheads and aren't especially useful on cystic pimples. This is because cystic acne lesions are deeper in the skin, and a pimple patch can't penetrate deeply enough to improve cystic acne.

Some pimple patches may suggest that they are helpful for cystic acne and will often have tiny microneedles that painlessly deliver ingredients like salicylic acid deep into the skin to soothe inflammation as Software's Pimple Patches do.

But, if you are dealing with cystic acne, the best thing to do is seek advice from a healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan that will work for you.

With Software's personalised acne treatment, our Australian practitioners can create a formula designed for your specific skin needs and work with you to improve your skin long term.

Software's customised formulas often include ingredients like medical-grade retinoids, azelaic acid, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to help treat acne, hydrate skin and reduce redness and swelling associated with cystic acne.

What can't pimple patches do?

While pimple patches are effective on open whiteheads and existing breakouts, they are not very useful on closed lesions or deeper pimples such as blackheads.

They work best as spot treatments on active pimples but cannot help prevent breakouts. They are also unable to prevent scarring, sadly.

If you're struggling with cystic acne, inflamed acne or breakouts that cover large sections of the face, it's best to see a healthcare provider who can recommend skincare with the right active ingredients for your skin type.

Can you put makeup over pimple patches?

It is completely safe to wear makeup over pimple patches, however, you may need to test out different brands to find the best one for that purpose as some may still be visible under makeup.

Some acne patches effortlessly blend in with your skin, while others are still very visible. It could be a great solution if you've got a meeting over Zoom, but you may be able to see the outline on the skin if it's in person. There's nothing wrong with this though, and it's simply a matter of personal preference.

Wearing makeup over a pimple patch will also reduce the chance of your foundation irritating your skin and clogging your pores with dirt and other impurities.

Some people may prefer to use pimple patches overnight and take them off during the day.

Can you use pimple patches while pregnant?

Hydrocolloid acne patches are totally safe to use on the skin during pregnancy and are a great way to manage spots that pop up as active ingredients like vitamin A are off the table during this time.

Be sure to check if the acne patches you are using have active ingredients and be sure to steer clear of any that aren't pregnant or breastfeeding friendly.

Can pimple patches make acne worse in some cases?

For most people, acne patches will work just fine to make the lesion smaller or to stop bacteria from getting inside. However, those with super sensitive skin might want to avoid acne patches with ingredients like salicylic acid and tea tree oil as they can irritate the skin.

If you're allergic or sensitive to the adhesive, this could also be an issue.

While hydrocolloid acne patches are helpful for small one-off pimples, if you have larger breakouts, you may find it useful to speak with a healthcare provider and come up with a plan that suits your skin's specific needs.

What are other ways to fight acne if patches aren't strong enough?

While pimple patches are a great short-term solution when you've already got a zit, prevention is always better than the cure, and it's best to have a skincare regime in place to stop breakouts from ever forming.

With the help of a Software practitioner, you can access an effective acne treatment that is personalised to your needs and skin goals. Simply complete an online consultation and a local Software practitioner will then create a customised formula designed to treat your acne and prevent further outbreaks and scarring.

You also receive ongoing support from your practitioner, who can continue to provide you with skincare tips over the course of your treatment.

There are a bunch of clinical strength ingredients that can help your skincare woes, which is why it's best to speak to professionals who can advise you on what will work best for you.

Image credit: cottonbro via Pexels.

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  1. Do pimple patches actually work?, Cleveland Clinic, 2021.
  2. Nichols, Hannah. How to get rid of a blind pimple, Medical News Today, 2020.
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