If you’re engaged in a perennial (or even occasional) struggle with pimples, you’ve probably tried everything to get them to just. go. away. Not only are they red and angry-looking a lot of the time, but they’re also just plain painful. There are so many products on the market that claim to zap your zits, and there’s a lot of home remedies floating around too. (We’ve all done it, but here’s a reminder to put the toothpaste down. It’s made for your teeth, not your cheeks.)
If you’re getting to the end of your tether with blemishes, pimple patches, also known as pimple stickers, are all the rage right now, and they might just be the product that changes your skincare game. Here, we’ll examine some of the cruelty-free options on the market. But first: let’s dive into where they came from, who they’re for, and how they work.
The Launch of Pimple Patches
Pimple patches are not new, and like most beauty treatments that suddenly surge in popularity, they were not invented in the West. They’ve been popular in Asian countries, like Japan and Korea, for at least a decade. It was K-beauty online marketplace Soko Glam that first introduced pimple patches to the U.S. market in 2012.
In the last couple of years, they’ve really taken off in the U.S. and Europe, with new brands popping up consistently. With varying price points, different quirky designs, and contrasting packaging, each brand claims its product is the one that will fix your zits. But the truth is: for the most part, all pimple patches use variations of the same ingredients and materials. (Essentially, it’s basic wound care for zits.) Which one you go for really depends on which design and packaging you like the best, and whether you want medicated or unmedicated (more on that later).
How Do Pimple Patches Work?
Firstly, although products vary, these kinds of patches are normally designed for those random zits you get here and there. They are not a cystic acne cure. If you’re suffering from this kind of deep, chronic acne, visit your GP or a dermatologist to find out the best course of treatment for your skin. But if you’re dealing with the odd irritating surface-level pimple, zit stickers could be your holy grail.
Most pimple patches are made with hydrocolloid, a wound dressing that absorbs moisture. They absorb unwanted grime (like dirt and pollutants) that may be clogging your pores, as well as any pus and gunk the zit is harboring. The sticker also helps to keep the area clean and stops you from doing the very worst thing you can do for a zit: picking at it with your fingers.
Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist with 15 years of experience in the industry and 2019 president for the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, broke down some of the science for us.
“[Hydrocolloid] is a highly absorptive polymer that is applied to a semi-occlusive film, [it] creates a self-adhesive, oxygen permeable patch that helps shrink pimples while preventing you from the urge to pick at blemishes,” she explained to LIVEKINDLY. “This type of technology has been used in the medical field for years to promote wound healing, so it’s not surprising to see it employed in cosmetic treatments.”
Medicated stickers are slightly different. These variations are infused with ingredients designed to treat the spot itself and “hasten healing,” says Dobos. “The patch also helps give these ingredients time to work by holding them on the skin longer,” she adds.
Examples of ingredients on medicated patches include tea tree oil or salicylic acid; the former works to reduce inflammation while the latter is “a beta-hydroxy acid that works to clear clogged pores and reduce oil production,” explains Dobos. In other words, it breaks down bonds between dead skin cells and reduces sebum. (Too much sebum can clog follicles and lead to a higher risk of pimples.) Many choose to opt for medicated patches to tackle early-stage spots before they flare-up. (An early-stage zit is when the area of skin is painful and potentially inflamed, but the head hasn’t appeared yet.)
One caveat, though, just to set expectations: whether they’re medicated or unmedicated, they are not miracle workers. You will not remove the sticker to find a blemish-free, perfect area of skin. They will just help to reduce the appearance of the spot and help it heal.
Where to Buy Pimple Patches: 5 Cruelty-Free Brands
Convinced you want to give pimple patches a shot? Here are 5 cruelty-free options to get you started.
Starface Hydro Stars
These little star-shaped unmedicated hydrocolloid stickers come in packs of 32 in a cute smiley face–adorned yellow case. Just like described above, they will absorb fluid and grime from the zit, and store it in the sticker (ew, but also, cool?). Best worn overnight on a clean washed face, they will also help to reduce redness and inflammation. They shouldn’t peel off at the sides either, because they’re designed to mold to your face and stay stuck until you decide to remove them.
You can buy the Hydro-Stars as a one-off purchase, or if you’re really taken with them, you can sign up for a one, two, or three-month regular subscription.
Zitsticka Killa Kit
If you’re dealing with deep, hard-to-get-at zits in the early stages, Zitsticka’s Killa Kit might be just what you need.
Featuring signature microdart technology, the medicated Killa patches dissolve into your skin, flooding the area in question with zit-tackling ingredients. These include the aforementioned salicylic acid, as well as niacinamide, which reduces swelling and inflammation, and hyaluronic acid, which helps to calm down redness.
The kit also contains tea tree oil and alcohol-infused swabs, which help cleanse, calm, and prime the skin ready for sticker application.
Squish Beauty Flower Patches
These pimple patches are so cute, they’ll actually take a bit of the frustration out of getting a zit because at least you’ll be able to cover your face in pretty flowers.
Available in packs of 20, the hydrocolloid patches work just like all other non-medicated pimple patches: they draw out impurities from the spot and help speed up the healing process. The difference with these is the design: you can actually peel off the glass jewels in the center when you’re done and use them to customize whatever else you fancy. (Stationery maybe? Get creative, people!)
Oh K! SOS Clarifying Blemish Patches
If you want to give pimple patches a go without parting with too much cash, these blemish patches from Korean brand Oh K! are worth a shot. Priced at a reasonable £3.50 for 12 medicated stickers, each patch is infused with soothing tea tree oil, as well as salicylic acid and bark extract (willow bark is where natural salicin, the pain-relieving ingredient used in salicylic acid, comes from).
The cute little stickers come in three shapes: dots, stars, and hearts.
Peach & Lily Acne Spot Dots
Peach & Lily’s Acne Spot Dots are all about speed and simplicity. The translucent dots don’t have a fancy design like some of the others on this list, but they do exactly the same thing as the other non-medicated patches. The selling point is that these hydrocolloid patches come in a variety of sizes, so whether it’s a tiny whitehead or a big pus volcano, you’ll have the right-size sticker for the job. Plus, they’re a bargain, priced at just $4.49 for 30 patches.
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