Home Health Do Pimple Patches Work? – The New York Times

Do Pimple Patches Work? – The New York Times


In a video on TikTok, a woman sprays a clear solution onto a pair of tweezers as she prepares to peel off a small, circular bandage from the side of her nose. “I don’t know what this peel is going to look like,” she says, “but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be juicy.”

After she removes the patch, she reveals its underside — white, puffy and filled with fluid from a pimple. She brings the patch closer to the camera, proudly showing off the goop.

It’s just one of many videos online of people claiming that pimple patches have made their blemishes heal or become smaller. But you don’t have to go online to see them. The patches are easily found in drugstores in various shapes, sizes, colors and formulations. And you might even spot a person or two wearing them in public.

But before you try a pimple patch for yourself, dermatologists say, know that certain types can be more helpful than others.

Pimple patches are simply bandages that are meant to be placed over pimples. They are typically lined with hydrocolloid, an absorbent, gel-forming material that medical professionals have used for decades as a wound dressing.

When applied to a wound, the hydrocolloid soaks up excess fluid, forming a gel and creating an environment that promotes healing. The patch itself prevents infection by protecting the skin from debris and bacteria.

In doctor’s offices and hospitals, larger versions of these patches are commonly applied to wounds from surgery, minor burns or bed sores. They are also popular treatments for blisters and eczema.

If you put a patch on a pus-filled pimple, “it can protect it, create a healing environment and help get that gunk and oil out,” said Dr. John Barbieri, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Many people think that “wounds need air,” said Dr. Zakia Rahman, a clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford Medicine. But “that is scientifically not valid,” she said, adding that covering any type of wound, including a pimple, will help treat it.

Wound dressings used in the medical field are typically made with just hydrocolloid, but some pimple patches are medicated, meaning they also include acne-treating ingredients like benzoyl peroxide (which fights acne-causing bacteria) and salicylic acid (which reduces swelling and unclogs pores). Some patches also contain skin-soothing ingredients like tea tree oil and aloe vera, or skin-drying ingredients like hemp seed oil.

Other versions even contain microneedles, tiny spikes that pierce the skin to deliver those ingredients directly into the pimple.

Experts say that hydrocolloid patches may help blemishes. But dermatologists caution against using the medicated versions.

Some of their active ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and glycolic acid, can help treat acne, Dr. Barbieri said, but they can also cause irritation, especially when sealed onto the skin under a patch.

Even patches with ingredients that are marketed as “natural” and “soothing,” like tea tree oil and aloe, can be irritating when used this way.

The microneedle patches may penetrate the skin and deliver acne-treating ingredients better than other types of patches, said Dr. Leela Athalye, a dermatologist in Orange County, Calif. But they can also potentially be more irritating.

“There is some literature to support the safety and efficacy of microneedle patches for pimples, but time will tell their effectiveness in clinic,” Dr. Athalye said.

According to Dr. Barbieri, the medicated and microneedle patches are probably not any more effective than the hydrocolloid-only versions. “The hydrocolloid works great on its own,” he said.

Product instructions typically recommend cleaning and drying the affected area, applying the patch to the pimple, and then leaving it on for around six to eight hours, or overnight.

As the hydrocolloid absorbs oil, dead skin and bacteria, the material turns white and becomes slightly bloated (which can be a satisfying result).

Few research studies on the effectiveness of pimple patches exist. But even without clinical trials, many dermatologists encourage patients to use nonmedicated versions for acne. Hydrocolloid-only patches are a gentler alternative to traditional spot treatment creams, Dr. Rahman said, which can be irritating for some people because of active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

But the patches won’t work on all blemishes, Dr. Athalye said. They won’t improve cystic or nodular acne, which cause pimples to form deep under the skin. They also won’t do much for blackheads or whiteheads.

“Patches may pull some fluid out of these spots but can only help minimally,” Dr. Athalye said. “The ideal pimple for these patches is a juicy pustule or papule that isn’t too deep.”

Still, it won’t hurt to use these patches on any pimple, Dr. Rahman added. In fact, they can help stop you from picking your skin, a habit that often delays healing and causes scarring or bacterial contamination.

Just be careful when removing the patch, Dr. Athalye said, as peeling it off too quickly may cause an abrasion that could result in scarring or discoloration. She recommended removing the patch during a warm shower or taking it off only when it loses its adhesive.

Hydrocolloid patches can help pimples heal faster, but they shouldn’t be your only tool for acne care, experts say. A broader skin care approach might involve applying topical over-the-counter or prescription medications in addition to using patches, Dr. Barbieri said.

“Are they worth the hype? Yes and no,” Dr. Athalye said. “ They are a wonderful addition to a good skin care routine but will not do everything.”

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