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How to Use Hydrocolloid Patches to Heal Acne

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I first discovered hydrocolloid patches for acne as a way to treat my skin when I was dealing with a bumpy (literally) transition from the relatively blemish-free skin of my youth to adult-onset acne—yay, stress! Since the rise of hydrocolloid popularity, I’ve become an avid patch wearer and have worn just about every version on the market (micro-darts, “invisible,” charcoal-infused...)—you name it, I’ve tried it. Enter STARFACE Hydro-Stars: adorable, star-shaped hydrocolloid patches for acne. Their fun shape draws attention to pimples instead of hiding them, which helps to prove the point that skin isn’t something to be ashamed of. Once I learned they’d be in an upcoming IPSY Glam Bag Plus assortment, I knew I had met my zit sticker soulmate.

Despite considering myself a pimple patch aficionado, I still had so many questions. What exactly are they? How do they work? And are they actually the best option out there? To get the full 101, I spoke with Mamina Turegano, MD—a board-certified dermatologist with the digital dermatology clinic, Apostrophe. Keep reading and get ready to become a hydrocolloid genius.

What Is a Hydrocolloid Patch and How Do They Work?

Hydrocolloid patches create a seal to trap moisture and speed up wound healing. Hydrocolloids have been used since the 1970s to treat slow healing wounds, but it wasn’t until the early 2010s when they also became a popular fix for acne. “They are a cost-effective, low-risk way to spot-treat small, inflamed acne bumps or early inflamed cysts,” says Dr. Turegano. Some patches may also contain extra acne-fighting ingredients to help treat your pimple, but we’ll get into that soon.

When it comes to healing acne, a clean, moist environment is key. “The hydrocolloid material also attracts fluid, so it can absorb the fluid from the underlying lesion as well as any superficial debris. It also protects from outside trauma like rubbing, scratching, or bacteria,” explains Dr. Turegano. 

At their most basic level, hydrocolloid patches won’t contain any ingredients other than the materials protecting your pimple. More complex versions might contain acne-fighting actives like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or tea tree oil—sometimes delivered through “micro-darts,” which are teeny needles that prick the skin to allow the ingredients to get in deeper. However, Dr. Turegano advises that these types of hydrocolloid patches aren’t necessarily better for some. “If a patient is sensitive or allergic to any active ingredients that are added to the hydrocolloid patch, then the reaction can be amplified,” she warns us. Sometimes, less is more.

So, how do you prep for wearing acne patches? Set your sticker up for success by gently cleansing the area around the spot in question, then patting it dry with a (clean!) towel. It’s best to leave stickers on for a few hours or overnight for the best results—just no more than 24 hours. Afterwards, you’ll want to baby that healing blemish. Dr. Turegano recommends using a gentle exfoliating cleanser to help slough away dead skin and minimize hyperpigmentation. “The patch can absorb a lot of the fluids leaving that area dry,” says Dr. Turegano—so top off the area with a gentle moisturizer.

Are There Any Side Effects to Hydrocolloid Patches?

Overall, hydrocolloid patches are relatively safe to use. Sensitive to active ingredients? Chances are you’ll be sensitive to them within a zit sticker as well—so opt for the simpler types, like the STARFACE Hydro-Stars. That being said, results can be a little disappointing if you’re treating the wrong kind of pimple. “Pimple patches won’t do much for blackheads, deep cysts, or whiteheads that aren’t oozing,” says Dr. Turegano (beautiful mental image, right?). “They work much better on smaller papules or pustules as well as early cysts.” Basically, if it hasn't popped yet (or doesn’t look like it’s about to), it probably won’t work miracles.

So, Do Hydrocolloid Patches Really Work?

Yes...and no. Like all skincare treatments, effectiveness is totally individual—what works for one person might not be the solution for another. I know that’s like hearing “it is what it is,” but it’s true. The good news, though, is that hydrocolloid patches can press the fast-forward button on wound healing. It may not solve the cause of the pimple, but it will help you treat it under the right circumstances. “It can certainly serve as a supplement to your current skincare regimen,” Dr. Turegano reminds us. Plus, she adds that it’s a great alternative to harsh topical treatments.

The verdict? A stash of hydrocolloid patches for acne is worth keeping in your skincare cabinet. Plus, if they’re adorably star-shaped, that pimple hopefully won’t feel like the end of the world anymore.

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About the author
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Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated November 22, 2021 12:00 AM