It’s so strange to think that we used to get by without pimple patches. Now, if you notice an angry zit developing, you pop on a pimple patch for a few hours and the sticker will suck the nastiness out of your skin. In the last few years, more options have entered the market, so we spoke to some skin-care experts — from board-certified dermatologists to our resident beauty writer — to find out what to look for in a pimple patch and which ones are the best. But before reading on, take stock of the one piece of advice all of our experts were unanimous about: Stop picking your pimples!
What we’re looking for
Hydrocolloid — a fluid-absorbing gel — is the ingredient in most pimple patches. “Hydrocolloids are wound dressings that have been used for decades on the skin for chronic ulcers, trauma wounds, and even burns,” says Dr. Jamie Glick, a dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group. You may have already used a hydrocolloid patch to treat a blister or small wound, and the process with pimple patches is the same: They draw out any excess oil and gunk. The patches also help acne blemishes to heal by acting as a physical barrier, keeping out bacteria and stopping you from picking. “Long before I was a dermatologist, my mother used to say, ‘Touching a pimple is like watering a plant — it will grow and grow,’” Glick says. “I use that phrase all the time with my patients and recommend acne patches especially to my patients who are pickers.”
Some other common ingredients in pimple patches include active acne-treating topicals like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and tea-tree oil. But Dr. Amy Perlmutter, also of the New York Dermatology Group, recommends “sticking with the hydrocolloid-only patches unless evaluated by a dermatologist and instructed otherwise. This is because patches with active acne-fighting ingredients have the potential to irritate and/or dry out the skin.” If your skin is sensitive, that’s an even higher risk for you.
The majority of pimple patches are designed to look as imperceptible as possible, so in theory, you can pop one on and head out without it being super-obvious. Most of the patches on this list, then, are small, thin, transparent dots, making them hard to spot on any skin tone. But that’s not always the case. I’ve outlined what each patch looks like and what sizes they come in to best suit your needs.
Beneath each pack, I’ve made a note of the price per patch.
Best patches overall
Ingredients: Hydrocolloid | Appearance: Transparent dot, one size (12 mm) | Price: $0.36 per patch
Dr. Perlmutter recommends these patches from Hero Cosmetics. They contain medical-grade hydrocolloid to remove excess fluid and oils from blemishes, but she says they also “maintain optimum PH level and temperature, which helps prevent bacterial overgrowth and promote healing.” Mighty Patches take about six to eight hours to work, so they are a great option to use overnight. Any oil sucked out turns white on the transparent patch, so you can really see the benefit. These patches are transparent — turning slightly opaque once they’re finished — so they look subtle on a variety of skin tones, and as they contain only hydrocolloid, they shouldn’t dry out sensitive skin. They’re also a great value.
Best patches for whiteheads
Ingredients: Hydrocolloid | Appearance: Transparent dot, mix of small (7 mm), medium (10 mm) and large (12 mm) | Price: $0.25 per patch
“Cosrx Pimple Patches are the holy grail. Drop everything and buy them,” says Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton. She recommended these patches in her original skin-care Google doc and thinks that they work best for extracting every last bit of gunk from whiteheads. “If you pop or pick a zit, put this on immediately afterward, go to bed, and in the morning, you’ll see what I’m talking about and thank me.” And while we’re not recommending picking, hey — we know it happens.
Best patches for body acne
Ingredients: Hydrocolloid | Appearance: Transparent dots or triangles, exact size not listed | Price: $0.33 per patch
Dr. Perlmutter also likes these ultrathin options from Neutrogena, which are more discreet when applied. They’re available in either dot or triangle shapes, with the latter specifically designed for angling on the side of your nose or for treating larger breakouts on the back or the chest. Containing just hydrocolloid, they’re nondrying and nonirritating.
Best almost invisible patches
Ingredients: Hydrocolloid | Appearance: Ultra-thin transparent dots, mix of small (10 mm) and medium (12 mm) | Price: $0.46 per patch
These patches, another by Mighty Patch, are a favorite of both Dr. Shereene Idriss, a board-certified dermatologist, and Viera-Newton. They’re great because they’re “super-ultrathin, so you can barely see them — sometimes I even lose track of where I’ve put them when I look in the mirror,” says Viera-Newton. “On days where I have a really bad zit and want it to be protected from the horrible grime of the city, I use these. I’ve even thrown some concealer on top of it to further disguise it.” Again, they contain only hydrocolloid, so they are kind to sensitive skin.
Best colorful patches
Ingredients: Hydrocolloid | Appearance: Neon yellow stars, 12 mm | Price: $0.46 per patch
Dr Idriss, Viera-Newton, and Dr. Perlmutter each recommend these fun pimple patches (that you’re sure to have seen on your feed at least once.) Each one is shaped like a star and uses hydrocolloid to draw out oil and gunk from pimples. They inject a bit of whimsy into not picking away at your face all day — at an affordable price point.
Best patches for larger spots
Ingredients: Tea tree, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid | Appearance: Transparent dots, one size (not listed) | Price: $3 per treatment (a wipe and a patch)
The Acropass Trouble Cure is actually a two-step process involving a wipe that treats your skin before you apply the patch. The wipe pairs acne-fighting tea-tree oil and salicylic acid, which can dry the skin, but the patch adds moisture back. “The Acropass has teeny-tiny microneedles infused with hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that deeply hydrates the skin, and niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, which has brightening and soothing effects,” explains Viera-Newton. “The microneedles — which, I know, sound scary — are so thin you can barely feel them, and they puncture the zit to attack it from the inside out.” After testing them on a few different types of blemish, Viera-Newton says these work best on large, intimidating, unpoppable spots.
Best patches for hormonal acne
Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid | Appearance: Transparent dots (one size, not listed) | Price: $3.62 per patch
“Into adulthood, I’ve still been plagued with monthly flare-ups of hormonal cysts on my chin. Like clockwork, the deep, painful, under-the-skin growths erupt to trumpet the arrival of my period,” says Strategist writer Dominique Pariso. After testing a few pimple patches and getting nowhere, she decided to try the multistep patches from ZitSticka. They work in a similar way to the Acropass patches — micro-darts push salicylic acid, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid into the skin. But the ZitSticka patches also have a hydrocolloid top layer, meaning they can fight acne before it develops. “The first time I slapped the patches on before bed, I woke up to find that the monster welts lurking beneath my face were flatter, calmer, and less red than they had been the night before,” says Pariso, whose cysts now clear up in a couple of days as opposed to a couple of weeks.
Best patches for persistent cystic acne
Ingredients: Hydrocolloid, salicylic acid, tea-tree oil, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid | Appearance: Transparent dots, mix of medium (16 mm), and large (20 mm) | Price: $0.48 per patch
For more persistent acne, Dr. Brendan Camp of New York–based MDCS Dermatology recommends these patches from Skyn. As well as hydrocolloid, they contain hero exfoliant salicylic acid, which “penetrates deeper into pores and breaks up plugged follicles.” With so many active ingredients, the patches are ideal for combatting cystic, persistent acne, but those with extremely sensitive skin should steer clear.
Some other products to combat breakouts
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.