this thing's incredible

These Skin-Penetrating Patches Tame My Hormonal Acne in Days (Not Weeks)

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist. Photo: Retailer

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on July 23, 2021. We recently republished it to include a smaller-sized kit.

Acne has been my constant companion ever since I hit puberty. When I was a teenager, a careful combination of prescription topicals eventually tamed it — but not entirely. 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. They hurt. They throb. They beg me to pick at them even though they stubbornly refuse to come to a head. And they usually take at least a week (sometimes two) to clear, leaving prominent dark marks in their place to remember them by. Over the years, few things I’ve tried made them go away. The one and only time I found some relief was when a kind-hearted dermatologist took pity on me and stuck my hormonal zits with a gratis cortisone shot during a routine appointment. But an expensive in-office treatment isn’t exactly a long-term solution to a recurring problem.

Among the unsuccessful treatments I tried on my hormonal acne were pimple patches from brands like CosRx and the Mighty Patch. But those hydrocolloid patches are designed to suck the gunk out of a pimple, meaning they work well on whiteheads and extracted zits but do nothing for a cyst lurking deep beneath the skin. As algorithms seemingly know us better than we know ourselves these days, ads for another patch — the Killa from ZitSticka — kept popping up on my Instagram feed. Unlike the other patches I tried, which are essentially flat bandages, each Killa patch has 24 dissolvable micro-darts on the side you apply to the skin. The tiny darts are infused with a trio of ingredients — acne-destroying salicylic acid, calming niacinamide, and hydrating hyaluronic acid — and are designed to penetrate the top two layers of skin, pushing those ingredients deeper into the zit. After being served a dozenth ad for them, I succumbed and bought a box.

The kits come in packs of four or eight. Each one includes your selected number of patches, along with the same number of wipes soaked in a mixture of salicylic acid, antibacterial tea-tree oil, and vitamin E. Application is a two-step process: You first use one of the wipes to treat and cleanse the skin, then, once it’s dry, you stick on a patch. While the micro-darts may sound uncomfortable, they feel more like a cat’s sandpapery tongue when pressed into the skin and don’t hurt at all. The brand says you need to leave a patch on for only two hours because that’s how long it takes for the darts to dissolve and start working their magic. But I prefer to keep mine on for longer in order to protect the zits from bacteria (and my fingers). 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. Usually, one patch does the trick, but if the cyst is especially stubborn, I’ll apply a second one in the morning and wear it for the rest of the day. By that point, I can let nature run its course, and a cyst will typically disappear within a few days instead of a week or two.

Compared with other patches I’ve used, ZitStickas are admittedly more expensive. But the kit is packaged more conveniently than most: Each patch and wipe is individually wrapped, making it that much easier to throw one or two into a purse or an overnight bag without bringing the entire supply. And when you break it down, the cost only comes to $4 per patch — about $3.60 if you spring for the 8-pack about the price of a cup of coffee and a hell of a lot cheaper than a cortisone shot.

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.

These Skin-Penetrating Patches Tame My Hormonal Acne in Days