The best acne patches save face — literally. They can make the difference between showing a blemish for a single day or wearing the pimple for months on your mug (after waiting for it to burst, or burrow further, then sporting its red-mark remnants). At SPY, we prefer the former option — making pimples disappear quickly. That’s why we always have a bunch of these pimple patches on hand at all times.
For some of us who are acne prone, and well into adulthood, fighting blemishes is less than spectacular. We’ve got the best acne body wash in the shower, use the best face masks for men to clear out debris, and are all about a good acne spot treatment.
But every year there’s that few-month stretch (usually in summer) when we think we’ve finally cracked the code and nixed acne entirely. And then the cold weather roars back, or there’s that one dehydrated and binge-drinky night out with friends, or the inevitable stress about something trivial, and wham — hello new pimples. And these aren’t the “now you see them, now you don’t” type of blemishes. These are the ones that grow deep under the skin, and whether they surface or not, their remnants are seen for many months on end (and the resulting hyperpigmentation is another story for another day, but it emphasizes why some of us need to get ahead of the pimples as soon as one is seen or felt).
But the best acne patches do really make a difference, in our experience. Below are acne patches for all different types of blemishes, and also for different scenarios — including daytime discretion, overnight miracles, and even cheeky ones that lean into the fact that you’re covering up. After much deliberation, we’ve found the five of the best acne patches out there — the ones we keep stocked up at home for any and all types of breakouts and social situations (including antisocial ones, though it’s these acne patches that prevent us from being antisocial and in our own feelings whenever a big baddie blossoms right between the brows).
The Best Acne Patches At a Glance
Ingredients to Look for in the Best Acne Patches
Before we get into the best acne patches we’ve used, let’s talk about what’s actually happening — the ingredients. You’ll see some ingredients repeated in the acne patches below, and that’s because they’re proven to be supremely effective at disappearing and healing blemishes. You won’t necessarily see each one in a single acne patch, but their presence will probably clue you in on the use case of the patches (meaning, different types of blemishes might require different acne patches).
While hydrocolloid isn’t itself an ingredient, it is a common type of dressing that you will see advertised on most acne patches. Typically, this dressing contains gelatin and/or cellulose gum (sodium carboxymethylcellulose). This is a breathable type of bandaging used across many types of wound dressings; its job is to suck out things like pus and oil (plus other wound fluids) while keeping the site moisturized. The dressing turns into a jelly-like substance as it extracts the gunk, and it helps reduce inflammation and redness in the process. The best acne patches these days will almost always use hydrocolloid technology, and some even solely use this technology. It is these options (the ones without additional ingredients) that are best for pustules and papules — those small red zits that don’t hurt to the touch and are more superficial.
This ingredient helps break down dead, trapped skin cells as well as sebum inside blemishes. It can also help regulate sebum production to halt the further formation of the pimple. It is used in many anti-blemish serums, cleansers, and creams, and when deployed in an acne patch, it can prevent some of the biggest craters from erupting. It is often found alongside hydrocolloid dressing; together they’re a formidable opponent to acne. While the other ingredients on this list are terrific inclusions in an acne patch, salicylic acid is without question the single best inclusion aside from hydrocolloid dressing. While most patches use hydrocolloid, the clear distinction is whether or not they use salicylic acid, and when they do use it, it’s probably for those deep-seated cystic and nodular types of breakouts, which can hurt to the touch and which can often leave a mark for many months on end — unless you get ahead of them with a treatment like this.
Niacinamide has many benefits for the skin but in acne patches, it targets the site with its oil-mitigating and anti-inflammatory powers.
Tea Tree Oil
While it is an oil, this one won’t get trapped inside your pores. Instead, it will help neutralize the bacteria that contribute to pimple proliferation, and with its anti-inflammatory powers can help reduce the angry acne while simultaneously tempering oil production at the site.
Willow Bark Extract
A common ingredient in skin toners, soothing willow bark extract can temper oil production in the skin, and it can balance pH levels in order to prevent redness and irritation.
As noted above, the best acne patches these days almost all deploy hydrocolloid dressing technology to expedite repair and recovery. Thus, it’s most effective to divide acne patches into whether or not they deploy the second most common ingredient, salicylic acid, which will often dictate the type of blemish they target. Here are our five favorite pimple patches, two of which do not use salicylic acid, and three of which do.
These translucent patches are a discreet daytime option for anyone who needs to navigate the world but whose pimple might not respond well to concealer coverage — or for the person more preoccupied with disappearing the pimple than covering it up, of course (for the sake of this article, most readers probably fall into the latter camp).
It’s a hydrocolloid-only patch, so it’s less ideal for the cystic and nodular types of acne, which require a bit more “medicine” to neutralize, but you can quickly make those standard-fare zits get gone with a single day’s use of these ones, even overnight. Not to mention, they’re the least expensive on the roster, both in terms of baseline price and per patch.
- Translucent design keeps them discreet on all skin tones (though lighter tones will have the most discretion).
- Among the easiest to extract from their housing sheet and in turn apply cleanly to the face.
- Best value of this entire roster, at roughly 33 cents per patch.
- They won’t be as heroic on cystic blemishes — but that’s par for the course without ingredients like salicylic acid in play.
Starface is one of the brands that popularized pimple patches in recent years, largely because they took a cheeky, no-embarrassment angle on the matter: Yeah, you’ve got a pimple, so why not place a bright yellow star over it instead of some bandage-like sticker? Show it off instead of pretending like people don’t see it.
That kind of shame-less approach worked wonders, just as these stars work overnight miracles on everyday types of breakouts. Yes, you can wear them during the daytime, which suits the nature of the advertising, but when you wear them in the comfort of your home (and the comfort of your pajamas), these little stars serve as a reflective reminder to not take the blemish so seriously.
- The smiley “Big Yellow” carrying vessel is easy to refill, and encourages you to stay stocked up.
- Star shape allows the patches to wrap contours of the face, making them easier to apply to the chin, nose, brow, and more compared to other designs.
- The brand has lots of exciting limited-run partnerships, from “Sesame Street” to “Spongebob,” so you can wear some really cheeky stickers.
- While the stars are cute, those five arms are hard to uniformly lay flat on the skin. That said, the patch still stays put; it’s just that your star might look like an injured starfish.
- As was the case with the previous pick, these won’t be as effective on cystic acne — which is to be expected and is more of a categorical “con.” Use them on pustules and papules.
- Retinol (Vitamin A): Reduces inflammation, balances oil production, and neutralizes bacteria.
- Aloe vera: Soothes skin, reduces redness, and neutralizes bacteria.
If you’re treating a more severe blemish, in the hopes of saving yourself weeks or months of healing and repair, then get something with as many fantastic ingredients as Peace Out’s different pimple patches. This one deploys more than the baseline salicylic acid; it also helps free up clogged pores with skin-healing super ingredient, retinol, and soothes on contact with aloe vera.
To top it off, these daytime patches are designed for ultimate discretion, meaning people might have to study your face in order to notice them; they even take concealer with aplomb, if you want to go full cover-up mode while quarantining the pimple itself.
- Extremely translucent on their own — they get the top prize in this regard, for the discretion they allow.
- Easy to apply foundation or concealer over top, if you want to take cover up one step further. Also easy to do your entire skincare regimen over top the dot without having to carefully navigate around it.
- Far less delicate than other salicylic acid options, making them easy to tote in your bag (I may have used them as a bookmark, even).
- This is couched in a “pro,” but sometimes I forget that I’m wearing these. It might be 16 hours and I’m still sporting the same past-its-prime sticky patch.
- Cactus extract: Soothes skin, reduces inflammation, and helps mitigate sebum production
- Cica grass: Reduces redness and soothes skin
- Hyaluronic acid: Attracts moisture up to 1,000x its weight to deeply hydrate the skin and promote healing
We cannot count how many times these overnight hydrocolloid + salicylic acid patches have saved us from cystic-acne purgatory. The exact day that we feel an angry blemish forming (or as soon as we see it), we apply one of these before bed and about 95% of the time, that’s the last we’ll hear from the pimple. In really bad cases, it’ll take two nights and a daytime patch, too, but we’ll still take the added labor if it means not having to have a little mole-sized red face splotch for the next few months.
Best of all, Cardon’s hydrocolloid patches have the biggest concentration of remedial ingredients, which makes them perfect to pair with a good night’s rejuvenation: Cactus extract and cica to calm and soothe, hyaluronic acid to hydrate, willow bark to balance, niacinamide to neutralize, and of course salicylic acid to deplete the maddest nodules of all. They use tiny “microdarts” on the underside of the patch to penetrate the skin and deliver the ingredients beneath the surface; worry not, you won’t feel a thing.
- Cystic pimples have met their match with these overnight miracle workers.
- Thoughtful ingredient roster ensures that the skin stays soothed, calm, and hydrated, too.
- Zippable pouch and airtight plastic case keep the precious goods safe between uses.
- The 3×3 plastic grid that houses the patches can be a little stubborn to navigate when removing each sticker. Go slow.
- You’re spending over $2 per patch. So use them when they’re needed most — on those deep-seated breakouts.
- Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C): Reduces inflammation and improves skin tone/brightness to prevent discoloration
These acne patches with hydrocolloid, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil offer something that the others don’t: surface coverage. ZitSticka has created an entire face “map” that treats problematic areas, since oftentimes blemishes pop up in clusters. It can be supremely annoying to position two or three tiny pimple patches side by side, believe us, we’ve tried. We’ve even attempted cutting the other brands’ individual patches in half, in some cases, which is so tedious and usually unsuccessful and wasteful.
But with one fell swoop, these “swaths” can decompress an entire forehead, nose, chin, or both cheeks. They also pump Vitamin C into the area to further decrease swelling and promote an even-toned recovery.
- Fastest way to obliterate numerous problems that pop up together.
- Salicylic acid and tea tree oil work together to temper oil production in the area, while also freeing pores and disinfecting the skin.
- Vitamin C ensures that the skin looks its best and brightest after removal of each patch.
- If you need large patches repeatedly, then this one could get expensive fast. I’d recommend saving it for one-off mass breakouts.
How to Apply Acne Patches
Before you go and pick up the best acne patch for your problem areas, consider the process. The rules are universal for the effective application of acne patches but are good to know nonetheless.
Step 1: Cleanse the Area
Use a gentle cleanser and lukewarm water to flush away any surface oil, sweat, grime, or product buildup on the skin.
Step 2: Pat Skin Dry
Use a clean towel to pat the area dry, so that the patch can stick to the area. Do not rub, so as to avoid irritating the skin and blemish site.
Step 3: Apply Acne Patch
Center the blemish in the middle of the acne patch, and press firmly around the entire patch. Be careful to get the placement correct on the first attempt, or else the adhesive may be compromised, and some of the targeted ingredients (when applicable) may deploy prematurely. You can then apply your other skincare products, but be careful to not smother any product around the patch itself, even though it should be sealed off by the hydrocolloid technology (if it isn’t totally sealed off, then that serum or cream can enter the site and compromise the adhesive).
Step 4: Wear for a Minimum of 2 Hours
Many acne patches retain their efficacy for 6-8 hours, particularly in the case of hydrocolloid dressing. So, wear it for at least 2 hours to get the primary benefits, but as long as 8 (or overnight), to protect the wound and promote healing for the maximum amount of time. It’s not unsafe to wear it longer than 8 (like, if you sleep in late and accidentally wear it for, say, 10 hours). But it’s not likely doing you any favors at this point, and should be removed and replaced if another application is needed. In that case, repeat the steps here; you can also choose to let the skin breathe a little, and potentially treat the site with additional targeted ingredients for a few hours before starting the process over. Ideally, one 8-hour application will work extremely well at reducing the problem, but it all depends on the severity of the blemish.
How We Tested the Best Acne Patches
Usually, when we test a category of products, we concentrate on those products for a couple of weeks at a time to experience them thoroughly to understand how consumers might react. In the case of the best acne patches, however, we’re humored to admit that we’ve been testing this category in particular for a handful of years now. We rely on these things regularly because no amount of skincare will prevent things like stress and hormones from delivering a lovely blemish or five across the face. But in terms of weighing the best ones for the task, these are the key factors we considered:
Ingredients: A lack of ingredients doesn’t make an acne patch inferior to its competitors. Rather, it just means that the ranking of the patch must be scaled against other ones that offer something more. Even the simplest patch, a pure hydrocolloid decompressant, would be beneficial to many users, so we wanted to break the winners down into respective categories within the best acne patches.
Efficacy: Bottom line — is the acne patch good at its task? When applying one at bedtime, do we wake up in the morning with a significantly diminished (or entirely disappeared) blemish? Sometimes you might be spending $1-2 per tiny little patch, so they had better deliver.
Ease of Application: Some acne patches start sticking to themselves as soon as they’re out of the package. Others peel away from the skin after an hour or less, even if you cleansed thoroughly prior to application. The winners on this list all last upwards of 8 hours, if that’s how long you choose to wear them.
Face Value: Not all patches are trying to be discreet. Some embrace the absurdity of the situation — yeah, that’s a big yellow star on my forehead. So, we wanted to take each product at face value of what it was offering as we did for the ingredient roster, as well as patch size.
Why Trust SPY When Shopping for the Best Acne Patches
At SPY, we like to trace the boundaries of the grooming world to find the best product, both new and old, for guys everywhere. When it comes to skincare, the best acne patches were one category we were very excited to test. After looking through stores online and in person, following the latest trends in grooming releases, and working with our sources, we were able to test some of the most popular available to determine which actually work and which are hawking snake oil.
Other than the best acne patches, SPY has been hot on testing products for grooming reviews lately. Recently, we’ve used the best men’s shampoo, the best lip balms, and even our secret weapon to great skin — The Good facial serum from Caldera + Lab.
If you’re interested, you can read more about How We Test Products at SPY.
About the Author
Adam Hurly has been covering the grooming industry for a decade after getting his start at Birchbox in 2013. Since becoming a freelance journalist in 2016, he has written for nearly every men’s title. In addition to SPY, his frequent clients include GQ, Men’s Journal, Robb Report, Forbes, and more. Hurly is a South Dakota native, a University of Kansas graduate, a New Yorker at heart, and has resided in Berlin for 5 years.
Recently at SPY, Hurly has weighed in on the difference between Finasteride vs. Minoxidil, has laid out the best hair loss treatments, and has even shared his secret to packing the perfect Dopp kit.