Board-certified dermatologists weigh in.

By Jaclyn Smock
December 20, 2019

We've all had those weeks: You're stretched too thin at home and at work and you've indulged in ordering out too many nights in a row—and now you have a big breakout on your chin. If you're like us, you need it gone fast, and sometimes a trip to the dermatologist for a cortisone shot—should your blemish be cystic—just isn't possible. Enter, zit stickers (also known as pimple patches), which are the next best thing; they're designed to heal zits overnight. They contain acne-fighting ingredients that nourish and eliminate breakouts, while also preventing you from picking and prodding. To help you prepare for and manage your next breakout, whenever it happens, we spoke to experts about how to best use these new-age blemish treatments.

woman touching face looking in mirror
Credit: Getty / Delmaine Donson

What are zit stickers?

Unlike spot treatments, acne patches won't leave your skin dry or flakey—one of their biggest advantages. "They are mostly small, circular hydrocolloid sheets that stick to the skin. Certain patches contain active ingredients like salicylic acid to treat the breakout, and some even boast anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera," shares Dr. Hadley King, a New York City dermatologist.

How do they work?

Apply a pimple patch overnight and there's a good chance it will be diminished—if not gone—by morning. The reason? "Each sticker draws fluids and oils away from the skin, while providing a sealed environment to protect the inflammation from further irritation and infection," explains Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist and Director of Dermatological Surgery at Metropolitan Hospital.

What types of pimples do they treat?

If you can see or feel any type of new pimple coming to the surface, apply a sticker to shorten the recovery time. The key is to treat the blemish before a whitehead forms, notes Dr. Robb Akridge, Ph.D., the CEO and founder of REA Innovations—and to cover the zit to "prevent picking at the lesion, which can result in infection and scarring," he adds.

How can you best apply them?

Most stickers come in different sizes to treat multiple types of breakouts, so opt for a sticker that will cover the breakout completely. They're also most effective when applied to a freshly cleansed face—never apply a zit sticker to dirty skin because it could seal in bacteria and make the active blemish worse (or create new ones), cautions Dr. Engelman. After you apply the patch, complete your skincare regimen as usual, "but only [use additional products] around, not over it," shares Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

How long do they last?

Patches last about eight hours; after that, they lose their efficacy, since the "patch is already saturated with oils and pus that has been pulled from the skin," notes Fedora Stojkoska-Hristov, Global Product Development Manager from Patchology. The same goes for stickers made with salicylic acid—they also lose their potency around hour eight, since "the dose of actives has already been delivered to the skin," she adds.


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