Ever since I stuck a cut-up Band-Aid on my face in the hopes of healing a particularly uncomfortable whitehead, I’ve been convinced that all hydrocolloid patches [i.e. pimple patches] are pretty much the same. When I emailed cosmetic chemist Victoria Fu on the subject, she confirmed my suspicion. “Hydrocolloid dressings have been around for a while,” Victoria explains, “and they’re all generally made in the same way.” Basically, there’s a special congealing liquid that’s combined with adhesive, and the mixture is applied to a plastic sheet. Sometimes, Victoria notes, acne-fighting ingredients are added to the adhesive-hydrocolloid mixture, but this doesn’t exactly do much. “You’re better off applying your regular acne treatments before applying the dressing,” says Victoria.
Thickness is another thing that doesn’t really matter—thick or thin patches shrink pimples at the same rate. In fact, the only variable you need to keep in mind is how well the patch sticks to your skin . “With good adherence,” Victoria explains, “a hydrocolloid can create an enclosed, moist, protected environment for hours and even days.”
You won't find any patches with attachment issues below. And then I further refined the list, based on price, size, and translucence. Some are more matte than others for invisible daily wear, some are big, some are tiny, some have funky shapes and colors. But enough of that, your perfect pack awaits.
The Cheapest: Peach Slices + Alba Botanica
Unlike sometimes pricey spot treatments, pimple patches don’t need to be expensive to work. Both Peach Slices and Alba Botanica’s versions net out to under $.20 per patch (15 and 18 respectively). And while Peach Slices is definitely the cheapest, Alba’s is more matte—perfect for daytime use. Plus, both are easy to buy IRL in a pinch—Peach Slices is sold at CVS, while Alba is at Target.
The Most Invisible: Rael
It doesn’t matter what a patch looks like when you’re wearing it to bed. When you want to wear it to work, it’s a different story—shiny patches stand out from skin or makeup, but matte ones go more or less undetected. These Rael patches have a slightly thinner outer edge to blend into skin, and the plastic laminate has a powdery, matte finish that’s not too conspicuous. It’s the best choice options for keeping your zit protected and treated during work hours.
The Cleanest Application: Avarelle
A big part of making sure your patch adheres well is how you apply it. Some patches, when you try to seperate them from their plastic backing, ball up on the side and create a bump that doesn’t lay flat. These Avarelle patches are packaged on a clear, perforated plastic sheet that you can fold and peel off while keeping the patch itself intact. It comes in classic, AM and PM versions (the AM versions are smaller and less obvious, and they’re infused with different anti-acne ingredients), but since the additives don’t make much of a difference, you can pick at random—I like the classic version for no reason in particular. All three variations come with the same great backing.
The One For Cysts: ZitSticka Killa Patches
Not a hydrocolloid, ZitSticka’s patches consist of a plastic cover, an adhesive ring, and a pad of salicylic acid and niacinamide microdarts meant to penetrate the epidermis and reach deep into those painful, under-the-skin pimples. Other pimple patch brands make cystic acne-fighting patches with microdarts, but ZitSticka’s are the sturdiest and feel the most comfortable on skin. The darts are the biggest, but the patch itself is slim and adheres well. They’re also the least conspicuous of the microdart patches, if you’re into wearing them out. ZitSticka’s patches are also the most expensive on this list, and come in pretty silly packaging—half of the pack is individually wrapped Killa patches, and the other half is filled with cleaning pads, which I’d recommend you skip. (Rubbing alcohol on cystic pimples only dries out the top layer of skin and traps the infection down there for longer.) Still, if you’ve tried everything you can for cysts and still can’t get relief, these are worth a try—not only do they reduce the size of the cyst, but they also prevent you from picking and making it worse.
The Best XL: Hero Mighty Patch Surface
Out of all the large acne patches I tried, the Mighty Patch Surfaces were by far the best—large enough to cover a couple close-together back zits, and sturdy enough to stay put through a shower and outfit changes. They also do a great job of being invisible, despite the large size. But that being said, if you don’t care about it blending in, Band-Aid Hydro Seal Blister Heels are of comparable size and sturdiness, and one pack costs a third as much at the drugstore.
The Cute One: Starface
The one to wear when you don’t want your coworkers staring at your face thinking, ‘Is that a pimple patch?’ They're star-shaped and yellow and quite conspicuous, but that’s the point! They're very cute. Recently, I’ve been relying on these the most for daytime—and now when a zit pops up on my cheek, I actually get excited about it. Is that weird? A bonus perk is that it’s nearly impossible to lose the little yellow pod they come in, a problem I’ve noticed with the slim sheets of other packages. Peel it off gently to avoid wrinkling any of the star points.
Photo via ITG