An ugly pimple crops up on your face and you have an interview the next day? You could put a little tea tree oil or benzoyl peroxide on it, but the spot treatment of the moment are acne patches. Long gone are the days of trying to dry your pimples out with toothpaste and baking soda (both are irritating and could make scarring worse by increasing inflammation).

How Do Hydrocolloid Bandages and Acne Patches Work?

There are a few advantages to using acne patches:

  • They protect your pimple from rubbing and touching (whether you’re doing it subconsciously or just rubbing your face on your pillow at night), which can lead to infection and scarring
  • They can create a moist environment for faster and better healing
  • They can deliver active ingredients to your pimple and the bandage can make them penetrate more effectively
  • They can absorb fluid from your pimple
  • They can protect your pimple from UV light, which can decrease pigmentation
  • They’re usually waterproof, so you don’t need to reapply them every time you wash your face

There are two types of acne patches: hydrocolloid bandages and treatment patches.


Hydrocolloid bandages are flexible bandages made of a water-attracting material attached to a thin plastic film. The bandage is stuck to an open wound with the water-attracting film facing downwards. Hydrocolloids were originally designed to be used for ulcers, but they’ve become more popular for acne, particularly in Asia.

The tough, outer plastic film is usually polyurethane and keeps everything in place, as well as preventing the water from evaporating and drying out the wound, so the wound heals fasterand the new skin that forms is supple rather than tight and stiff. It also protects the wound against rubbing and scratching.

The water-attracting material is usually made of carboxymethyl cellulose, gelatin and/or pectin, which have lots of water-binding groups in their chemical structure. This sucks fluid out of the wound. As fluid enters the bandage, it goes from transparent to white and swells up, which means you get a very satisfying white spot:

How Do Hydrocolloid Bandages and Acne Patches Work?

There are quite a few studies on the benefits of hydrocolloid bandages in different types of open wounds, but only one on using hydrocolloids in acne. They found that using 3M Acne Dressings for a week on pimples (with bandage changes every 2 days) decreased the severity of the pimple, as well as redness, oiliness and dark pigmentation, compared to using skin tapes.


Treatment patches contain active ingredients that are delivered to your pimple while it’s on. The most common active ingredients in acne treatments are salicylic acid and tea tree oil – most patches contain both.

There are some advantages to using these treatment patches instead of applying a normal product:

  • The patch increases penetration of the active ingredients due to occlusion – the patch keeps the skin under it moist, which increases skin permeability. On the flip side, if you’re sensitive to anything in the patch or if your skin isn’t clean, your reaction will be amplified
  • The patch keeps the active ingredient in place so it doesn’t get rubbed off accidentally
  • The patch protects your pimple from rubbing and touching, and it keeps the wound moist so it heals faster and better

Even though the active ingredients are usually the same, the patches perform differently so it’s a good idea to read some reviews of them before choosing one to buy.


How Do Hydrocolloid Bandages and Acne Patches Work?

Hydrocolloids and treatment patches look similar but act differently.

Use a hydrocolloid bandage if your pimple is raised or has visible pus, so it can suck out the fluid and flatten out the pimple. However, if your pimple is too wet, it can make the bandage stick badly and fall off. If your pimple doesn’t actually have any fluid in it, a hydrocolloid patch won’t do much.

Use an acne treatment patch if your pimple is inflamed but doesn’t contain much fluid. They won’t be able to absorb much fluid, so if your pimple is wet at all it will fall off quickly.

Acne treatment patches are thinner than hydrocolloids – if your pimple is already quite flat, they’re almost invisible to the eye and you can wear them outside without it being too obvious.

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