Pimple Stickers: The Acne Treatment You Didn't Know You Needed

Anyone who has ever been on Reddit's Skincare Addiction forum knows how, well, addictive the subreddit can be. It's so easy to get lost in the various DIY experiments, product recommendations, and "cures" that pop up there. There is an overwhelming array of advice about one category in particular: acne. Recently, the various acne threads have drawn the attention of the beauty literati. The most recent thread to be shouted from the rooftops is a year-old one on using hydrocolloid bandages to shrink and "heal" pimples and cystic acne.

A hydrocolloid dressing is described as "an occlusive (air- and water-tight) and adhesive wafer dressing containing gel-forming agents such as sodium carboxymethylcellulose (NaCMC) and gelatin." The more you know. When applied to an open wound, the hydrocolloid absorbs the moisture leaking from it (ew), but — because the gel is cohesive — that leakage stays in place (again, ew). Over time, the dressing will become more permeable and the wound will dry up. The most recognizable of hydrocolloid bandages are the blister ones from your local drugstore.

Now, that's all well and good for blisters, but pimples are a horse of a different color. "A blister is different than a pustule — it's the result of a mechanical (i.e. friction) injury," explains Dennis Gross, MD, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare — whereas pimples are a microbacterial, inflammatory condition. You need a blister bandage to form a mechanical barrier over the blister to protect the skin from further injury, but it has no active ingredients that reduce inflammation or kill bacteria.

A hydrocolloid bandage's sole purpose is to absorb moisture, says Dr. Gross. "There are certain ingredients we know can help acne, and none of them are in [a hydrocolloid bandage]." However, just because there isn't an active ingredient doesn't mean there is no benefit. According to Howard Sobel, MD, dermatologist and founder of DDF Skin Care, in theory there is a chance that the bandage could help. "Hydrocolloidal dressings can create an environment to inhibit the growth of bacteria," he says. "Technically, they can draw out pus and oils from a pimple."

So while they can't prevent pimples, there is a chance that by drawing out pus and oil, they can speed up the zit's healing time. Dr. Gross notes that since there is only anecdotal evidence and no scientific studies, it's hard to say if it's the bandage that is helping, or if the pimple would have come to a head or started healing on its own. Both doctors agree that if nothing else, applying a bandage over a pimple can help you keep your hands off it, which will keep you from picking or touching it — which can spread the oil and bacteria and, in turn, cause more pimples.

Beauty brands have capitalized on this DIY trick by flooding the market with a variety of pimple "stickers," which take the blister bandage and make it more user-friendly for the face.
Smart-Med's Cover-Dot Acne Care are clear, tiny discs that flatten out the pimple to even the skin texture. You can cover them with makeup, and they're invisible (provided the person isn't a few inches from your face).

Nexcare's Acne Absorbing Covers
are more medicinal — raised patches that protrude slightly from the skin. So they're more of an overnight-type treatment, since they are more visible.

Finally, Peter Thomas Roth takes it one step farther with its Acne-Clear Invisible Dots, which are clear discs infused with salicylic acid, tea-tree oil, and hyaluronic acid. The bandage isn't technically a hydrocolloidal, but rather a PET (a type of polymer resin of the polyester family).

The subreddit is unclear on whether the bandages work on all pimples, or just those that have been lanced. So we tried all three patches on both cystic bumps and popped pimples to see what they could do. Through our testing, we discovered that the Peter Thomas Roth dots were the most effective of the bunch. They shrunk the cystic lesions and made them look less red, made the whiteheads easier to pop, and calmed down the ones we'd manhandled.

The Cover-Dots had a similar, yet less pronounced, impact on pimples. Popped zits saw the most improvement — since we couldn't continue to touch them, they had time to heal, and the hydrocolloidal sucked up the fluids that had leaked out. Yum. Note of caution: These were not at all comfortable to remove. The adhesive stuck to the skin and caused one tender pimple to be ripped open during removal. So avoid using these on whiteheads.

We theorized that it was the inclusion of acne-fighting ingredients in the PTR dots that made them more effective. So wouldn't that mean applying an acne treatment on the skin and putting a hydrocolloidal on top would have the same benefit? Well, yes and no. Dr. Gross says that technically, applying a proven acne-fighting ingredient to the skin and layering something over it creates occlusion, which he says can fortify that ingredient and make it more effective. But Dr. Sobel notes that many active ingredients can already be irritating to the skin, and because the dressing increases the absorption, it could also increase the formula's strength and cause serious flaking, itching, redness, or dryness.

Basically, there is no clinical evidence that pimple stickers work. But there is some anecdotal evidence that they can. We say: Try it for yourself, keeping in mind the road-test info and doctor input we've outlined here, and see if it works for you. One thing's for certain, though: The old Band-Aid-to-hide-the-zit trick has evolved.
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