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Do Acne Stickers Actually Do Anything?

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 We’ve all been there: it’s the night before some big event, and you’ve got a dime-sized zit on the middle of your forehead which will, undoubtedly, be the focal point for your whole face. Or at least that’s how it feels. And concealers can be great for a little discoloration, but they’re ill-equipped at hiding monster whiteheads. So what can you do? 

When I was a teenager, I tried pimple-patches, or acne stickers, to little effect. But they’ve come a long way since then, and I think they’re worth re-examining, particularly since they’ve taken off in Asia. Like so many other products that have been catapulted to recent fame, South Korea has produced some crowd favorites in the world of acne stickers. But not all acne stickers are created equal.

There are two types of patches -- medicated and unmedicated -- that work in different ways. Both types of patches are typically packaged the same way: a sheet of sticky circles of varying sizes. But, made of flexible hydrocolloid material, the unmedicated patches treat your pimples like wounds. “The hydrocolloid stickers attract fluids so when you apply them to whiteheads and pimples with pus and fluids in them, they attract and absorb all the pus and gunk in the pimple, which helps quicken the healing time,” says Ju Rhyu, founder of Hero Cosmetics and maker of the Mighty Patch acne sticker.

A medicated acne sticker is more common, and there are a number of brands that offer them. These don’t have the same flexible feel as the hydrocolloid stickers do -- in fact, they feel a bit more like vinyl, and they’re rigid against your skin. But they are rich with ingredients to help clean out the blemish. Active ingredients vary between brands, but the two most common are salicylic acid and tea tree oil, both staples in the world of skin care. “In theory,” says Dr. Sandra Kopp, a dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, “occlusion can help with absorption of any topical. The risk, though, is that people can be very sensitive to products like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, as well as the adhesives used to maintain contact. Irritation can occur if left on too long.”

So the unmedicated patch sucks the gunk out, while the medicated patch helps to keep the medicine in. And while the medicated patches seem to pack a mightier punch, they are also more prone to irritating your skin. So which one is better?

That depends on your skin type, and the type of acne you’re battling. If you’ve got a big, juicy white head, start with the unmedicated patch to draw out the pus, and then switch to a medicated patch to fight the source of the pimple. The perfect one-two punch of emergency acne care.

While these little, inobtrusive decals won’t make your pimple completely vanish overnight, they can certainly help to reduce size and redness so that your spot concealer can take you the rest of the way.

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