Welcome to FaceForward
Get the scoop on all things beauty, wellness, and skincare.
Hydrocolloid dressings have been used for years to encourage the healing of open skin wounds like skin ulcers, pressure sores, large blisters, and burn wounds.
The premise of hydrocolloid dressing is simple: a moist covering for wounds that either need to remain moist or wounds that are seeping moisture themselves.
But hydrocolloid bandages have caught on in broader skincare circles as well. TikTok "hacks" have garnered millions of views and led to a remarkably popular trend that’s still going strong--hydrocolloid bandages (dubbed "pimple patches") for acne. Enterprising TikTok users began posting videos and explainers on hydrocolloid bandages for treating acne, and companies have popped up to fill this niche.
So what’s the story on hydrocolloid bandages for acne, and do they work?
Hydrocolloid bandages were born out of necessity and a simple predecessor. Some wounds and cuts need to stay moist to heal properly. Other wounds may seep moisture, like puss. Centuries ago, moist bandages were simply wound dressings coated in oil or grease to help maintain moisture and prevent wounds from drying out.
Modern hydrocolloid dressing are just moisture-retaining protective dressings but with much more scientific ingredients.
Hydrocolloid dressings and bandages were an advancement in wound care during the 70s, typically used on large wounds that are not yet infected but need consistent protection. They’re made by combining a hydrophilic substance like gelatin, sodium carboxymethylcellulos, or sodium alginate, among others, with a bandage-like backing, often sticky like a band-aid. The hydrocolloid substance attracts and retains moisture underneath the breathable or non-breathable (occlusive) backing. This retention of moisture promotes healing of wounds, and it allows new skin to form that isn't stiff and tight.
Hydrocolloid bandages or patches have emerged as an increasingly common approach to treating acne blemishes when they arise. These are generally small, round patches that stick to the skin around the pimple, papule, or pustule.
Think of acne patches as treatments for acute acne blemishes, not a preventive approach to acne.
Unlike larger hydrocolloid dressings designed to wrap non-infected skin wounds, hydrocolloid bandages for acne often come in small circular patches to cover acne blemishes or pustules. Their flexibility allows them to cover one acne pustule or sometimes stretch slightly to cover multiple pimples erupting close to each other. Hydrocolloid bandages also protect acne pimples from being scratched or rubbed. Users say the bandages discourage them from popping pimples, which can lead to further acne inflammation and even scarring, and many claim that they can improve healing.
For inflammatory nodules, users intend to extract inflammatory fluids such as pus and oil. When a hydrocolloid bandage is removed, users see discolorations on the bandage where the hydrocolloid essentially "attracted" acne pimple fluids.
Only a few studies have been conducted regarding the effectiveness of hydrocolloid bandages for acne. A 2021 study concluded that anti-acne patches containing a hydrocolloid seem to promote the healing of acne by extracting and absorbing fluids and inhibiting the growth of bacteria associated with acne. Researchers also stated that the porousness of the bandages aid with fluid retention and "contributed to absorption of exudate when applied to open acne lesions."
A small study from 2006 involved 20 subjects with mild to moderate acne who applied hydrocolloid bandages to breakouts for one week. Results indicated that the hydrocolloid bandage users had significantly improved oiliness and redness by the end of day seven.
Currently, Johnson and Johnson is conducting a trial of hydrocolloid bandages on acne pimples. Results have yet to be published.
Based on the limited controlled trials of hydrocolloid patches for acne, it seems that these bandages can work to help reduce the severity of acne blemishes.
Nodulocystic acne is the most severe form of acne.
Consisting of large, painful cysts and nodules, cystic acne generally cannot be treated with hydrocolloid patches because the causal issues are further beneath the skin. Pimple patches may even worsen cystic acne outbreaks and potentially lead to more scarring.
Mild cystic acne is usually treated with tretinoin or topical benzoyl peroxide. When cystic acne covers the face, back, and chest, dermatologists may also prescribe oral antibiotics, Accutane, cortisone shots, or anti-androgen medications for women.
Information about whether hydrocolloid bandages can get rid of blackheads is contradictory, with some anecdotal sources claiming they help remove blackheads and others claiming the opposite.
Blackheads aren't pus-filled pimples or pustules. Hydrocolloid bandages can help to protect and soak up the fluids from pimples because fluids collect near the surface of the skin. However, hydrocolloid bandages can't extract the condensed matter that composes a blackhead because it's not fluid. Instead, the "black" stuff inside a blackhead is a mix of dirt, sebum (oil), and skin cells clogging pore or follicles.
Blackheads are little black dots on your skin caused by pores that become clogged near the surface of the skin. The color of blackheads is the result of dead skin cells, oil, and dirt or debris mixing to plug the pore; when exposed to air, this "comedone" turns a darker color. Whiteheads, by contrast, are often the same detritus, just not exposed to oxygen. Many people wrongly think that the dark color of a blackhead is caused by dark-colored dirt.
By contrast, when a simple, isolated pimple (pustule) occurs, this indicates breakage in the walls of a blocked follicle or duct. Bacteria and dead skin cells which lay on the surface of the skin tend to accumulate at the opening, causing minor inflammation and the eventual eruption of a pimple as your body fights this small infection or infection-risk area.
Other options do exist for those who suffer from blackheads. Regular cleansing of your skin with a gentle agent can help reduce the risk of blackheads. For some, reducing the number of hairs or follicles in a given area of the body with laser hair removal is one way to reduce the frequency of blackheads too. Although laser hair removal leaves the hair follicle, it does slow down hair growth. Electrolysis is another method that removes a hair follicle altogether.
Only pimple patches containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are likely to treat blackheads with any effectiveness. The problem with these patches is they tend to dry out your skin to the point that flaking and itching can occur.
One of the best treatments for fighting acne and reducing blackheads is topical retinoids, such as Retin-A or tretinoin. Retinoids speed up our skin’s cell turnover process, helping to reduce the formation of comedones and inflammation that can cause acne, pustules, and future blackheads.
Although the FDA has yet to approve hydrocolloid bandages as a treatment for acne, several companies have launched their own lines of hydrocolloid bandages that are available at pharmacies and on Amazon for $10 to $15. Some of the more popular brands include:
Whether it presents as a transitory condition or one so severe as to actually cause disfigurement, acne is one of the most common skin conditions that’s not easily treated or eliminated.
Although excess oil secretion and resulting clogged pores are the direct causes of acne, other reasons for acne may not be so easily spotted.
The rise and fall of hormones in men and women at puberty and in early adulthood can catalyze acne in many people. Stress and seasonal changes can induce acne outbreaks, especially when sunlight decreases during the fall and winter months. Some people with acne notice a distinct improvement in outbreaks when acne is exposed to summer sunlight. This happens because the body produces several vitamins--specifically vitamins D and A--by absorbing sunlight and converting the ultraviolet rays into valuable nutrients.
If you’ve tried hydrocolloid bandages for treating acne blemishes and have not seen improvement, you’ve got other options.
Topical retinoid medications that have been approved by the U.S. FDA are a great option, and Nava MD’s virtual dermatology approach helps you get them from licensed dermatologists online. Our clinicians can prescribe custom formulations for your acne situation, if approved, all from the comfort of home and shipped right to your door. It’s fast and easy.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency