What Are Hydrocolloid Patches for Pimples?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on May 08, 2023
4 min read

Big or small, a pimple might not be a welcome sight. Whether you get the occasional blemish or deal with acne regularly, pimple patches may be a good solution. 

One kind of pimple patch is called a hydrocolloid patch. Like other acne patches, it’s sold over the counter. 

It’s a small piece of material that goes only on an open pimple. A hydrocolloid is a polymer, a type of substance that forms a gel when you mix it with water. When you apply a hydrocolloid to a small piece of material, it makes a hydrocolloid patch. The hydrocolloid creates a moist environment that helps heal your skin. 

Hydrocolloid was originally used for general wound care like leg ulcers or pressure sores. Experts found they worked better than traditional coverings. Doctors also put them on after a skin procedure, like having a mole removed. Some hydrocolloids like starch can thicken or create gels in foods.

In recent years, researchers found these patches worked well on open acne, too. There are other acne patches on the market without hydrocolloid and may work on pimples that aren’t open. 

The ones made for acne are just big enough to cover a pimple. They come on a sheet with multiple patches, or stickers. Some patches are clear and hardly visible on your skin. Others are more noticeable.

It can be made of different materials, including polyurethane film. The patch often has an outer layer that protects the skin from bacteria or infection. The inner layer can absorb any fluid that leaks from a pimple, such as pus or discharge.

The moisture from the hydrocolloid gel promotes healing and protects your skin from infection at the same time.

Other pimple patches can protect your skin and apply a substance to heal it, but the hydrocolloid patch is unique because it soaks up the infected pus.

Clean the open pimple. Then dry your skin. Next, put the patch over your pimple. Leave it on for as long as the label instructs, then peel it off. Some versions say you’ll need to repeat the process to see results.

Researchers compared hydrocolloid pimple patches with surgical tape on the skin of people with mild to moderate acne. They changed their patch or tape every 2 days for 1 week. Both groups had less severe acne by the end of the study, but the pimple patch was better at:

  • Making acne less severe
  • Filtering out more UV radiation, which helps prevent skin cancer and melanoma
  • Controlling redness, oiliness, dark pigmentation, and sebum (a waxy substance that your skin releases) on days 3, 5, and 7

Researchers also found that hydrocolloid patches made with gelatin and cortex extracts helped heal skin cells quicker because of their antibacterial properties. The hydrocolloid patches performed better than other commercial non-hydrocolloid acne patches.

Other over-the-counter acne patches include a version made with tea tree oil that has only one layer. But unlike hydrocolloid patches, they cannot absorb fluid from the blemish, which could cause the pimple to reappear.

If you have really sensitive skin, you may want to steer clear of pimple patches. They might dry out or irritate the affected area.

If you have dirt from clogged pores, blackheads, or whiteheads, hydrocolloid patches can’t treat these. They’re also not effective for cystic acne. And they can’t prevent flare-ups.

Your options include:

  • Cleansers. Look for face washes with alpha hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur. These are known to help with acne. Wash your face only twice a day.
  • Topical medicines. Prescription and over-the-counter creams, gels, and lotions may help. Look for ones that contain ingredients like adapalene, azelaic acid, dapsone, retinoic acid, salicylic acid, tretinoin, and trifarotene. 
  • Injections. Your doctor may give you steroid shots in the affected areas to help acne clear up.
  • Oral medicines. Your doctor may consider an androgen receptor blocker to block androgen hormones from glands that make oil. One example is spironolactone (Aldactone). Your doctor may suggest an oral contraceptive (birth control) that helps with your acne if you need to prevent pregnancy as well. They may recommend isotretinoin (Absorica, Zenatane) if other treatments haven’t helped.
  • Antibiotics. You can apply topical clindamycin, erythromycin, or minocycline directly to the skin. Your doctor may want you to take an antibiotic pill, too.