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Acne pads, wipes, and patches: what actually works and why

If you’ve been a teenager in the last 30-odd years, you’re probably familiar with them in one form or another – wipes, pre-treated pads, patches – there are tons of products like these on the market, all promising to solve all your acne woes. But, to be blunt? A lot of them don’t work. 

Many traditional over-the-counter (OTC) options simply lack the active ingredients necessary to make a meaningful change – or can even be actively harmful to your skin’s delicate balance. But that doesn’t mean you should write off all acne patches, pads, and wipes! 

Especially as the science and technology for treating acne have evolved, these products have gotten better, and there are a few that can make a huge difference if you’re struggling to achieve or maintain clear, blemish-free skin.

So let’s take a look at why some of these acne solutions didn’t work, what does work, and what you should look for when choosing a pad or patch.

Acne pads, patches, and wipes – what’s the difference?

To talk about these products, we’d better take a quick look at what exactly they are.

Acne wipes are typically cloth or cloth-like wipes around the size of your hand, which come pre-moistened with any concoction of ingredients. They frequently do double duty, like removing your makeup while offering some acne-fighting, hydrating, or skin-calming elements. 

While these can be great if you need a little extra help getting heavy makeup off after a night out, since they’re not particularly targeted, they’re not usually the best way to fend off zits. They’re also not particularly environmentally friendly, so we tend to recommend shying away from them and instead getting a bottle of micellar water and reusable or eco-friendly face pads.

Acne pads are similar to acne wipes, but tend to be smaller and more specifically tailored to fighting acne. These can be helpful, and they’re certainly handy, but their effectiveness depends heavily on their ingredients. Many of the old school over-the-counter pads were very drying and could be counterproductive, but today there are some gentler, more effective offerings. And an added plus, many current pads on the market are biodegradable. 

Acne patches are a more recent development in the acne-fighting toolkit. They’re small patches, varying in size but usually around half an inch in diameter, used to cover pimples directly and either deliver acne-fighting ingredients or pull out excess oil and impurities. While acne patches alone won’t prevent new zits, they’re excellent for those days when a big, inconvenient zit crops up and you need to reduce its appearance in a hurry.

So, now we know what they are – what makes these products work (or not)?

Not all acne solutions are built equal

Some things just plain don’t work. While everyone’s skin is unique, there are a few things we can say for certain.

Dry skin is unhappy skin

When you dry out the skin too much, you cause excess sebum production, which only makes things worse. This is why we rarely recommend using benzoyl peroxide and always recommend pairing any salicylic acid with soothing, moisturizing ingredients, like aloe vera. The reason so many OTC wipes got a bad wrap when they first hit the market is that they were too focused on drying out the skin and caused irritation and more blemishes when used long term.

When you kill bad bacteria, you often kill the good guys too

Any product with an antibacterial element can severely throw your system out of whack. It’s much better to boost your good bacteria and let them eliminate the bad, acne-causing guys (like C. acnes) than it is to bomb the whole system and wipe out your skin microbiome.

If you want clear skin, you need balance

For most acne-sufferers, especially those with stubborn acne, if you want clear skin, you need to prevent zits before they start, not just treat the symptom. That’s why patches alone won’t work – they only treat the zit that’s already reached the surface, they can’t help prevent new zits from forming. This is also true of a lot of OTC topical gels – they’re overdrying and only really work to treat the pimples you already have.

Here’s what does work

These are our tips for finding the right products and replacing the wrong ones in your routine.

       1. Ditch the wipes (unless you really love them)

To remove makeup and achieve a clean, happy face at the end of the day, use micellar water and eco-friendly face pads to remove stubborn products and impurities. Wash your face with warm water and use a gentle cleanser and/or toner as part of your evening skincare routine.

       2. Don’t overdry

Skip anything with benzoyl peroxide in it. Use salicylic acid and make sure that, when you use it, you always have something hydrating and soothing counterbalancing it, whether that’s an ingredient in your acne-fighting pads or the addition of a moisturizer that’s designed for acne-prone skin.

       3. Mind your bacteria

Avoid any product with antibiotics (unless prescribed by your doctor) and, if you need to take antibiotics at any point, make sure you replenish your body’s good bacteria with a skin-friendly probiotic supplement or healthy, probiotic foods. (Curious about this? Read more about the microbiome here).

At Dermala, we make and sell probiotic acne-fighting products that are proven to work – including probiotic acne pads that outperformed traditional OTC pads in every metric in an independent clinical study.

       4. Treat the source, not the symptom

Pimple patches are great! We use them, we sell them, we love them. If you’re going to use them, use patches made with hydrocolloid. You won’t get much benefit from an itty bitty amount of product applied only to one spot, and the hydrocolloid ones reduce the appearance of zits gently and effectively.

But remember – you can’t prevent new zits with just patches. Make them a part of a complete skincare routine to get the best out of them.

And that’s what you need to know about acne pads, wipes and patches

Now you have all the info you need to take your skincare routine and product choices to the next level. Whatever you choose to use, you’re on your way to the clear, glowing skin you deserve.

Still feeling stuck? Take our skin quiz if you want to discover your personalized skin kit and kick acne to the curb.


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