Derm DMs: Should I Use an Acne Patch or a Spot Treatment?
When a pimple pops up on your face — at the most inconvenient time, no less — you reach for anything and everything that promises to clear it up, ASAP. Your go-to method of attack may be a spot treatment, drying lotion or acne patch, but have you ever stopped to think about the difference between these acne-fighting products? Just like there are different types of breakouts, there are different ways and approaches of addressing them. Ahead, Hadley King, M.D., consulting dermatologist for AcneFree, broke down the difference between an acne patch and a spot treatment, and explained how to use them for the best results.
What’s the Difference Between an Acne Patch and a Spot Treatment?
For those of you who aren’t familiar, acne patches are like little stickers for pimples. They can be applied for a long duration of time and are infused with ingredients to work on the breakout. “The circular hydrocolloid sheet works by absorbing excess fluid, and this pulls oil and dirt away from the pimple,” explains Dr. King. “These impurities are then turned into a gel like substance that sticks to the patch.” But aside from delivering active ingredients the same way that a spot treatment does, acne patches have an added benefit to them. “While stuck to the skin, acne patches prevent you from picking or trying to pop the pimple.” Because picking at pimples lead to inflammation and potential infection, discoloration and scarring, it’s best to just leave them alone.
Spot treatments, on the other hand, are topical gel, liquid or creams formulated with ingredients to treat the area. “These active ingredients — salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, cortisone, sulfur — are the main components of traditional spot treatments,” says Dr. King.
Do Acne Patches and Spot Treatments Work on the Same Types of Pimples?
Whiteheads, blackheads, cystic acne — they all require different forms of treatment. If you have a superficial pimple, like those close to the surface, whiteheads or pustules, an acne patch may be your best option, says Dr. King.
“Depending on the active ingredients, spot treatments may be more helpful for more inflamed acne lesions,” she explains. “Deep cystic acne lesions are not likely to respond dramatically to either approach, unfortunately, because the effect does not penetrate deep enough.” While it’s not ideal, you can patiently wait for the pimple to reach the surface and then choose the best product to get the job done.
At What Stage of Your Pimple Should You Apply an Acne Patch Versus a Spot Treatment?
Because acne patches work best on superficial pimples, Dr. King advises you apply them later in the lifecycle of your breakout, like when the pimple comes to a head. Because they’re also less drying and milder than traditional spot treatments, they can also be a better choice for those with sensitive skin. “They generally don't dry out the skin and leave it flaky like more classic acne spot treatments containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr. King.
Unlike the waiting game you play when it comes to acne patches, spot treatments can be applied as soon as you feel an acne flare-up coming. “If cortisone is one of the active ingredients of your spot treatment, then apply it the sooner the better!” says Dr. King.