Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/9/2021
Serious acne problems can stump even the most experienced at-home acne whiz. Trying every treatment on the market for the treatment of acne vulgaris (the medical term for acne) and still coming up short can be frustrating to say the least.
Could a well-known “miracle” bandage be the ultimate cure? Possibly.
Hydrocolloid patches or bandages are a wound care staple—a ready-made treatment that aids in the healing process with two-factor benefits and active ingredients added to the bandage itself.
Obviously wound care built into a bandage can have benefits. But their benefits to acne are a little less obvious.
Complicating the problem is the fact that different types of acne may respond differently to different treatments (for instance, you don’t treat cystic acne the same way you treat mild blackheads).
So, do hydrocolloid bandages work for acne? Possibly. Kinda.
We’ll explain what the science says, why it matters and how you can use it to your advantage. But first, let’s cover some acne basics.
Let’s start with some acne facts. Acne is a bacterial infection — the result of four of your skin’s healthy function factors, including oil production, disposal of dead cells, inflammation response and the procreation of the bacteria itself.
Pimples are the result of dead skin cells and your skin’s oil (known as sebum) getting stuck in the hair follicles of your skin, which in turn creates the perfect habitat in which Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, can thrive.
Acne tends to happen on the parts of your body like the face, back and chest, where there are more functioning oil glands.
But the causes and/or contributing factors are many — dead skin cells and an abundance of oil can be caused by certain foods, low water intake, imbalances in your hormones or even things like stress and the weather.
Hydrocolloid bandages are a type of medical dressing with two layers, conveniently sometimes referred to as acne stickers.
The outermost layer of this type of bandage functions as a normal bandage. It is primarily designed to create a protective seal, shielding wounds from environmental hazards, risk of infection and debris, as well as bodily waste like urine and feces in some cases (which, we assume, probably won’t apply to facial acne, but no judgment here!).
The inner layer of a hydrocolloid bandage is where things become different. Most hydrocolloid dressings have an inner layer made up of adhesive and a hydrated gel that’s meant to stay in direct contact with the wound being treated.
The purpose of this is to create a moist environment that benefits the healing process, while adding protection to new tissue (to keep it from drying or getting infected).
Hydrocolloid bandages can typically be left on for three to five days, though that will likely vary depending on the wound, the potential complications and other factors.
If this sounds counterintuitive to what you know about the healing process, well, that’s because it is.
Most people (including a few physicians) wrongly believe that healing happens faster and better with air exposure, but that’s simply not true; faster healing can come from a protective seal.
What is true is that the limitations of hydrocolloid bandages have to do with drainage—wounds that aren’t producing any drainage or producing excessive drainage may not be ideal for a hydrocolloid treatment.
Worse, sometimes, what qualifies as excessive is subjective. Typically, that judgment is left to a healthcare professional.
Now that you understand a little bit about how hydrocolloid bandages work, we can explore their relationship to acne treatment.
The most obvious question is whether hydrocolloid bandages can be effective for acne treatment, but unfortunately the answer isn’t so simple.
A pilot study from 2005 showed some initial benefits in treating mild to moderate acne vulgaris when applying hydrocolloid acne patches to the site of the infection.
But the study had some obvious limitations: it had just 20 patients, and while it was a controlled double bind placebo study, the treatment period was brief — a single round of acne treatment, rather than regular treatments over a larger period of time.
Other studies have been somewhat limited, exploring the chemicals within hydrocolloid technology for facial marks and lesions, but a more recent study may offer the most interesting results to date.
A 2019 study looked at the benefits of hydrocolloid bandages on acne caused by frequent or constant mask use for medical professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
The study found that hydrocolloid pimple patches were of particular benefit in treating “maskne” caused by mask wearing, and that the bandages were ideal for targeted application to the areas where masks were affecting skin health.
This is by no means a ringing endorsement of these bandages for acne treatment, but it did show that in situations where the cause of acne was obvious, hydrocolloid bandages were a viable treatment option.
It also suggested there may be a benefit to using these bandages to treat areas where you regularly experience breakouts.
Admittedly, the most obvious limitation of hydrocolloid bandages is that they’re bandages worn over the affected area—it’s hard to feel less self conscious about your skin when there’s a large bandage on your face.
If that’s not a barrier for you, you may want to ask a healthcare professional whether hydrocolloid bandages could be a solution for your particular issues.
As you might suspect, this treatment is one of many under-researched options currently on the market. There are acne management methods with more proven benefits.
Here are some simple strategies that can also benefit your skin.
Removing the excess oil with blotting papers, astringents like witch hazel or even using certain clay masks can all be an effective part of a daily skincare routine.
One study involving a small group of a couple dozen people between the ages of 12 and 34 found that an over-the-counter cleanser, toner and an acne treatment used together could bring noticeably clearer skin after a six-week trial period.
A 2016 review in the journal Molecules concluded that there were specific beneficial treatments to employ. They are benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, antibiotics, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, corticosteroids and a few other less common treatments, like sulfur, antiseptics, B vitamins and hydrogen peroxide.
Properly moisturized skin is actually crucial to acne avoidance.
When dead skin cells become dry skin cells, they stick around, causing your sebaceous gland to produce extra oil to push those harder dead cells out.
Excess oil is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, so you’ve got to keep that from happening.
Aloe vera never hurts, but hyaluronic acid is a scientifically proven moisturizing ingredient that has been shown to help your skin to retain significantly more moisture.
You can also just get rid of excess dead cells with a little exfoliating. Washing your face and scrubbing your skin are great ways to do this in moderation, as are chemical exfoliants like retinoids.
Retinoids are synthetic vitamin A compounds — they go by other names like retinol and retin-A, and they help you get rid of dead cells.
Prescription-strength retinoids like tretinoin are a great option if you need something stronger.
Retinoids have also been shown to improve the synthesis of collagen — just watch out for side effects like peeling and irritation for sensitive skin.
If you need the big guns, antibiotics like clindamycin are where it’s at. One 12-week study showed that when you combine clindamycin with over-the-counter acne products like benzoyl peroxide, you can reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts.
You can even use it alongside tretinoin with a healthcare professional’s guidance — a study from 2019 showed that a combination of clindamycin and tretinoin was effective for treating facial acne.
Finally, it’s important to address lifestyle factors that can be a red flag for healthy skin, like a high glycemic diet, or bad habits like poor hydration. Even general stress can potentially cause skin issues.
Ask your healthcare provider if there are foods you should avoid. It’s currently unclear from research if sugar intake affects your sebum production, but there is substantial research to suggest it may be involved.
Besides, general health and wellness focus is good for your whole body, and if you’re not taking care of yourself, there’s the potential for more serious health issues than skin problems down the road.
Hydrocolloid bandages are just one potential treatment for acne, and there are others with more proven benefits, like retinoids and cleansing routines.
It covers what you need to know about one of the most widely used topical retinoids for the spot treatment and prevention of both acne and aging.
Whether you’re looking at bandages or pills or topical treatments, get a healthcare professional involved in the process.
They’ll be able to help you fine tune an approach to skincare that will leave you glowing, blemish free, but most of all confident in your own skin.