It’s 2021, and chaos is all around us. We’re in the midst of extreme political turmoil, celebrity gossip has officially gone off the rails, and over on TikTok, teens are covering their entire faces in bandages in the name of good skin.
The bandages aren’t for recovering from a pandemic nose job—although those are on the rise—but yet another weapon in the never-ending war against acne. In a trend that appears to be started by user @May_us, whose video has racked up over 1.8 million views, users are covering large swathes of their faces with hydrocolloid bandages—clear dressings that are traditionally used to heal blisters and wounds.
“Hydrocolloid is a hydrophilic material that attracts water,” says Shereene Idriss, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “Traditionally, it’s used on open wounds to promote a moist environment and decrease healing time. With regards to acne, it helps to decrease the intensity of a pimple by extracting the inflammatory exudate without physical manipulation.” In other words, it sucks out the fluid, leaving white specks on the once-clear bandage, without risking the scarring that comes from popping.
Like most beauty trends on TikTok, this isn’t exactly a new idea, but a regurgitation of a hack that was floating around on blogs before hydrocolloid pimple patches were available in a mass market setting. (Personally, I was a huge fan of this method in high school and college.) But while previous iterations of the trick involved cutting the bandages to size before applying like I did, Gen Z is just slapping the bandages all over their faces, regardless if there’s a pimple there or not. Whether this is for dramatic effect on camera or because they think it has additional skin care benefits is unclear.
What is clear though is that the viral hack actually works. As the videos demonstrate, the bandages behave in the exact same was as any other hydrocolloid acne patches do. Idriss says they use the same technology, but pimple patches are usually designed to be thinner and invisible on your skin. However, she notes that there is a difference between the bandages and certain pimple patches that are loaded with active ingredients like tea tree or salicylic acid, which are designed to enhance breakout healing. No matter if you use a bandage or speciality pimple patch, there’s also the added benefit of keeping your hands off the spot, which is key to preventing scarring down the line.
So is there any benefit to using a larger bandage over a specialty patch? Are the teens actually on to something here? Idriss says not really. “Economically speaking, buying a large hydrocolloid bandage instead of specifically made patch may not always be in your best interest as the larger one may not adhere optimally as well when cut into small pimple size patches,” she says. In her opinion, the only time where it would be beneficial to use a larger bandage is if you have a larger surface with lots of acne, like across your cheeks or jaw. However, Idriss notes that there’s more potential for skin irritation with a larger patch, so that’s something to keep in mind.
In addition to irritation, Idriss worries that TikToker’s aren’t practicing proper hygiene and leaving the patches on too long. “When using a bandage, it’s super important to change them every 12 hours at least, and to discard them, followed by practicing appropriate skin hygiene,” she says. “The last thing you would want is to create a moist environment and breeding ground for bacteria and yeast to thrive in, which would make things worse.”
She also points out that this could be a literal Band-Aid on a larger problem. “Regardless if you are team bandage or patch, hydrocolloid dressings treat the symptom and not the root cause of your acne,” she says. “Acne is not created equal across the board and can be due to various causes. If your acne is extensive enough to warrant a bandage instead of a single occasional patch, you may want to consider treating the underlying issue first instead of risk getting perpetual breakouts that can lead to scarring.”
Whichever route you decide to take, we rounded up some of the best acne patches and hydrocolloid bandages to use, below.
ᐧBella Cacciatore is the beauty associate at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.