I recommend these zit-zappers to anyone who will listen.

By Maggie Seaver
Updated January 21, 2020
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Adult acne hit me like a Mack truck in my 20s. Until recently, I was convinced it was some sort of cosmic payback for never falling victim to pubescent acne as a teenager. While my peers battled breakouts through middle school and high school, I was lucky to have relatively clear skin as a tween and teen. I remember telling myself to be grateful and not take it for granted, but it never actually occurred to me that my time to shine (literally) would come later.

After everyone else seemed to have outgrown this infuriating skin phase, I found myself dealing with breakouts while trying to interview for jobs, be taken seriously in meetings, and appear mature to the civilized world. (By the way, the problem isn’t purely cosmetic: It hurts, makes getting ready take forever, erodes my self confidence, costs money to treat and conceal, and takes up space in my already-bursting, self-conscious mind.) As much as it stinks, you’re kind of expected to have acne at junior prom—but showing up to a first date or salary negotiation meeting with a zitty chin? N-o-p-e.

I’ve tried tons of over-the-counter acne spot treatments, some with salicylic acid and others with benzoyl peroxide; one that changed colors as it dried, and another that swiped on with a medicine-soaked wipe. Some of them tingled coolly, others burned and stung, and pretty much all of them left my dry, sensitive skin even drier and more sensitive. And then there’s the one that rubbed off on my favorite pillow case, staining it for good. I can’t exactly say nothing worked—I’m sure every one of them helped to some extent—but I couldn’t find one, trusted and consistent salve for my angry zits. In short, I needed a hero.

My favorite-ever non-prescription acne fighter ended up being the most low-maintenance of them all, coming in the form of tiny, near-invisible adhesive stickers: Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patches ($20 for 4 packs of 24 patches; amazon.com). A coworker of mine at the time had an extra sample pack at the office, and I accepted it greedily. I’m a self-avowed skeptic, but was willing to try anything at that point—and I was very pleasantly surprised. You simply apply one patch at night onto clean skin, directly over the pimple in question, and easily peel it off in the morning (or once the patch has turned white). These little guys are affordable, inconspicuous, scent-free, water-proof, adhesive, non-irritating, and effective—all without overdrying, stinging, burning, tingling, or being painful to peel off.

Are they pure, unadulterated magic? Can I promise you’ll go to sleep wearing one and wake up with immaculate, Jennifer Lopez–like skin? Not quite. But the power of these patches is their ability to quickly and quietly reduce pimple size and redness, as well as help draw out the gunk from an inflamed spot, making them more manageable, easier to drain (gently, and only if necessary), and faster to heal.

What I love most about these patches is that they don't guarantee some sort of hyperbolic cure-all or acne sorcery—and the very realistic Amazon reviews corroborate this.

“These patches have changed my life. I have sensitive, dry skin and suffer from hormonal acne. I haven’t found an affordable product to prevent it—but now, at least, I have a way to quickly heal it,” one costumer wrote on Amazon. “My face has transformed from covered with acne, to an occasional pimple that’s soon gone. It doesn’t work on every pimple—and sometimes it takes a couple of applications to work on the deep ones—but I would say it solves 90 percent.”

Thanks to a few trips to the dermatologist, my skin now drinks a cocktail of unpronounceable topical prescriptions that keep once-untamable flare-ups at bay—but that doesn’t mean I don’t get pimples anymore. Naturally fluctuating hormones, a few nights without proper sleep, a long flight, or a round of particularly sugary margaritas often invite a new blemish (or three) to my face. The difference is that now, instead of feeling a helpless sense of doom and anger, I know I can reach for a no-fuss pimple patch and feel confident that zit will disappear in a few days, tops, rather than a few weeks (or not at all).