For decades, South Korea has been famous for innovative beauty exports like cushion-compact foundation, BB cream, and sheet masks. Known for their “skin first” approach, K-beauty brands like Belif, Peach & Lily, and Glow Recipe have become staples for skincare obsessives who want quality ingredients and packaging at an affordable price point.
From cleansing micellar water to hydrating essence, here are the best K-beauty products to try now.
Everyday Essence Face Serum
Packed with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and minerals, this gel-like essence quickly absorbs into skin to deliver deep hydration.
What’s better than a little sticker that helps heal your zit while you sleep? (Nothing, that’s what.)
Now that everyone and their grandmother is obsessed with sheet masks, another K-beauty innovation is popping up everywhere: acne patches. Instead of popping and picking your blemishes, slap a pimple patch on top of it.
Unlike some spot treatments, the sticker won’t leave your skin dry and flaky. Most are small, circular hydrocolloid bandages, meaning they absorb fluid from the pimple, explains Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. You’ll know it’s working because you can see the process happening: The clear patch turns white and expands, and the skin (where your zit once was) flattens out and becomes redness-free. After a couple of hours (or a good night’s sleep), peel it off to see your results.
Acne stickers also have the added benefit of blocking you from aggravating skin by picking at pimples, says Elizabeth Tanzi, the founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and associate clinical professor in the department of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center. This is key as “picking a pimple increases the inflammation and can slow the healing process down,” Tanzi adds. The chances of scarring and getting an infection rise, too. With all this in mind, I rounded up some of my favorite tried-and-true acne patches.
ZitSticka Killa Pimple Patch
New to the states, Australian-based skin-care brand ZitSticka’s first product is a pimple patch covered with dissolving microneedles filled with blemish-busting ingredients, like salicylic acid, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.
To use, first wipe the inflamed area with the accompanying cleansing cloth to clean it, then gently place the patch on your skin. Leave it on for at least two hours (or overnight) to bring down blemish swelling, redness, and size. Need proof? One commerce editor Lauren Swanson swears by them: “The cleansing swabs helped get rid of whiteheads for me almost immediately,” she says. “With the one-two punch of the patch, my enormous zits were gone in just one day.”
This K-beauty favorite has become one of the most popular acne patch picks, and its acclaim is rightly deserved. The hydrocolloid circles cling to skin no matter where you end up wearing them. Despite their staying power, they’re still easy and pain-free to peel off. They also come in three different sizes depending on what kind of coverage you need.
Although most acne patches themselves provide the mechanism that helps draw out the icky stuff in zits, some — like Peter Thomas Roth’s Acne-Clear Invisible Dots — are also infused with additional blemish-busting ingredients. In these, you’ll find salicylic acid and tea tree oil, both of which are known to help clear acne, so you’re getting multiple layers of benefits.
Because the Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots aren’t made with hydrocolloid technology, they won’t puff up or change colors. Instead, the paper-thin, transparent stickers adhere to skin with gel that’s infused with blemish-banishing tea tree oil and salicylic acid. They’re like a spot treatment that won’t rub away onto your pillow as you toss and turn at night.
Some of us want pimple patches that are indetectable; some of us want pimple patches that are adorably obvious. These are the latter. And not only are they super-cute, they’re also ideal for sensitive skin because, under their flowery facade, they provide a non-irritating way to help clear up the zits that you may not find quite as cute.
It’s a little tongue-in-cheek to camouflage your zit with a literal camouflage pattern. Should you want to save the colorful patches for private time, the package includes invisible patches as well. That way, you can wear these gunk-sucking hydrocolloid wonders any time you’d like.
Salicylic acid isn’t the only ingredient you might find in acne patches. It’s in these Truly patches, yes, but so is hemp seed oil. So while the patch helps draw out fluid and the salicylic acid helps exfoliate away the blemish, the cannabis helps fight the inflammation that’s making your zit redder and angrier.
These are truly some of the most advanced, ambitious acne patches on the market. More than just a little zit cover, the Focuspot Blemish Micro Tip Patch is made with 65-percent hyaluronic acid “micro tips” that are infused with vitamin B3 and peptides to not only speed up the acne cycle but also help prevent scarring.
My intro into acne patches came in the form of the Nexcare Acne Absorbing Covers. Because they are made by a bandage brand, they’re as heavy duty and clinical as they come. If you want to cover a lot of surface area, this pack comes with the biggest circular stickers I’ve ever used.
Popular K-beauty retailer Peach & Lily has its very own acne patch product, called Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots. I believe they provide the fastest results by helping to flatten even the most bulbous of spots. The dots are also on thinner side for a hydrocolloid bandage, so you can wear them all day undetected. You can choose from a trio of sizes, including one of the smallest selections on this list.
If size doesn’t matter to you — for acne stickers, that is — the Mighty Patch effectively keeps you from picking at your face and helps absorb oils and pus with 36 stickers that are all the same circumference. They have a matte finish, too, so they look less obvious if you wear them with matte foundation.
Unlike the rest of the hydrocolloid bandages on this list, the Peace Out Acne Healing Dots are flecked with salicylic acid, for a one-two punch. While they treat skin with the classic acne-fighting ingredient, they also protect the blemish from bacteria and irritation.
These little patches powerfully draw out fluids and oils from stubborn zits, not only helping to expedite the healing process by keeping skin moist but by also keeping out bacteria — including the kind on your fingers from when you’re tempted to pick.
Fans of the classic Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patches will love the Cosrx Clear Fit Master Patch as an alternative. The South Korean brand created a slimmer, clearer option for wear during daylight hours. They are also easy to cover up with makeup, if needed.
Sometimes, a patch just doesn’t quite cut it. That’s why Hero Cosmetics crafted a larger version of its hydrocolloid-based Mighty Patch. Dubbed the Surface strip, this new treatment covers entire sections of your face (i.e. cheek, forehead, chin, etc.) to speed up the lifespan of your breakout(s).
So, you made (or bought) your own face mask and have been diligently wearing it for the past few months. Now, out of the blue, you’re experiencing breakouts in strange new spots.
You’re likely dealing with “maskne“, the latest not-so-fun term to enter the coronavirus lexicon.
While it was primarily healthcare workers experiencing mask-induced breakouts and skin irritation at the beginning of the pandemic, now that masks are becoming a part of everyday life for the rest of us, dermatologists are being bombarded with (virtual) appointments for this skin woe, explains New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D. And unfortunately, the warm weather we’ve all been waiting for is only making matters worse.
So you’re not alone in your skincare struggles… but how do you treat these breakouts, and prevent them from happening in the first place? Here, derms break down everything you need to know about maskne.
What exactly is ‘maskne’ — and what causes it?
As the name suggests, “maskne” is acne brought on by wearing a face mask — and its been on derms’ radar long before COVID-19. “We saw similar skin concerns with mask use during the SARS crisis years ago,” says New York City dermatologist Michelle Henry, M.D.
“The clinical term for maskne is acne mechanic and it is caused by friction, rubbing, and occlusion of the skin by outside forces,” she explains. (You may have even experienced this from wearing sunglasses in the sweaty summer months.)
“Any friction and irritation can push bacteria into the skin, creating micro-tears — which allow easier entry for bacteria and dirt — and can lead to inflammation which then drives the acne process,” explains dermatologist Tiffany J. Libby, M.D, assistant professor of dermatology at Brown University.
You’ll notice these breakouts where the mask sits — the bridge of the nose, chin, and cheeks — and they make take the form of whiteheads, blackheads (if oxidized by the air), or even abrasions and cysts, Dr. Engelman says. “Masks can also trigger rosacea, perioral dermatitis, irritant dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and skin breakdown,” Dr. Henry adds.
While masks already trap humidity, dirt, oil, and sweat on a good day, our chin, mouth, and nose area are even more susceptible to breakouts now that summer is here. “Maskne is absolutely worse during the summer months as the increased oil production in our pores creates the ideal environment for cysts,” Dr. Henry says.
How can you prevent and treat maskne?
While any form of acne is frustrating, maskne can be particularly pesky due to the combination of factors that contribute to it — and the fact that you can’t simply eliminate the ‘outside force’ causing it. (Seriously, keep wearing your mask!) Luckily, you can make a few adjustments to your skincare routine to combat mask breakouts, soothe irritation, and stop the vicious maskne cycle.
Wash your face before and after wearing a face mask.
Hopefully, you’re taking the time to diligently wash your hands throughout the day — and avoiding touching your face as much as possible. But you should also be sure to wash your face with a gentle cleanser before applying a mask to prevent trapping bacteria under the mask and pushing it further into your skin, Dr. Engelman says.
“I recommend starting with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser once a day to target bacteria and remove excess oil,” Dr. Libby says. “I love Differin Daily Deep Cleanser which has 5% benzoyl peroxide, which is just as effective as [higher concentrations], and gentler.”
For healthcare workers on the frontline wearing the tightest-fitting masks for many hours of the day, a combination of “maskne” and eczema (which can occur in the forms of irritant or allergic contact dermatitis) is common, and can manifest as dry, itchy skin, Dr. Libby says. If you are experiencing both of these conditions, it’s important to immediately cleanse your skin after removing your mask and to use a cleanser that won’t over-dry or stripping your skin, which can worsen irritation.
Both derms recommend Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, which can also be used without water. If you have irritated or sensitive skin, gently swipe a cotton round with the cleanser over your skin, Dr. Libby suggests.
Use a chemical exfoliant.
While benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid spot treatments can help target whiteheads once they are formed, chemical exfoliants, which dissolve dead cells on the skin’s surface, are key for preventing mask breakouts from forming in the first place, Dr. Engelman says.
She suggests opting for one with salicylic acid, like Humane Clarifying Toner, once per week to unclog pores, without irritating sensitive skin. (It’ll also leave skin softer and brighter in the process.)
Apply a skin-soothing moisturizer.
After cleansing, be sure to add moisture back into the skin — but skip your heavy winter creams. “I suggest a gentle, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic moisturizer like Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion,which is formulated with hyaluronic acid to help hydrate, soothe, and restore the skin protective barrier,” Dr. Libby says.
“I recommend moisturizers with ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to help strengthen and reinforce the skin barrier,” Dr. Henry adds.
For healthcare workers or those experiencing extra dryness and eczema, applying an OTC cortizone cream on a short-term basis is helpful in alleviating skin irritation and calming down inflammation, Dr. Libby says.
Ditch your foundation.
Dr. Engelman suggests ditching heavy foundations as we head into warmer months, which will only further trap bacteria in your pores under your mask — the perfect storm for acne.
If you’re forgoing makeup altogether, you still need to apply sunscreen. “Even though our faces will be mostly covered by masks, other areas are still exposed, so it’s best to just apply an even layer of SPF as the finishing step to your morning routine,” Dr. Libby says. (And FYI, you need to wear sunscreen indoors, too).
Look for non-comedogenic and oil-free options as they work to decrease excess oil that can clog pores and lead to acne. “I like mineral options, as zinc oxide is an anti-irritant and has antimicrobial properties, both which are suitable for acne-prone and sensitive skin types,” she adds.
Or, swap your moisturizer for one with SPF. Dr. Henry suggests Olay Regenerist Whip SPF 25. “It’s a great non-comedogenic option for your daily moisturizer with sunscreen that won’t clog your pores.”
Add a soothing, occlusive balm.
If you’re already dealing with maskne, creating a physical barrier to protect this chapped skin is key. Layer on a hydrating and occlusive balm, like Glo Skin Beauty Barrier Balm, along the area where the masks sits right before you put it on, Dr. Engelman says. This will not only soothe parched skin, but it will prevent bacteria from spreading, she adds.
Or, opt for pimple patches.
Another physical barrier Dr. Libby suggests is silicone tape or Duoderm ($24; amazon.com), again applied to skin where the mask contacts your face and applies the most friction. “Acne patches, like COSRX, are another dual-functioning solution as they apply acne medication to individual lesions throughout the day, while also serving as a physical barrier to the mask,” she says.
And don’t forget to wash your fabric mask every time you wear it.
If you’re wearing a fabric face mask, you should be washing it after every. single. time. you wear it. This is important for your health: You don’t know what bacteria the mask has come in contact with and don’t want germs making their way into your nose or mouth. But it’s also helpful for keeping breakouts at bay.
Bottom line: “Masks, while important for our safety, can trap in humidity, dirt, oil, and sweat and — if you’re not cleaning them properly or reusing them for prolonged periods of time — this can further exacerbate these symptoms,” Dr. Libby says.
That’s why it’s a smart idea to make or buy a few masks (ideally in a softer fabric, like a silk blend, to reduce friction) so you can easily switch them out and wash them in between uses, Dr. Engelman says. Another option? A mask with the aforementioned zinc oxide embedded in the fabric may be helpful, Dr. Henry adds. “Zinc is anti-inflammatory and soothing to the skin. It will contribute to protecting the skin barrier.”