Open areas of skin, such as scrapes and oozing pimples, heal best in moist, sealed environments. Hydrocolloid bandages, patches, and dressings can be used for this purpose.

Unlike standard bandages, hydrocolloid bandages contain an ingredient that turns into gel when it absorbs fluids, such as oozing pus. This provides an effective healing environment for certain conditions.

Let’s go over how hydrocolloid bandages work and how to use them for wound and acne care.

Hydrocolloid bandages are made up of two layers. The outer layer, or backing, is made from thin sheets of foam or polyurethane film. This layer forms a seal that keeps the wound clean and free of infection-causing bacteria.

The outer seal may be nonpermeable (keeps out air and moisture) or semipermeable (keeps out moisture but lets air in).

For wound care

The inside of the bandage contains one or more types of hydrocolloid materials. These materials turn into a gel-like substance when they absorb wound secretions. The resulting gel creates a moist environment that supports healing. The soft gel’s texture also stops the wound from sticking to the bandage, so you won’t inadvertently pull off a scab.

The active ingredients used in hydrocolloid bandages vary by manufacturer. Several ingredients are often used in combination. Hydrocolloid bandage materials include:

  • sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, which contains thickening and swelling properties that allow gel formation to occur
  • gelatin, a collagen-derived protein that stimulates blood clotting to speed up wound healing
  • pectin, which provides structural support for cell and tissue regrowth (cell scaffolding)

For acne

Hydrocolloid bandages for acne are often referred to as pimple patches or stickers. These products may contain active ingredients not found in bandages used to heal wounds. These ingredients are designed specifically to reduce acne breakouts and inhibit oil production.

In addition to hydrocolloid ingredients, the active ingredients in pimple patches may include:

  • tea tree oil, which has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties
  • salicylic acid, which dissolves dead skin cells and exfoliates skin
  • glycolic acid, which has antibacterial properties and also exfoliates skin
  • niacinamide, which regulates oil production, reduces redness, and minimizes pore size

Hydrocolloid bandages work by keeping wounds moist and clean from drainage and contaminants. They also contain properties that support healing.

A 2021 study on wound care following dermatologic surgery found that hydrocolloid bandages were effective in improving the appearance of scars. Since hydrocolloid bandages can stay in place for several days, the researchers also noted that people found them comfortable and convenient during recuperation.

A 2014 systematic research review did not find conclusive evidence that hydrocolloid bandages were superior to other types of bandages for conditions like chronic bed sores (pressure ulcers). However, the researchers did find that hydrocolloid bandages were highly effective for:

  • maintaining a humid environment conducive to wound healing
  • controlling wound seepage
  • facilitating the breakdown of damaged wound tissue
  • reducing pain
  • providing a barrier that seals wounds, keeping them safe from dirt, debris, and infection-causing bacteria
  • supporting the formation of newly generated connective tissue and collagen
  • maintaining an optimum acidic pH level for preventing bacterial growth
  • maintaining the ideal temperature for wound healing
  • promoting the development of new blood vessels

Hydrocolloid bandages are meant to be used on open, superficial wounds and on oozing or opened pimples. They’re self-adhesive and waterproof, so they’ll remain in place during bathing.

Hydrocolloid bandages can be used for:

Can you use hydrocolloid bandages for serious or chronic wound care?

Serious conditions like diabetic foot ulcers and bed sores should always be assessed by a healthcare professional. However, if the foot ulcers are not infected, you can use hydrocolloid bandages as a stopgap healing measure on these types of wounds while you’re waiting to be seen by a doctor.

Hydrocolloid bandages do not take the place of stitches. Large, gaping wounds and wounds that bleed profusely also require a doctor’s care.

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Choosing the right type of bandage is your first step:

  • Hydrocolloid bandages come in a variety of different types, sizes, and shapes. Some are designed specifically for bedsores near the rectum. Some have edges that are designed to withstand friction or inhibit rolling.
  • Make sure you choose a bandage that is large enough to cover the wound. Do not stretch the bandage, as this may pull on the wounded area.

Based on the wound location, you may need someone else to apply the bandage for you.

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Before applying the bandage, clean the wound with a wound cleaner or saline solution.
  3. Make sure the wound is dry before applying the bandage. Hydrocolloid bandages will not stick to wet skin. You can let the area air dry, or gently pat it dry with a clean cloth.
  4. Remove the backing from the bandage. Be careful not to touch the part of the bandage that will sit on the wound.
  5. Gently place the bandage over the wound. Do not pat it in place over the wounded area. You can pat down the edges as needed.

As the gel forms, the bandage will soften and conform to your body shape.

Since they absorb wound drainage and remove it from the skin’s surface, hydrocolloid bandages can remain in place much longer than traditional bandages.

Since the internal materials used vary, it’s important to read and follow the instructions given for the bandage you’re using. In general, hydrocolloid bandages can be left in place anywhere from 3 to 7 days.

Hydrocolloid bandages are considered safe when used properly.

Do not use hydrocolloid bandages if you’re allergic to any of their ingredients.

Immunocompromised people are at a greater risk of infection from wounds. Since hydrocolloid bandages maintain a moist and enclosed environment, they’re not appropriate for use on infected areas. If you are immunocompromised, speak with your doctor before using these bandages.

Hydrocolloid bandages are highly adherent, so they can stay in place for several days. If you have thin or compromised skin surrounding the wounded area, hydrocolloid bandages may rip or tear your skin. No matter what your skin’s condition, make sure the elastic edges of the bandage do not touch the wound.

No bandage takes the place of a doctor’s care. Serious wounds, including third-degree burns and chronic wounds, should be assessed by a healthcare professional.

Unlike pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads, hydrocolloid bandages are not effective for treating cystic acne, which forms deep within the skin’s layers.

Hydrocolloids absorb fluids slowly. They are not appropriate for heavily bleeding wounds.

Because they are occlusive (designed to close wounds), hydrocolloids should not be used on wounds that are infected.

Hydrocolloid bandages are used to treat open, superficial wounds and open pimples. These bandages are highly effective for creating and supporting an environment conducive to wound healing.

They don’t take the place of a doctor’s care. Any serious or chronic wound should be assessed by a healthcare professional.