When I was a beautiful little fool, twelve years old and wearing a pair of bulbous Adidas soccer shorts, I loved nothing more than stickers. Really, I loved all school supplies that allowed me to express my id (which, like most twelve-year-olds who thought they were funnier than Punk’d’s Dax Shepard, I probably would have described back then as “wacky!” or “random!”,), but stickers always topped the list. I put them all over my notebooks and Illinois public school-issued desk, much like I highlighted every single word in every single textbook with yellow marker when given the opportunity.
I’m older, but my interests haven’t strayed all that far from what they were in middle school (namely, forcing my dad to drive me to Walgreens for new pencils and wearing too-tiny cat-eye glasses on my enormous moonface). I like makeup now more than I used to, and I’m also more paranoid that people are glaring at my face, inspecting it for flaws that speak to my moral character. So instead of highlighting social studies textbooks, I now highlight features with such fervor that I’ve coined my signature over-strobed aesthetic That Wet Look. And yes, I covered my entire air conditioning unit and MacBook in floral washi tape yesterday, but other than that I’ve mostly been putting stickers on my face in the name of becoming hotter.
I’m talking about acne patches, which are really just clear stickers you put over your pimples. They’re supposed to suck up oil and pus, and most come loaded with tea tree oil or benzoyl peroxide to fight bacteria. They’ve been popular in Korea for over a decade, but they just started to crop up in American Sephora-core brands, like the stupid-expensive Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots, which retail for $30 for a pack of 72 stickers. At least they come in a commemorative tin, which you could reuse as Klonopin storage.
To be clear, I find acne patches altogether ineffective, regardless of their added acids and tree oils. I’ve tried every single brand, from Nexcare to Face Shop to Cosrx. The best one I’ve tried is called Labocare Skin Dressing Patch, purchased in New York’s Koreatown in a cell phone accessory store that also sold mollusk serums.
Really, the best acne patch I’ve found isn’t an acne patch at all, but a hydrocolloid blister bandage, like ones by Band-Aid. Hydrocolloid bandages create a puffy little gel layer around the wound (in this case, the pimple I picked at), which seals the area in an air-tight bubble. No bacteria can get in there, and slowly, the zit comes to a head. These bad boys are bulky, though.
The real magic, or perhaps just slight-of-hand, in honest-to-god acne patches is their purported ability to be worn under makeup. That way, instead of caking industrial-strength concealer over a crusty-ass pimple, you have a smooth surface to work with. In theory, I see this working. And in real life, you could probably get away with wearing these on your face and your fellow public transportation passengers or brethren in the CVS pharmacy pick-up line would be none the wiser. Your sister, however, would immediately notice that you’d stuck a piece of plastic onto a raised pimple and call you out in public, harking back to the sometimes-fraught, often fragile relationship every set of siblings close in age has during childhood.
My sister lives in Chicago, though, and I’m a Walgreens girl, but I still wanted to test the theory. I’ve been using acne patches and hydrocolloid bandages for years, but I’ve never been bold enough to wear them outside. I used the Labocare patches, because they’re the thinnest, mattest, and most discreet. Just like me! Except for the matte part; my sister bought me thatwetlook.com for my birthday.
My first test was wearing one on two twin, slightly under-the-chin zits to class, a 6:40 to 8:40 p.m. lecture on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, which, in my opinion, is not as good of a book as the novelization of the movie Bridget Jones’ Baby based on the novel Bridget Jones’ Baby. This was a conservative move — you could barely even see the pimples in the first place! We’re only two weeks into the school year, and nobody knows my name, or has really even looked in my general direction. I drank coffee during class and had to pee for an hour and forty-five minutes, but I was scared to get up lest someone look my way or spot a thin sheet of plastic on my underjowls. Huge success here.
The next day, emboldened, I decided to step it up a notch. I wanted to see and be seen. Conveniently, it was New York Fashion Week, but I live way uptown in a building with a haunted hand-crank elevator, and, weirdly, no designers or energy drink companies invited me to any shows or events. So I hobnobbed with Ray, the man who operates my elevator, while wearing two clear patches on my forehead concealed by Guerlain’s Baby Glow. Ray had just come back from a three-week vacation in colonial Williamsburg, so we chatted about that and his colonial vacation weight gain, and then had a productive and mournful discussion about police brutality. Ray was likely so moved by our words he didn’t notice my forehead was covered in tape.
Next, I went to hobnob at the HomeGoods near my apartment, the same one Bethenny bled out in during a recent episode of Real Housewives of New York. I was looking for a reading chair (more realistically, a plush, chair-shaped T-shirt holder) and maybe some discounted balsamic vinegar. Obviously I knew where the discounted balsamic vinegar was, but I needed to interface with someone for the sake of this service journalism. I got real up close in a salesperson’s face and asked, “Ma’am, do you have any discounted balsamic vinegar?” and she pointed me in the correct direction without looking at my face. I bought the vinegar.
The same thing happened at an adjacent Yogurtland, where I purchased $14 worth of Euro Tart just to interface with someone so they could or could not call out my acne patches. That’s when I realized two things: first, I maybe need to start regularly interacting with humans other than the man who lives in my elevator; I spent about $40 in one day just so people would be obligated to talk to me.
The second revelation was that literally nobody has ever looked at my face! I spend so much time on it, and this is a shame.
There’s some power in knowing the face that belongs to me and me alone is not the object of everyone else’s consciousness at all time. By the time I headed home, which was conveniently located across the street from Yogurtland and inside a Sephora, I was emboldened. I’m a VIB Rouge Member, and I’m pretty sure sales associates are paid overtime to make piercing eye contact with us. To hell with the purported visibility of my translucent acne patches, I thought. I pulled more out of my backpack, and placed a few on my cheeks and nose. I slunk over to the register, covered in clear acne patches, and asked, “Do you all sell clear acne patches?”
The salesperson didn’t know what clear acne patches were. If she noticed I was wearing them, she didn’t say anything. She probably wouldn’t have even noticed my pimples in the first place. Because nobody’s looking.
Claire Carusillo is a freelance and fiction writer in New York. She writes a weekly beauty newsletter offering off-label product usage advice.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.