How Medication and Beauty Patches Work

After writing a post on instant face lifts I was interested to find out how medication and beauty patches work. For starters, the official name for a patch is “transdermal” since it transfers medication into your skin. The skin is considered the largest organ in the human body; on average it covers an area of 22 square feet. Given that, our skin is the perfect vector for delivering certain types of medications and cosmetics. Transdermal patches are convenient; one patch a week is easier to manage than taking a pill everyday. They also offer more controlled dosing; the medication can skip the GI tract and is slowly released throughout the day at a constant level.

Most patches are made from multiple types of polymers (synthetic materials) that help fasten the patch to the skin and slowly release its active ingredients. In general, medication patches consist of this basic formula: adhesive + membrane + backing. The adhesive adheres the patch to the skin and holds it in place. Some patches contain active ingredients directly within the adhesive. Many of these adhesives are silicone-based which allow for the active ingredients to penetrate but not the silicone. Most patches, however, contain an additional layer called a membrane. 

Membranes typically include materials such as ethylene vinyl, vinyl acetate, cellulose acetate, and chitosan. The membrane holds the active ingredient in layers and slowly releases it based on body temperature and other skin conditions. Essentially, layers slowly melt away, dissolving the ingredients into the skin. 

Types of Transdermal Patches

Single-layer Drug-in-Adhesive

Multi-layer Drug-in-Adhesive



The Vicks Vapour Patch (OTC) is a unique patented patch. 

Uses for Medication Patches

During my research I found many uses for medication patches, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), ADHD, pain management, seizures, nicotine, contraceptive, anti-nausea and even one for Vitamin B12. For certain medications, delivering the drug through the skin can be safer than taking a pill. For example, with supplemental estrogen therapy, transdermal patches can be a safer option than oral estrogen. For some, it offers a lower risk of developing blood clots.

Image of transdermal patch
Graphic courtesy of 3M

This diagram reminds me of a cake with frosting, cake layers, filling and a serving dish. The colors show the various patch options. The orange part represents the skin or could be considered the serving dish that the patch rests on.

Do Beauty Patches Work

There are non-medicinal beauty patches available for things like reducing pimples, anti-wrinkle helpers for the under eye area, lip plumpers, pore-refiners and eye de-puffing patches. Cosmetic patches differ from medication patches in their simplicity. They are typically more moist and have their contents attached directly to a lining (made from silicon, plastic, or paper).   

Burt's Bees Rejuvenating eye masks

What is the Best Type of Beauty Patch

There are two types of beauty patches that I’ve seen on the market. The first type is thin and made of a papery-material, similar to a tea bag. The second kind is thicker and feels like plastic and usually has a shiny gel-like substance inside. The thinner ones seem to be more effective since they have been soaked in the ingredients from the outside in. Once you adhere them to your skin the moisture seeps down and is locked into place by the adhesive and covering.

The thicker ones make me pause. I’ve written to four companies asking for the name of the material that surrounds the gel substance. As of now, I haven’t received a plausible answer. If they’re made of silicone then I fully support the idea that they work. However, if it’s another material like plastic then I would question the effectiveness. We have to think about this because the shiny gel is on the inside of the pad. The adhesive may have some hyaluronic acid and other ingredients mixed into the adhesive, which would make you feel hydrated. But do the gold flecks and shiny gel ever touch your skin? Does the amount of gel reduce inside the patch?

Are Beauty Patches Eco-friendly

If we want to bring up the topic of our ecosystem, the paper type (cellulose) would be my first choice, the silicone is my second choice, and I would not recommend the plastic since these types of patches are typically one-time use.

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Photo by Els Fattah on Unsplash

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