The Best Nicotine Patches to Help You Quit Smoking

Curb cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms

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Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), like the nicotine patch, can be a useful way to decrease nicotine dependence. According to the FDA, NRTs can relieve nicotine cravings, decrease withdrawal symptoms, and alleviate some of the stress of quitting. Nicotine patches traditionally come in three doses—21, 14, and 7 milligrams—and each of these doses corresponds to a different rate of nicotine consumption.

“The nicotine patch is much safer than continuing to smoke, as it does not expose a person to the toxic chemicals contained in cigarette smoke,” Nicolas Schlienz, PhD, Research Director at Realm of Caring, says. “Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more when deciding if a nicotine patch is a good option for you.” Dr. Schlienz adds that your doctor can also help you understand what dose of nicotine to start with, where and how to wear a nicotine patch, when to remove a nicotine patch, and more.

Because the nicotine patch acts as a replacement for cigarettes and other nicotine products, it’s important not to use it alongside those other products. “If you’re on the nicotine patch and you smoke on top of that, you might have excessive amounts of nicotine in your system all at once,” Dr. Peter Martin, MD, MSc, Director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center, says. This can cause dizziness, headaches, vomiting, and more. If you experience these symptoms and suspect a nicotine overdose, remove your nicotine patch and call your doctor immediately.

Here are the best nicotine patches on the market.

Best Step 1 Patch: NicoDerm CQ Step 1 Nicotine Clear Patch

NicoDerm CQ Step 1
Courtesy of Amazon.
Pros
  • Extended-release

  • Discreet, transparent design

  • Not prone to as many side effects as other options

Cons
  • Prone to slipping

  • May cause vivid dreams if you sleep with them on

  • More expensive than others

If you’re looking for a Step 1 patch, the NicoDerm CQ Nicotine Patch is an excellent choice. Like other Step 1 patches, this one is made to deliver 21 milligrams of nicotine in a day. And since the patch is designed with extended-release technology, the nicotine will be deployed little by little, rather than hitting your system all at once. Whereas many nicotine patches are beige and opaque, the NicoDerm CQ Nicotine Patch is clear. This transparency makes it easy to wear discreetly during any time of year. 

Each pack contains 14 nicotine patches, making it a two-week kit. Like many Step 1 patches, this one is designed for those who currently smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day. NicoDerm recommends wearing one patch per day for the first six weeks of a ten-week quitting program.

Dosage: 21 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 14 nicotine patches | Appearance: Clear/transparent

What Is a Step 1 Patch?

Programs to quit smoking are typically divided into three steps. During Step 1, people wear nicotine patches that deliver 21 milligrams of nicotine per day. These patches are traditionally designed to be extended-release, which means that 21 milligrams of nicotine will be doled out little by little over the 24-hour period. Step 1 patches are recommended for those who currently smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day.

Best Step 1 Budget Patch: Rite Aid Step 1 Nicotine Transdermal System Patch

Rite Aid Step 1 Nicotine Transdermal System Patch

Amazon

Pros
  • Extended-release

  • Less irritating than other patches

  • Budget-friendly

Cons
  • Prone to slipping

  • Large and opaque (not very discreet)

The Rite Aid Nicotine Transdermal Patch is another solid Step 1 choice. Each patch contains 21 milligrams of nicotine, which will be delivered, bit by bit, over the course of 24 hours. One potential downside of the Rite Aid Nicotine Transdermal Patch, though, is that it isn’t particularly discreet. Each patch is beige, opaque, and relatively large, making it potentially less convenient to wear than NicoDerm’s Step 1 patches. 

Each pack of Rite Aid Step 1 Nicotine Transdermal Patches contains 14 nicotine patches, making it a two-week kit. Like many Step 1 patches, this one is designed for those who currently smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day. Rite Aid recommends using these patches for four weeks before switching to a lower-dose patch.

Dosage: 21 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 14 nicotine patches | Appearance: Beige/opaque

How to Use Nicotine Patches

"If you’re interested in using a nicotine patch—or trying some other NRT—we recommend that you start with a quit date. That’s the date you’re going to begin reducing your nicotine intake. Then, develop an action plan—and consider the obstacles you may run into along the way. It needs to be a focused effort, it doesn’t just happen by itself.” —Dr. Peter Martin, MD, MSc, Director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center

Best Step 2 Patch: NicoDerm CQ Step 2 Nicotine Clear Patches

NicoDerm CQ Step 2 Nicotine Clear Patches

Amazon

Pros
  • Extended-release

  • Discreet, transparent design

Cons
  • Associated with negative side effects for some users

  • More expensive than others

The NicoDerm CQ Nicotine Patch is a solid and discreet Step 2 option. Like other Step 2 patches, this one contains 14 milligrams of nicotine, which will be gradually delivered over a 24-hour period. Like other NicoDerm patches, it is clear, making it easy to wear discreetly. 

Each pack contains 14 patches, making it a two-week kit. Like many Step 2 patches, it's designed for those who currently smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day, and NicoDerm recommends using these patches for the first six weeks of an eight-week smoking-cessation program.

This patch is also suitable for those who are moving to a lower-dose nicotine patch after completing the Step 1 portion of a quitting program. NicoDerm recommends this group use the Step 2 patch for two weeks before moving to an even lower-dose option. 

Dosage: 14 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 14 nicotine patches | Appearance: Clear/transparent

What Is a Step 2 Patch?

Programs to quit smoking are typically divided into three steps. During Step 2, people wear nicotine patches that deliver 14 milligrams of nicotine per day. These patches are traditionally designed to be extended-release, which means that 14 milligrams of nicotine will be doled out little by little over a 24-hour period.

Best Step 2 Budget Patch: Rite Aid Step 2 Nicotine Transdermal System Patch

Rite Aid Step 2 Nicotine Transdermal System Patch

Amazon

Pros
  • Extended-release

  • Less irritating than other patches

  • Budget-friendly

Cons
  • Prone to slipping

  • Large and opaque (not very discreet)

The Rite Aid Nicotine Transdermal Patch is yet another solid choice for a Step 2 nicotine patch. Like other similar patches, this one delivers 14 milligrams of nicotine over the course of 24 hours. Unfortunately, because the patch is beige, opaque, and relatively large, it may not be as discreet as some other options.

Each pack contains 14 patches, making it a two-week kit. Like many Step 2 patches, the Rite Aid Transdermal Nicotine Patch is designed for those who currently smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes a day, as well as for those who are moving to a lower-dose nicotine patch after completing the Step 1 portion of a quitting program.

Rite Aid recommends using its Step 2 patches for two weeks before moving to a lower-dose option. 

Dosage: 14 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 14 nicotine patches | Appearance: Beige/opaque

Best Step 3 Patch: NicoDerm Step 3 Nicotine Clear Patches

NicoTerm Step 3 Nicotine Clear Patches

Amazon

Pros
  • Extended-release

  • Discreet, transparent design

Cons
  • Associated with negative side effects for some users

  • More expensive than others

If you’re ready to move onto a Step 3 nicotine patch, NicoDerm’s CQ Step 3 Nicotine Clear Patches are a solid choice. The patches are transparent, so they should be easy to wear discreetly. And each extended-release patch is designed to deliver 7 total milligrams of nicotine per 16 to 24 hours in small, controlled doses.

Each pack of NicoDerm CQ Step 3 Nicotine Clear Patches contains 14 nicotine patches—or two weeks’ worth of nicotine patches. And like other Step 3 patches, these nicotine patches are recommended for those who have completed Step 2 of a quitting program.

Dosage: 7 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 14 nicotine patches | Appearance: Clear/transparent

What Is a Step 3 Patch?

Programs to quit smoking are typically divided into three steps. During Step 3, people wear nicotine patches that deliver 7 mg of nicotine per day. These patches are traditionally designed to be extended-release, which means that 7 mg of nicotine will be doled out little by little over the 24-hour period. Step 3 patches are recommended for people who have completed Step 2 of a quitting program.

Best Step 3 Budget Patch: Habitrol Step 3 Nicotine Transdermal System Patch

Habitrol Step 3 Nicotine Transdermal System Patch

Amazon

Pros
  • Extended-release

  • Budget-friendlier than counterparts

Cons
  • Associated with negative side effects for some users

  • Large and opaque (not very discreet)

The Habitrol Nicotine Transdermal System Patch is another good choice for a Step 3 patch. Each patch contains 7 milligrams of nicotine, which will be released in controlled doses over the course of a day. Unlike some other similar patches, this one is not transparent. Instead, it is circular and opaque, making it a less discreet option.

Each pack contains 14 patches, making it a two-week kit. Like other Step 3 patches, this is designed for those who are moving to a lower-dose nicotine patch after completing the Step 2 portion of a quitting program. Habitrol recommends using its Step 3 patches for the final two weeks of your smoking cessation program.

Dosage: 7 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 14 nicotine patches | Appearance: White/opaque

How Nicotine Replacement Therapy Works

“Research nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), and speak to your doctor about how NRT can help you. Nicotine replacement therapy can help to lessen cravings and withdrawals, which can ultimately help you to avoid relapses.” — Boris MacKey, Recovery and Mental Health Advocate at Rehab 4 Addiction

Best All-in-One: Habitrol Nicotine Transdermal System Patches 8-Week Kit

Habitrol Nicotine Transdermal System Patches 8-Week Kit

Amazon

Pros
  • All-in-one system

  • 8 weeks of patches in one box

  • Extended-release

Cons
  • Associated with negative side effects for some users

  • Large and opaque (not very discreet)

The Habitrol Nicotine Transdermal System Patches package is an all-in-one kit that makes following a quitting program particularly easy. Instead of asking you to piece together a quitting timeline and stock up on a bunch of different boxes, Habitrol gives you everything you need in one package. 

Each pack comes with 56 nicotine patches: 28 Step 1 patches (enough to last you four weeks), 14 Step 2 patches (which will last you two weeks), and 14 Step 3 patches (enough for two weeks). Combined, these patches create an eight-week program that makes it easy to gradually reduce your nicotine consumption.

You don’t even have to remember to order your next box of patches—everything you need is already there.

Dosage: 7–21 milligrams/patch | Quantity: 56 nicotine patches | Appearance: White/opaque

Final Verdict

For a convenience-first approach, we recommend the Habitrol Nicotine Transdermal System Patches set (view at Amazon). With this set, you don’t have to worry about running out of patches, reordering, or doing the math to figure out how many patches you need. You don’t even have to create your own quitting timeline. The work is done for you—all you have to do is buy the box and remember to wear a patch each day. With this simple schedule, Habitrol has made it easier to start a quitting program—and to stick with it.

If you’d rather approach your quitting process one step at a time and are willing to shell out a little more for your recovery process, we recommend NicoDerm’s system. Depending on how many cigarettes you currently smoke a day, you can start with the brand’s Step 1 patches (view at Amazon) or its Step 2 patches (view at Amazon). And then you can work your way toward its Step 3 patches (view at Amazon). Clear and discreet, the patches should be easy to wear. And according to those who’ve tried them, they’re some of the most effective nicotine patches around.

How We Selected the Best Nicotine Patches

We began our research for this story by speaking to three addiction experts. These experts walked us through how nicotine patches work, who they might be useful for, and how to safely use them. We then considered dozens of popular nicotine patches, favoring those that were widely and well reviewed. 

We segmented our nicotine patch recommendations by dosage (grouping Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 patches separately). And within each group, we assessed patches based on appearance. (Were the patches opaque and easy to see, or transparent and discreet?) We also considered how comfortable and effective the nicotine patches were, according to those who’d tried them. And we factored in reports of potential side effects, as well.

What to Look for in a Nicotine Patch

Dosage

The primary way nicotine patches vary from one another is in dosage. Step 1 nicotine patches deliver 21 milligrams of nicotine, Step 2 nicotine patches deliver 14 milligrams of nicotine, and Step 3 patches deliver 7 milligrams of nicotine. These doses are typically released little by little over a 24-hour period. And the dose you should opt for will vary, based on your smoking history and where you are in your quitting program.

Appearance

Some nicotine patches are beige and opaque, while others are clear. If you want a more discreet option, one of the clearer patches will likely serve you better than one of the opaque ones.

Patch Count

Nicotine patches come in packs, and these packs tend to contain somewhere between seven to 21 nicotine patches. Before you shop, consider how many patches you’ll need—and at what doses. Different quitting programs call for different schedules, and considering your program before you buy will help you avoid stocking up on something you don’t need. (For instance, if your program calls for two weeks of Step 3 patches, you don’t need to buy a 21-pack of Step 3 patches).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do nicotine patches work?

    “A nicotine patch works by slowly delivering nicotine through the skin and into the body’s circulatory system,” Dr. Schlienz says. And this small dose of nicotine can relieve nicotine withdrawal symptoms, like irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and more. “Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are known to produce discomfort, and for this reason, initial attempts to quit smoking may be unsuccessful,” Dr. Schlienz adds. “Using the nicotine patch can make it easier to quit and to stay quit.”

  • Are nicotine patches safe?

    “Nicotine patches are a far safer alternative than smoking tobacco, though it is always advised to speak to a doctor before you begin,” Boris MacKey, Recovery and Mental Health Advocate at Rehab 4 Addiction, says. “With any treatment, there are possible side effects.” So yes, nicotine patches are generally safe. But it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any kind of medication—nicotine patches, included.

  • Do nicotine patches expire?

    Nicotine patches do expire. And you probably want to avoid using a nicotine patch that has expired. “Over time, an expired nicotine patch may become less potent, which would be less helpful to you during your quit attempt,” Dr. Schlienz says. “The safety of using an expired nicotine patch is unclear. When in doubt, speak to your healthcare provider.”

  • Can you smoke with a nicotine patch on?

    You should not smoke while wearing a nicotine patch. Because nicotine patches release nicotine into your system—and cigarettes do, too—doubling up can increase your tolerance to nicotine. It can also put you at risk of experiencing nicotine poisoning or nicotine overdose.

  • Are nicotine patches bad for you?

    “While the nicotine patch has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help individuals quit smoking, there are many misperceptions incorrectly associated with using the nicotine patch,” Dr. Schlienz says. “As outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disease and death associated with smoking are not caused by nicotine per se—they are a result of exposure to toxins in cigarette smoke.”

    Like any form of medication, nicotine patches are associated with some negative side effects. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad for you. According to the CDC, nicotine patches are much safer than continuing to smoke. Just be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before using them for the first time. Your doctor can help you ensure you’re starting with the appropriate nicotine dose and using your nicotine patches correctly. They can also help you monitor and mitigate potential side effects.

  • Where should you place a nicotine patch?

    The CDC recommends placing a nicotine patch on your upper body—somewhere like your chest, shoulder, back, or upper arm. To make sure the nicotine patch sticks, look for a hair-free area that’s clean and dry. And avoid parts of your skin that are irritated, damaged, or scarred.

    To cut down on irritation, the CDC also recommends putting the patch in a different spot each day. Again, you’ll want to stick to parts of your upper body that are clean, dry, and hair-free. But you’ll want to avoid putting the patch in the same spot more than once per week.

  • Do nicotine patches raise blood pressure?

    High blood pressure is an uncommon but potential side effect of using nicotine patches. So if you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure—or if you’re currently taking medication for high blood pressure—experts recommend that you talk to your doctor before using nicotine patches.

  • Can you use nicotine patches while pregnant?

    You should not use nicotine patches while pregnant, because they may harm fetal development. Because of this, experts recommend talking to your doctor before using nicotine patches if you’re breastfeeding, pregnant, or trying to become pregnant.

Why Trust Verywell Mind

As a seasoned health and fitness writer, Lindsey Lanquist understands how vital quality product recommendations can be. She is careful to recommend products that are reliable, comfortable, and genuinely well-reviewed by those who’ve tried them.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Food and Drug Administration. Want to quit smoking?

  3. MedlinePlus. Nicotine transdermal patch: MedlinePlus drug information.

  4. University of Rochester Medical Center. Trying to quit smoking? Here’s what you should know about the nicotine patch.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quit smoking medicines are much safer than smoking.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to use nicotine patches.

  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Ask the doctor: Can a nicotine patch boost my blood pressure?

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