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Study finds good bacteria that may cure acne

Teresa Tanoos's picture
New hope for acne sufferers

There’s new treatment hope for teenagers and adults with acne, as researchers report they’ve found a strain of healthy bacteria that appears to zap nasty zits away.

The study involved clear-skinned volunteers who agreed to have their skin loaded with the “good” strain of bacteria which, ironically, is a cousin of the “bad” bacteria that causes pimples.

As the researchers report in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, it may be possible to treat acne sufferers with the good bacteria, saving them from the agony that acne can cause.

So how could the good bacteria help the bad bacteria that causes acne pimples?

"This P. [Propionibacterium] acnes strain may protect the skin, much like yogurt's live bacteria help defend the gut from harmful bugs," said Huiying Li, an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

“Our next step will be to investigate whether a probiotic cream can block bad bacteria from invading the skin and prevent pimples before they start,” she added. "We hope to apply our findings to develop new strategies that stop blemishes before they start, and enable dermatologists to customize treatment to each patient's unique cocktail of skin bacteria."

It makes sense based on other recent studies, which found that humans are completely colonized with bacteria that, among other things, helps digest food and protects from eczema. This helpful bacteria, also known as microbiome, may also affect one’s tendency to gain weight – and, most recently, surgeons have used it in transplants to cure patients with a deadly intestinal bug called Clostridium difficile.

Given that people are urged to eat yogurt to replace good bacteria after taking antibiotics, so too could a good bacteria replace zit-zapping creams.

For the study, Li and her team of UCLA researchers used skin-pore strips to take samples of the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria from the noses of 49 volunteers who had acne, as well as the 52 who did not. What they found is that these bacteria are found all over the body, including the skin, mouth, eyes and intestines.
However, they also found that these germs come in different strains – and they sequenced the genes of 66 different strains.

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"We learned that not all acne bacteria trigger pimples, one strain actually may help keep skin healthy," Li said.

"Two unique strains of P. acnes appeared in one out of five volunteers with acne but rarely occurred in clear-skinned people,” added UCLA dermatologist, Dr. Noah Craft, who also worked on the study.

Next came their exciting finding.

"We were extremely excited to uncover a third strain of P. acnes that's common in healthy skin yet rarely found when acne is present," said Li. "We suspect that this strain contains a natural defense mechanism that enables it to recognize attackers and destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell."

The team’s findings are further supported by a study in 2010, when researchers at the University of Pittsburgh said they found evidence that bacteria-killing viruses called bacteriophages might fight acne.

Acne is a common skin condition in teenagers and young adults that causes pimples, which form when hair follicles under your skin get clogged. Although it is not considered a serious skin disease, it can cause scars and be debilitating to one’s confidence.

Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by dirty, greasy food or chocolate. However, hormones appear to play a role in the production of oily sebum than can clog pores.

If you have acne:

• Clean your skin gently
• Try not to touch your skin
• Avoid the sun

Treatments for acne include medicines and creams, such as antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide.
In 2010, a team at the University of Pittsburgh said they found evidence that bacteria-killing viruses called bacteriophages might fight acne.

SOURCE: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, February 28, 2013; doi:10.1038/jid.2013.21