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Is It Time for Thyme as an Acne Treatment?


For the 40 to 50 million Americans who suffer with acne and millions more around the world, news that an herbal treatment could be more effective than current acne medications is good news. Results of recent research indicate it may be time for thyme as an acne treatment.

Acne is the most common skin disorder in the US

Approximately 85% of all people will experience acne at some time during their lifetime, although acne typically begins during puberty. The American Academy of Dermatology points to three major factors that cause acne:

  • Excessive production of oil by enlarged oil glands in the skin
  • Blocked hair follicles that release the oil
  • Growth of the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes in the hair follicles that infect skin pores and then form spots

Conventional medical treatments for acne, including commonly used products that contain benzoyl peroxide, can be harsh to the skin and often are not effective. Therefore there has been much interest in finding more gentle options.

Under the guidance of Dr. Margarita Gomez-Escalada, investigators from Leeds Metropolitan University tested the effect of tinctures of marigold, myrrh, and thyme against P. acnes. All three killed the bacteria within five minutes, but thyme was the most effective.

The investigators also discovered the thyme tincture was more effective as an antibacterial agent than standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide.

This study is important because, according to Gomez-Escalada, “While thyme, marigold and myrrh are common herbal alternatives to standard antibacterial skin washes, this is the first study to demonstrate the effect they have on the bacterium that causes the infection lead to acne.”

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The concept of using thyme to fight acne has been explored in previous studies. In a 2009 article in the Journal of General and Applied Microbiology, for example, investigators evaluated two varieties of Thymus quinquecostatus essential oils. They found good antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects against bacteria that cause acne, properties that lead them to conclude thyme essential oil “has high potency as a cosmetic material.”

Current acne treatments
Current treatments for acne work by reducing oil production, attacking bacterial infection, reducing inflammation, speeding up skin cell turnover, or a combination of these factors. Over-the-counter topical treatments typically contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur and can cause skin irritation, dryness, and flaking.

Prescription topical treatments often contain derivatives from vitamin A (tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene) and work by preventing blockage of hair follicles. Topical combination products containing both benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics are also available. Prescription topical treatments also can cause skin irritation, including peeling and burning.

Antibiotics can be used to treat moderate to severe acne and are often used along with topical treatments. Deep acne cysts may require use of isotretinoin, a potent medication associated with severe side effects, including muscle aches, nosebleeds, poor night vision, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, birth defects, and increased risk of depression and suicide.

Is it time for thyme as acne treatment?
For years, a number of herbs have been used as topical home remedies for acne, including tea tree oil, calendula, chamomile, lavender, and yarrow. However, the addition of thyme to this list, and with the support of scientific research, could be most welcome.

The promising results of the new study have opened the door to more research into using thyme tinctures for treatment of acne. Gomez-Escalada noted that “If thyme tincture is proven to be as clinically effective as our findings suggest, it may be a natural alternative to current treatments.” It could soon be time for thyme as an acne treatment.

American Academy of Dermatology
Society for General Microbiology
Oh TH et al. Chemical composition and biological activities of Jeju Thymus quinquecostatus essential oils against Propiionibacterium species inducing acne. Journal of General and Applied Microbiology 2009 Feb; 55(1): 63-68

Image: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons



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