More than 80% of Americans suffer from acne at some point in their lives, and while the skin condition is not entirely understood, studies have identified a possible culprit called Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that lives in the skin's follicles and pores, prompting molecular biologist Huiying Li of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California and colleagues to take a closer look at the microbe.
"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. "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.”
Li says they hope to apply their 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."
For the study, researchers used over-the-counter pore-cleansing strips to sample bacteria from the noses of 101 people – 49 of whom had acne and 52 of whom had clear skin. They then examined the bacterial DNA, looking for patterns or variations in the microbes' genes to help identify specific strains of bacteria.
Regardless of whether they had acne or not, all of the participants presented with similar amounts of P. acnes in their pores, but not all of the strains were the same, as researchers found a number of different strains of the microbe, including 66 that had never been identified before. They then sequenced the genomes of each strain and compared them, discovering that two of the strains, RT4 and RT5, were found predominantly in people with acne – and that one “good” strain, RT6, was found almost exclusively in people with clear skin.
Researchers suspect this "good" strain, which contains genes known to fight off bacterial viruses and other potentially harmful microbes, may actively ward off "bad" strains associated with acne; thus, keeping the skin healthy as a result.
"Just like good strains of bacteria in yogurt, for example, are good for the gut, these good strains of P. acnes could be good for the skin," said Li.
Li’s team suggests in their report that further studies of strain differences could lead to probiotic treatments for acne, which instead boost or supply beneficial microbes. Most acne today is currently treated with antibiotics or other antimicrobial drugs, but Li says lotions or medications that target bad strains of bacteria or foster good ones could offer a gentler and more effective way to ease problem skin.