Ever wonder why you have acne when others don't? Researchers from UCLA, the Genome Institute at Washington University St. Louis, and Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute may have gotten us closer to that answer. It's all in the type of bacteria you have hanging around in your skin.
The bacteria in question, Propionibacteria acnes (or P. acnes), bears much of the blame for causing pimples. The interesting thing is, P. acnes are found on everyone's skin, not just on people who have acne. So, why do the bacteria cause breakouts in some people and not in others?
Scientist believe it's all in the strain of P. acnes you have populating your skin, according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
What's interesting is that everyone has P. acnes on their skin, but obviously not everyone has acne. The prevailing thought is that people with acne are just more sensitive to the bacteria than those without.
But now research is pointing to the idea that certain strains of these bacteria are at work.
Researchers gathered samples of P. acnes bacteria from the pilosebaceous units (known as pores to the rest of us) from the noses of over 100 people. Forty-nine of the subjects had acne, while 52 others had clear skin.
Genetic markers were then used to identify different strains of P. acnes from the samples. Those with acne had different populations of P. acnes than their clear-skinned counterparts.
There were two strains that were found in about 20% of those with acne, but were basically non-existant in those without. Even more interesting, there was one strain that was common in those without acne, but hardly ever found in the people with acne.
So the bacterium isn't quite the villain we thought it was. There are actually good strains and bad strains of P. acnes. It would seem that only specific strains cause acne. And, excitingly, certain types might protect skin from breakouts.
This is big news, and I'm so incredibly intrigued by this study. Although we've come a long way, new treatments for acne are still few and far between. And our understanding of exactly how and why acne happens, and why some people get it much more severely than others, is still limited. I see this study as a possible turning point in our understanding of acne and, even more importantly, in how we treat it.
A bulk of the treatments we use today work by killing off P. acnes. What if we could actually target the "bad guys" while simultaneously helping to support colonies of good bacteria on the skin? In the future, dermatologists might be able to customize a treatment plan specific to the bacteria found on your skin. Exciting!
Source: Fitz-Gibbon S, et. al. "Propionibacterium acnes Strain Populations in the Human Skin Microbiome Associated with Acne." J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Jan 21. doi: 10.1038/jid.2013.21. [Epub ahead of print]
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