Even celebrities cannot escape the acne-causing bacteria: Cameron Diaz succumbs to an outbreak of spots
They are the bane of many a teenager's life. But the days of spots may now be numbered after scientists discovered why some people are more prone to them than others. The researchers, from UCLA, have discovered more about the bacteria that live on the skin and cause acne. They have found that this bacteria contains ‘bad’ strains which cause pimples and ‘good’ ones that may protect the skin.
Having too much 'bad' bacteria is what causes spots, they say. This is rather like an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut causing digestive issues. The breakthrough could pave the way for the development of new acne treatments. About 80 per cent of people between the ages of 11 and 30 will be affected by acne. It can continue well into adult life - about 5 per cent of women and 1 per cent of men over 25 also have the condition. ‘We learned that not all acne bacteria trigger pimples — one strain may help keep skin healthy,’ said the study's principal investigator, Dr Huiying Li, an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA. ‘We hope to apply our findings to develop new strategies that stop blemishes before they start, and enable dermatologists to customise treatment to each patient's unique cocktail of skin bacteria.’
Researchers discovered that acne-causing bacteria live on everyone's skin but that it contains 'bad' strains which cause pimples and 'good' ones that may protect the skin
The scientists, who published their findings in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, looked at a microbe – propionibacterium – that thrives in oily pores. When these bacteria aggravate the immune system, they cause the swollen, red bumps associated with acne. Using over-the-counter pore-cleansing strips, researchers lifted the bacteria from the noses of 49 pimply and 52 clear-skinned volunteers. After extracting DNA from the strips, the laboratory identified the bacterial strains in each volunteer's pores and recorded whether the person suffered from acne. ‘We were interested to learn that the bacterial strains looked very different when taken from diseased skin, compared to healthy skin,’ said co-author Dr Noah Craft, a dermatologist at the UCLA Medical Centre. He added: ‘Two unique strains of bacteria appeared in one out of five volunteers with acne but rarely occurred in clear-skinned people.’
However, the biggest breakthrough came when the scientists discovered a third strain of the bacteria that is common in healthy skin. They believe that this strain contains a natural defence mechanism that enables it to recognise attackers and to destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell. They believe that this strain contains a natural defence mechanism that enables it to recognise attackers and to destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell. People who didn't suffer spots had more of this 'good' bacteria.
Offering new hope to acne sufferers, the researchers believe that increasing the body's friendly strain of the bacteria through the use of a simple cream or lotion may help calm spotty complexions. Dr Li said: ‘This bacteria strain may protect the skin, much like yogurt's live bacteria help defend the gut from harmful bugs. ‘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.’
The news comes just after scientists at New York University discovered that diet does impact a person's complexion. A landmark overview of research carried out over the past 50 years has found that eating foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) and drinking milk not only aggravated acne, but in some cases triggered it, too. The study was conducted in conjunction with researchers at Washington University in St Louis and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.