Zit-Zapping Virus May Treat Acne

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More than 90 percent of Americans are affected by acne at some point in their lives. Surprisingly, scientists know very little about what causes the skin disorder and have made very few developments in treating it. For the last few decades, acne treatments have remained the same with tools like benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and Accutane. But according to new research, doctors are one step closer to new a treatment against acne breakouts and there may finally be a new weapon to add to the list. Researchers from UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a harmless virus living on our skin that seeks and kills pimple-causing bacteria naturally.

The scientists involved in the study examined Propionibacterium acnes, an acne-triggering bacterium that thrives in our pores, and P. acnes phages, a virus family that lives on human skin. While the viruses cause no harm to humans, they are programmed to infect and kill the P. acnes bacteria.

P. acnes bacteria are responsible for causing the swollen, red bumps commonly seen with acne by aggravating the immune system. Most acne treatments work to reduce the amount of P. acnes bacteria present on the skin. "We know that sex hormones, facial oil and the immune system play a role in causing acne; however, a lot of research implicates P. acnes as an important trigger," explains first author Laura Marinelli, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher. "Sometimes they set off an inflammatory response that contributes to the development of acne."

For the study, the researchers used over-the-counter pore-cleansing strips to lift acne bacteria and the P. acnes phages from volunteers’ noses—both clear and broken out. Upon further research, the scientists realized that the virus’s small size, limited diversity and ability to kill their hosts made them ideal for the development of a new anti-acne treatment.

Further research will be conducted to determine the compound’s safety and effectiveness in treating acne.

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