Why Do Only Some People Break Out?

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If you have skin prone to breakouts, it probably seems like mostly everyone around you was blessed with flawless skin. But actually, that’s not the case. In reality, one in five people is lucky enough to only experience an occasional pimple here and there. But if it makes you feel any better, the bacteria that causes adult acne lives on everyone’s skin—even the one out of five.

So, if we all have acne-causing bacteria, why are only some people breaking out? A recent study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology discovered that acne bacteria contain “bad” strains associated with zits and “good” strains that may protect the skin. "We learned that not all acne bacteria trigger pimples—one strain may help keep skin healthy," says principal investigator Huiying Li.

For their research, the researchers used over-the-counter pore strips to isolate different bacteria strains. "We were interested to learn that the bacterial strains looked very different when taken from diseased skin, compared to healthy skin," says co-author Dr. Noah Craft. "Two unique strains of P. acnes appeared in one out of five volunteers with acne but rarely occurred in clear-skinned people." 

But the most interesting discovery was a third strain of P. acnes commonly found in healthy skin but rarely seen when acne is present. "We suspect that this strain contains a natural defense mechanism that enables it to recognize attackers and destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell," says Li.

The researchers believe that this strain could potentially offer relief for acne patients. With further research they aim to help dermatologists find new blemish-fighting strategies that can be customized to their patients unique skin bacteria.

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