What is Acne Bacteria? A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • The bacteria that cause acne are no strangers to our skin and environment, but these bacteria may be more mysterious than previously thought. Here are some lesser known facts about the bacteria that causes red zits on the skin.


    Some strains of acne bacteria may promote healthy skin

    Some strains are “good” and others are “bad.” One strain may even help maintain healthy skin, according to new research published in The Lancet.  Researchers took samples of Propionibacterium acnes --a tiny microbe that lives in the oily region of pores--from the noses of 49 people with pimples and 52 people with clear skin. They extracted the micbrobial DNA from the strips and tracked a genetic marker to identify the strains. Then, they analyzed the genes in each strain.

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    Results showed that two unique strains of P. acnes found in the 20 percent of the patients with pimples were virtually non-existent in those with healthy skin. And another strain of P. acnes was found among the people with healthy skin, but very rare in the people with acne. The researchers believe this  “good” strain may protect the skin in a way similar to how the live bacteria of yogurt defend the gut from harmful bugs.


    Acne bacteria is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics

    One way to treat acne is to use topical antibiotics to wipe out the bacteria that cause it. But doctors are finding that like many bacterial infections, they are becoming resistant to certain antibiotics. Though it’s not clear how significant this will be for the treatment of acne, it does raise questions about the future of treatments.


    Probiotics may offer some benefits

    Probiotics may not just be helpful for digestive healthy, according to new research--probiotic benefits may extend to the skin as well. Studies have shown that daily probiotic use has resulted in improvements to acne- and rosacea-prone skin. Though research is still being done, probiotics appear to work in several different ways. One is a protective shield for the skin, when applied topically. They sit on the skin’s surface to prevent cells from coming into contact with bad bacteria and parasites that trigger the immune response, which results in an acne or rosacea flare. Another way they work is as an antimicrobial agent. They are able to create holes in bad bacteria and kill them. A third way they are useful is they can calm parts of the cell that want to react to the bad bacteria. The healthy signals produced by the probiotics halt the skin cells from sending attack messages to the immune system.


    Oral probiotics are also a possibility, as several studies have shown improvements in acne and rosacea in participants taking probiotics. For now, dermatologists recommend patients speak with their doctors about adding foods with live active cultures to their diets, as well as taking daily probiotic supplements in conjunction with their other acne medications.


    Acne bacterium is infecting vineyards

    And finally, in a weird twist, acne isn’t just infecting our skin. The bacterium responsible for human acne has been found to be infecting grapevines, which is the first evidence of bacteria host transfer between humans and domesticated plants. This type, called P. acnes Zappae, colonizes the bark tissues and pith, and relies on its grapevine host for survival.  Researchers estimate that P. Zappae emerged around 7,000 years ago, likely from humans grafting and pruning grapevines.


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    Nordqvist, J. (2013, February 28). "Strain Of Acne-Causing Bacteria Found To Actually Preserve Skin." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/257040.php


    Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University. (2014, February 20). "Human zit-causing bacterium now infecting vineyards." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/272843.php


    N.P. (2013, May). “Questions and Answers about Acne. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Acne/


    N.P. (2014, February 3). “Could probiotics be the next big thing in acne and rosacea treatments?” American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from http://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/could-probiotics-be-the-next-big-thing-in-acne-and-rosacea-treatments






Published On: February 24, 2014