Ever wonder why some of your friends sailed through puberty without a blemish while you were buying stock in acne medications? Researchers from UCLA, led by Sorel-Fitz-Gibbon and Shuta Tomida, may have the answer. Although nearly everyone’s skin is populated by Propionibacterium acnes (the pathogen thought to be responsible for acne), not everyone has the same strain of these bacteria. Some versions of P. acnes may actually be beneficial.
The scientists compared the skin microbiome on the noses of 49 acne sufferers and 52 clear-skinned individuals. For each subject, the vast majority of the bacteria present were of the species P. acnes. Everyone had plenty of these little buggers, and clear-skinned people had the same number as acne patients. However, not all the P. acne had the exact same genotype. The researchers identified six strains that were present in only one group, five only in acne sufferers and one that was only found on the unblemished.
At this point, it’s not clear how P. acnes initiate the development of acne. This new data could mean that some strains are virulent whereas others are protective of the skin. This is certainly true of many species of bacteria, for which only certain strains are dangerous (think MRSA). If true for P. acnes, dermatologists might do well not to try to strip their patients’ faces of bacteria but rather to encourage the growth of helpful strains.Fitz-Gibbon, S., Tomida, S., Chiu, B., Nguyen, L., Du, C., Liu, M., Elashoff, D., Erfe, M., Loncaric, A., Kim, J., Modlin, R., Miller, J., Sodergren, E., Craft, N., Weinstock, G., & Li, H. (2013). Propionibacterium acnes Strain Populations in the Human Skin Microbiome Associated with Acne Journal of Investigative Dermatology DOI: 10.1038/jid.2013.21.