I remember having beautifully clear skin once upon a time, before puberty. I’ve fought blemishes, like many other women, ever since. I’m kind of hoping menopause will bring back clear skin, before I have too many wrinkles for it to be appreciated. Well, at least I’m just dealing with individual blemishes, and not a whole face full of painful acne like many people, especially teens, face every day. But a recent study indicates that there may soon be a new treatment available, one that, in a manner of speaking, fights fire with fire.
What causes acne?
According to the Mayo Clinic, acne is usually caused by a buildup of dead skin cells and oil, which can create a breeding ground in the hair follicles where bacteria then thrive. Hormones, certain medications and a diet high in dairy and carbohydrates can exacerbate the situation. At the root of it all, so to speak, is the acne-causing bacteria. If you could treat the bacteria, you might eliminate the acne.
What treatments are currently available?
Most over the counter treatments currently available just focus on unplugging the hair follicles so the bacteria can escape. These include lotions or scrubs with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and other similar ingredients. Although most formulations are mild, they can still cause side effects like redness and irritation.
Prescription treatments may treat the bacteria itself, but with a variety of side effects. Antibiotic creams and ointments are available, but may cause irritation or peeling. Oral antibiotics can be effective, but can have side effects of their own.
Isotretinoin, commonly marketed as Accutane, is very effective at controlling acne, but according to the National Institutes of Health, it has many dangerous side effects, including sensitivity to light, changes in bone density, changes in vision, depression, psychosis and more. In addition, isotretinoin is extremely harmful to a developing fetus and absolutely must not be taken by anyone who may become pregnant or will be breastfeeding.
What is different about the new treatment?
Researchers revealed this week that they may have found a way to fight the bacteria that causes most acne by enlisting the help of another microbe that is already lives on our skin. This microbe, a virus known as a phage, actually seeks out and devours the acne-causing bacteria naturally. The researchers not only discovered this heroic virus in action, they found that it has a fairly limited appetite. It targets the acne bacteria without really affecting the skin or other parts of the body with unwanted side effects.
The scientists are now working on ways to put the virus to work fighting acne. They hope to isolate the enzyme responsible for the phage’s acne-killing power and turn it into a new weapon. It sounds promising to me, although I don’t suppose it will see FDA approval before my wrinkles fully kick in.
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