Acne, an embarassing skin condition that effects 85% of all people, still plagues the masses because unfortunately a fail-safe, perfect cure has yet to be discovered. A wide variety of possible cures are in the works though as science tries unfailingly to eradicate the everyday skin scourge.
You may already know that acne is linked to the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes, which nestles in the dark, oily, oxygen-deprived crannies of our pores.? Because the root of acne has long seemed to be a bacterium, antibiotics have been the go-to treatment. Dermatologists are working on developing something called ?antimicrobial peptides? to kill the bacteria ? anticipating the day that the bacteria outgrow our current antibiotics, and they fail us.
Still, as millions of acne-sufferers who have unsuccessfully tried antibiotics can attest, killing the acne bacteria as a method of clearing acne doesn?t work for everyone. A study earlier this year found that severity of acne does not necessarily correlate with the amount of P. acnes on the skin. It also turns out there are different strains of the acne bacteria, some of which may cause the more severe cases. It might be too early to say that there are distinct ?good? and ?bad? strains of the acne bacteria, but similarly to the varying bacteria strains found in the colon, it does appear that killing all of them might not be the best plan.
Dr. Jenny Kim, a dermatologist at UCLA, shares that while the ?everyone has P. acnes on their skin. Whether it?s a specific strains of P. acnes, or whether it?s an individual?s host immune response that?s the [acne causing] problem, we?re not certain. But recently, people have begun to think that modulating immune response is a better way forward in terms of treatment. The newer trend is to look at anti-inflammatory agents rather than only focusing on the antimicrobial.?
One such anti-inflammatory, isotretinoin (better known as Accutane), is a relative of vitamin A. As Kim explains, ?People initially didn?t understand how retinoids worked, but we now know that they can modulate inflammation.? Still the treatment approach is not without its issues. Since Michigan?s former Representative Bart Stupak?s testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee in 2009 and blamed Accutane for the tragic suicide of his 17-year-old son, restrictions on prescribing the drug have become tight.
Studies have since failed to show causation between the drug and suicidal ideation, but current legislation makes it so that dermatologists will often lose money by having it in their practice.
?It?s concerning that that some dermatologists are afraid to use it, so patients go on too long without using it, leading to more life-long scarring,? Kim said.
In addition to other retinoids, Kim?s lab is seeing promising acne results with other substances that modulate the immune system, such as vitamin D.
Perhaps unsurprsingly, it seems likely that a person’s skin condition is something predetermined by genetics. Eighty percent of severe acne cases can be traced through inheritance from one?s parents.
The role of diet remains disputed amongst skin care experts, but the most recent research suggests that different diets can influence the way genes that influence acne are expressed.
Meanwhile, the idea of developing an acne vaccine has been floating around for some time ? as a way to prime your body so that it doesn?t react so strongly against the bacteria during the height of a breakout.
Leaps and bounds are being made with the laser technology now available for acne treatment. The Isolaz treatment utilizes light and vacuum energies to permanently damage the sebaceous glands, which reduces the amount of sebum and oil your skin will produce in the future. Fraxel laser resurfacing treatments have also shown great promise in the acne world, not only for removing any residual acne scarring, but also for correcting any areas of damaged skin that aren’t functioning properly. By forcing your body to create healthy, new skin to replace older, disfunctioning areas, past signs of acne can be erased while future acne is prevented.?
Still, the fact that acne is a human-only disease makes finding a cure for it particularly difficult. Since it can?t be recreated it in mice to test vaccines and treatments, or put zits on fruit flies, the only experimentations performed can be done on humans.
As time goes by, and the acne problem continues to plague the majority of our populations’ physical and mental state, science will get closer and closer to perfecting a cure.