A large majority of people are no strangers to pimples- especially when one, two or a few crop up right before an important outing. Even I continue to have my fair share of having hotspots, and not just limited to the face. Acne can be triggered by a number of complex factors, such as diet, stress, hormone imbalances and bad face touching habits. But also more likely due to bacteria, specifically Propionibacterium acnes (Williams, Dellavalle, & Garner, 2012). P.acnes thrives off sebum secreted from sebaceous glands found predominantly on the face as well on the upper chest and back (Endly & Miller, 2017). For many of us, dabbling in an array of remedies ranging from clay masks to chemicals and medicines is not uncommon, each with variable outcomes. It would come to a time where you can no longer care and have simply given up.
And so I had a shower thought- so there’s bacteria living in my pores that’s giving me grief on my face. And phages are viruses that infect bacteria. Oh? OH. If there’s phage therapy for bacterial infections, wouldn’t it also be effective in stopping acne once and for all and we can all have baby skin?
It turns out that this shower thought isn’t the first of its kind!
Multiple attempts had previously been made by various researchers to isolate P. acnes by collecting skin scrapings from volunteers with clear skin and those suffering from acne. Jończyk-Matysiak et al. (2017) had found that virulence of P.acnes causing inflammatory responses leading to acne was dependent on the presence of certain strains. Analysis by Liu et al. (2015) showed human skin was commonly only colonised by a single P. acnes strain. Furthermore phages showing active infection of P. acnes was more frequently isolated from volunteers with clear skin, suggesting the regulatory role phages play in human skin (Liu et al., 2015). Other isolation projects were also conducted by (Brown, Petrovski, Dyson, Seviour, & Tucci, 2016), and a separate study by (Marinelli et al., 2012) had yielded 11 P. acnes phages from healthy skin, all showing high degrees of homogeneity. Characteristics of tested phages, such as having a lytic lifecycle and absence of genes associated with lysogeny, showed a certain degree of promise in using phage therapy for treatment of acne.
Brown et al. (2016) had even trialled a topical cream by infusing Cetamacrogol cream with phage particles with a concentration of 2.5×108 pfu/ml per gram. The cream could remain active for 90 days in storage environments without light at 4°C, where it was effective in lysing P. acnes cells in lawn cultures (Brown et al., 2016). This could potentially be the antibiotic alternative to acne treatments albeit only trialled in laboratory settings.
Nonetheless, this brings joy to my face knowing research for potential acne cures have not been forgotten and are underway. So in the meantime, I will have to make do with homemade banana masks and keeping picking fingers at bay.
Brown, T. L., Petrovski, S., Dyson, Z. A., Seviour, R., & Tucci, J. (2016). The Formulation of Bacteriophage in a Semi Solid Preparation for Control of Propionibacterium acnes Growth. PLOS ONE, 11(3), e0151184. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151184
Endly, D. C., & Miller, R. A. (2017). Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(8), 49-55. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28979664
Jończyk-Matysiak, E., Weber-Dąbrowska, B., Żaczek, M., Międzybrodzki, R., Letkiewicz, S., Łusiak-Szelchowska, M., & Górski, A. (2017). Prospects of Phage Application in the Treatment of Acne Caused by Propionibacterium acnes. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2017.00164
Liu, J., Yan, R., Zhong, Q., Ngo, S., Bangayan, N. J., Nguyen, L., . . . Li, H. (2015). The diversity and host interactions of Propionibacterium acnes bacteriophages on human skin. The ISME Journal, 9(9), 2078-2093. doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.47
Marinelli, L. J., Fitz-Gibbon, S., Hayes, C., Bowman, C., Inkeles, M., Loncaric, A., . . . Modlin, R. L. (2012). Propionibacterium acnes Bacteriophages Display Limited Genetic Diversity and Broad Killing Activity against Bacterial Skin Isolates. mBio, 3(5), e00279-00212. doi:10.1128/mBio.00279-12
Williams, H. C., Dellavalle, R. P., & Garner, S. (2012). Acne vulgaris. The Lancet, 379(9813), 361-372. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60321-8