The Cure to Acne May Already Be On Our Skin

Researchers have discovered a virus that attacks the formation of zits.

Researchers have discovered a virus on our skin that attacks acne-forming bacteria. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Pubescent teens, rejoice. Soon you may never again have to worry about that pesky zit oh-so-conveniently emerging right before homecoming.

You can thank researchers at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh, who may have discovered the newest weapon against acne: a virus that’s already found on our skin whose sole job is to kill the formation of pimples. Don’t worry—the viruses, called P. acnes phages, are harmless to us, but can be lethal to propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that lives in our pores and causes those pesky outbreaks.

For the study, researchers gathered pore strip samples from individuals with healthy skin and acne-ridden skin. They found that P. acnes phages were small in size and had limited genetic diversity and a “broad ability” to kill the acne.

Their limited genetic diversity suggests that their sole purpose is to attack pimples and zits, and no other types of bacteria. “This trait suggests they offer strong potential for targeted therapeutic use,” said study author Graham Hatfull in a statement.

The lingering question, however, is why 90 percent of Americans still get acne at some point in their lives, even though this pimple killer is present on everyone’s skin? In fact, during puberty, acne-prone teenagers have as many as 100-fold more acne bacteria on their skin than their healthy-skinned peers. Researchers explain that at the moment, all of the medicines that treat acne are so widely used that acne strains have developed a resistance to them.

The next steps involve plans to isolate the active protein from the viruses and see if it’s just as potent for killing acne. If so, researchers will study the protein’s safety on human acne, hopefully leading to an effective acne treatment in a bottle.

The full study was published in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal mBio