The bacteria that causes acne is generally harmless (compared to, say, MRSA), but that doesn’t mean that anyone wants to deal with the red inflammation it causes, or infection, especially on their face. The most straightforward acne treatment is antibiotics, but as with many other bacteria, antibiotic resistance has become a problem.
Normally, the bacteria on your skin is kept in balance. (Likewise, the bacteria keeps viruses and fungi in balance). Hormones caused by stress, puberty, various health conditions, or a change in climate can affect your skin and create conditions favorable for a specific pathogen, and infection, like acne, can occur.
So scientists are trying to recreate that balance. Antibiotics are traditionally based on fungi (you may be familiar with the story of how penicillin was accidentally discovered). But with antibiotic resistance run amok, the next solution may be virus, or phage based antibiotics, something other parts of the world are already starting to research.
The problems would potentially be similar: when you take antibiotics now, you kill off the good bacteria too, throwing your gastrointestinal tract out of balance, and potentially leaving room for a virus or fungi to grow. If you’re on a long course of antibiotics, the possibility of a fungal infection is even greater.
The benefits of technology today are that we can sequence the genes of viruses, and know specifically which bacteria they’ll target. That will help with both antibiotic resistance (the prescription of broad spectrum antibiotics, which affect more bacteria than the ones making you sick, is a big problem), as well as the risk of destroying the balance on your skin. Researchers may also be able to make medications based just off the enzymes the viruses release that kill certain bacteria—an even simpler solution.
Of course, there would still be unknown risks and side-effects. American research on the subject is just beginning, but it sounds like something to watch over the next ten years, as traditional antibiotics die out.
In the meantime, there are plenty of acne treatments that aren’t antibiotic based. Prevention, of course, includes eating a healthy diet (certain foods may contribute to skin conditions that favor bacterial growth), trying to remain stress free (good for your overall health!) and keeping skin conditions steady—avoiding excess moisture that leads to fungus, oils and dry skin that block air and help infection, etc.
There are also plenty of natural alternatives to antibiotics that you can use—many of which will be broadly effective on pathogens, so they won’t upset the balance.
Would you sign up to try a virus based antibiotic? Share your thoughts in the comments: