A ray of beautiful skin

By | Health & Wellness
Marine algae such as this aims to be used to develop new acne treatments. Credit image @ Vilseskogen flickr.com

Scientists have discovered a novel treatment for acne which may give teenagers around the world a reason to cheer.

Acne develops most commonly during adolescence as a result of the hormone testosterone, a steroid hormone responsible for sexual maturation in men and muscle maintenance and libido in women. The sebaceous glands in the skin, found in abundance on the face and scalp and associated with hair follicles, are sensitive to hormonal fluctuations, and the increased testosterone production during adolescence results in an overproduction of sebum, an oily compound used to keep the skin moisturised and healthy.

When excess sebum is produced, the hair follicle may become impeded, allowing normally innocuous bacteria that live on the skin to populate the follicle, such as Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus aureus, causing the characteristic symptoms of acne; red spots and pimples.

New research from Marine Biotechnology Research Group at the University of Stirling in Scotland, published in this November’s issue of the journal Marine Drugs, has shown that compounds produced by marine algae may offer a new treatment. This news comes as a ray of light in the treatment of acne.

Marine algae produce compounds known as long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs). LC-PUFAs are known to inhibit bacterial growth and also contain anti-inflammatory properties, which Desbois and Lawlor feel might provide additional benefits to acne-prone skin. The researchers tested six different LC-PUFAs for their antimicrobial effects counter Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus aureus in order to analyse their potential usefulness in topical acne treatments.

What they discovered was indeed promising: while the LC-PUFAs inhibited Propionibacterium growth, they proved very effective on Staphylococcus, with the bactericidal properties of the fatty acids eliminating the bacterium within 30 minutes. These fatty acids might prove to be potent in clearing the skin of bacteria responsible for the symptoms of acne.

In addition, checkerboard assays, a technique used to test the interaction of different compounds at varying concentrations, showed that the LC-PUFAs was unable to reduce the potency of agents already in use in topical acne drugs, with certain fatty acids actually acting in tandem with some of the agents to help eliminate Staphylococcus bacteria.

This discovery means the LC-PUFAs produced by algae might be added to treatments already available to help increase their efficacy and reverse the trend of narrowing effectiveness. Moreover, the compounds produced by the algae have a broad spectrum of activity, allowing algae-derived topical drugs might be effective on a large range of pathogens, far from the only two mentioned previously, while traditional resistance mechanisms employed by bacteria are ineffective when in the presence of LC-PUFAs.

Desbois and Lawlor conclude the therapeutic benefits of algae-derived fatty acids need be considered further, especially as treatments currently available are showing reduced efficacy.

How might treatments of acne, benefit teenagers mentally and socially?

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