About 80 percent of us experience at least a few bouts of acne, whether in our teens and even as adults. We use special soaps, cleansers, solutions, medications, diets and other treatments to keep our skin clear. But alas, the blemishes come back (or don't go away at all).

The other 20 percent of the population are blessed with blemish-free skin. What are they doing the rest of us aren't? Nothing. It appears that the bacteria on our skin may be beneficial in preventing breakouts.

According to a study published recently in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, certain strains of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), which are found in skin's pores, may protect the skin from inflammation and pimples caused by other strains of the same bacterium.

For the study, researchers from UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute collected bacteria samples from facial pores on 101 people. About half of the participants had acne.

Then, they sequenced the genomes of 66 of the more than 1000 P. acnes strains they collected. What they found is that one particular strain of P. acne was common on the skin of people without acne, but not often found on the skin of those with acne. And two other strains were commonly found on the skin of people with acne, but not on the clear-skinned people.

That's leading researchers to think that some P. acnes strains keep other strains in check or that the strain associated with clear skin may have a natural defense mechanism that destroys other, less desirable strains before they can cause acne.

The Future of Acne Treatments

Currently, many of the treatments we use to reduce acne are aimed at killing off P. acnes bacteria. Researchers plan to investigate whether probiotic facial creams may work for people whose skin isn't populated with the skin-protecting P. Acnes strain.

The concept of probiotic therapy is nothing new. Take, for instance, gut health. By ingesting supplements containing healthy strains of bacteria (or consuming foods, such as yogurt with live cultures) you boost or repopulate intestinal bacterial colonies that help balance the good and bad bacteria to maintain your health.

The jury is still out on whether this strategy will work for skin.

"While probiotics might have a beneficial role, it seems like it might be a bit of a long shot overall," says Craig Kraffert, MD, a dermatologist with Redding Dermatology in California. "At this point, this study is likely only a very small part of the story. It is unclear whether these strains are preventing acne or are present because the acne isn't there," he explains.

Several brands of probiotic creams are currently on the market. However, before you try any of them, ask your doctor whether they contain any ingredients that could be harmful to your health or your fragile, acne-prone skin.

Most health care providers support taking probiotic supplements, and some people say they improve the appearance of their skin as well as other areas of their health. Ask your doctor or nutritionist for recommendations on high-quality probiotic supplements.

Craig Kraffert, MD, reviewed this article.


"Propionibacterium acnes Strain Populations in the Human Skin Microbiome Associated with Acne." J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Jan 21. doi: 10.1038/jid.2013.21. [Epub ahead of print]

Fitz-Gibbon STomida SChiu BHNguyen LDu CLiu MElashoff DErfe MCLoncaric AKim JModlin RLMiller JFSodergren ECraft NWeinstock GMLi H. Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA.