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Good bugs, bad bugs: what’s living on your nose?

Just as there’s good and bad bacteria in the stomach, research is now indicating that good or bad bacteria on the skin may influence likelihood of developing acne.

New research has shown that strains of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) found in the pores of people with acne are different to those found on people with clear skin.

The US study extracted P. acnes bacteria from the noses of 49 volunteers with acne and 52 clear-skinned volunteers. When the genetic make-up of the bacteria was determined, the researchers found they had 71 different strains.

"We were interested to learn that the bacterial strains looked very different when taken from diseased skin, compared to healthy skin," said researcher and dermatologist Dr Noah Craft.

Of the 10 most common strains of P. Acnes, the study identified that two unique strains of P. acnes were strongly associated with acne affected skin. A third common strain was strongly associated with only healthy skin.

"This P. acnes strain may protect the skin, much like yogurt's live bacteria or ‘good bugs’ helps defend the gut from harmful bugs," the researchers said.

"Our next step will be to investigate whether a probiotic cream can block ‘bad’ bacteria from invading the skin and prevent pimples before they start."

The researchers said the findings may help develop customised treatments for each patient's unique mix of skin bacteria.

Further research will focus on exploring novel drugs that kill ‘bad’ strains of P. acnes while preserving the ‘good’ strains; viruses to kill acne-related bacteria; and a simple skin test to predict whether a person will develop aggressive acne in the future.

The study was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

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