Propionibacterium Acnes: Acne Bacteria
While reading Sahar’s article on acne, I got very curious about this whole acne thing. Although in my skin article I had concluded that most acne flare-ups happen because of hormonal changes, I had not touched upon the mechanics of the thing. And it’s good to know what’s happening because then you know how to deal with it. If you look at it objectively, there are two parts of this acne phenomenon- the first is the prevention of acne and the second is the removal of acne and acne scars. For now, I’m going to deal with the former.
As I said in my skin article, acne is produced by excess secretion of sebum (which can be triggered by hormonal changes, stress, or some food triggers (such as chocolates or oily food) which clogs the pores or the hair follicles. Once your pores are clogged, your acne can take two shapes- comedonal (blackheads or whiteheads) or inflammatory (pimples). The latter one is the one giving most of the trouble because most of us are tempted to scratch it or pop it, leading to scars on our face.
So why does your acne becomes inflammatory? The answer is Propionibacterium Acnes, the skin bacteria. No, acne is not contagious. This bacteria is largely commensal and part of the skin flora present on most healthy adult human skin. Propionibacterium Acnes feeds on the fatty acids in the sebaceous glands on sebum secreted by follicles. When a pore is blocked, this anaerobic bacterium overgrows and secretes chemicals that break down the wall of the pore and cause inflammation.
Remember that the presence of these bacteria is not bad. It is anyhow present on healthy skin. It is when it starts feeding on the excess sebum and secreting toxic chemicals is when you have a cause to worry.
Well, Benzoyl Peroxide comes to my mind. It not only kills the bacteria but also dissolves the impurities clogging the pores. You can find Benzoyl peroxide in many over-the-counter acne medications such as Clearasil and ProActiv. Benzoyl peroxide works by introducing oxygen into the pore, thereby killing P. acnes. When the bacteria population is reduced, the number of breakouts on the skin is reduced as well. It also helps rid the follicle of excess dead skin cells. Clearing the pore of cellular debris will lessen the chance of pore blockages, or comedones. So, benzoyl peroxide helps prevent breakouts before they start.
Even after acne clears up, you’ll probably still have to use your treatments. If you don’t, bacterium populations can increase and acne may return.
(PLEASE DO NOT USE ANY OF THESE MEDICATIONS WITHOUT CONSULTING A DERMATOLOGIST)
Start with medications which have a small concentration of Benzoyl peroxide (2- 4%) to acclimatize your skin and then move on to a little higher concentration if needed. Apply over all the areas affected by acne. Use once or twice daily.
What is the Difference between Benzoyl Peroxide and other treatments of acne such as Salicylic acid and retinoids?
Simply this- Benzoyl peroxide is able to kill Propionibacterium Acnes where as Salicylic acid and Retinoids can only clean up the dead cells and open clogged pores. Hence, Benzoyl peroxide is used for inflammatory acne (pimples) whereas Salicylic acid and Retinoids are used for comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads). Savvy? 🙂
Do I have a last word?
Yep, do not pop your zits; the pressure applied while popping your zits pushes the bacteria and toxic chemicals further inside pores causing further inflammation. And you’d have to deal with acne scars also.