Acne Virus: Our Bodies’ Own Acne Treatment


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Over-the-Counter Acne Medications?

Blood agar plate with colonies of P. acnes bacteria. Photo by D. Marinelli

So what is the difference between the potential treatment that scientists have discovered, and the over-the-counter (OTC) medications currently available for acne?

Dr. Marinelli explains: “The differences between a phage-based treatment and currently available over the counter medications are important.  Most OTC anti-acne drugs work by killing P. acnes bacteria, however, these are inert compounds, meaning that if a strain of P. acnes develops resistance to this compound, the treatment is no longer effective.  

Phages have the potential to be used against these resistant strains of bacteria.  These phages are also viruses that have co-evolved with their hosts for millennia.  This ability to co-evolve means that if a bacterial isolate becomes resistant, phage have potential mutate and to overcome this resistance.

 This ability to mutate, however, also means that we need to carefully dissect and understand the ways in which phages and their hosts interact before we can move into the development of therapies.”

New Acne Medicine: When Will It Be Available?

As for when this possible treatment may be available, Dr. Marinelli says, “While this study only represents the first step, we are encouraged because our finding do suggests that P. acnes phages have a number of characteristics – such as small size, limited diversity and broad ability to kill clinical isolates of P. acnes bacteria – that would make them particularly amenable for therapy.  The nature of the disease itself and the fact that we would focus on topical therapies (as opposed to something that would have to be ingested) also gives us reason to be optimistic, but more research is needed before we will know for sure.

So acne suffers, there may be a more helpful treatment option in the future. For now, consult your dermatologist for acne treatments that are best for you.


Marinelli, L., Modlin, R., Geffen, D.,et. al. Propionibacterium acnes bacteriophages display limited genetic diversity and broad killing activity against bacterial skin isolates. (2012). American Society for Microbiology’s mBio. Accessed September 25, 2012.

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