• Question: can you find a cure to spots?

    Asked by aoiferidge to Enda, Jean, Kate, Kev, Tim on 19 Nov 2012.
    • Photo: Enda O'Connell

      Enda O'Connell answered on 19 Nov 2012:

      Hi Aoife,

      We’ve all had spots or acne at some stage, and I even still get the odd one now and again 🙁

      There are lots of different causes (hormonal, infection) for spots/acne so there will need to be different treatments depending on the individual person.There are already lots of medical treatments out there already, including antibiotics, antiseptics, light and laser therapy.

      In 2008 a vaccine was successful in preventing mice from getting acne using inactivated Propionibacterium acnes cells (the bacteria that causes acne) http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v128/n10/full/jid2008221a.html but in this regard, mice are very different from humans so it has not been introduced for humans yet. Encouragingly, the Propionibacterium acnes genome was sequenced in 2007 so scientists working in the field should have lots more information available to them for future research.

    • Photo: Tim Downing

      Tim Downing answered on 19 Nov 2012:

      Hi Aoife,

      Like Enda says, because acne is mainly caused by a bacteria, it is generally treated with antibiotics. Fortunately, a range of antibiotics should in theory work on P ances bacteria – but of course this is not always the case! So for that reason treatments tend to take two other approaches. These are both different to antibiotics because the alter us – the host – rather than the bacteria.

      The first is to avoid the build-up of sweat (sebum) that the bacteria feed on. So here treatments are designed to make the face sweat (or secrete) less using peroxides or things similar to vitamin A and similar drugs that adjust the concentration of sebum on the face.

      The other is to adjust hormone level – for example, acne usually only activates during adolenscene when hormone levels changing faster. So for women adjusting these can help (not sure if it’s been done in men?). In the same way, other treatments alter the inflammatory response to reduce the body’s reaction to the bacteria.

      I’m not sure we’ll ever find a cure asuch, because generally it has a mild effect, and is very common. But maybe by playing around with our biology we could change this? What do you think?


    • Photo: Jean Bourke

      Jean Bourke answered on 20 Nov 2012:

      The main cause of multiple persistent spot is usually hormones as both the guys have said. As a result it is often difficult to prevent and there appears to be a genetic factor to acne.

      Spots do not mean you are not clean and sometime cleaning too harshly can be bad for your skin as it will dry it out and it will try to compensate by making more oil. Just because you have oily skin does not mean you can’t use gentle fragrance free cleansers and moisturizing is still vital.

      There is something you can get in pharmacies called aqueous cream. It is as plain as you can get and can be used to clean and moisturize skin without being too harsh or irritating. It’s what you’d use on a baby so you know it’s delicate. It is a moisturizer and a soap substitute.

      As for treatments, reducing inflammation (redness and swelling) can really help but you have to careful to avoid damaging the skin. Topical treatments such as creams can be great for that and antiseptic ointments can prevent spots reforming once they have burst.

      Blackheads can often be easily removed and are mainly just some dead stuff trapped in a pore. The black color is due to the stuff reacting with air. It is important to try and open the pores and not really squeeze so much as nudge them out. And of course be gentle:skin is delicate!

      Prevention is always better than cure but with spots prevention is not always possible. Hopefully as time goes on and we understand more about the causes, hormonal and otherwise, we can find better and better ways to treat them.