The Tiny, Microscopic Reason Behind Your Zit: Bacterial Diversity

Research spotlight on bacterial diversity in acne

Research Spotlight: "Decrease in Diversity of Propionibacterium acnes Phylotypes in Patients with Severe Acne on the Back"

The widespread pimple is far from simple. Acne is a complex skin condition that affects many people. Specifically, researchers identified that the acne microbiome (community of bacteria and byproducts on the skin) is primarily associated with the Cutibacterium acnes bacteria (previously known as Propionibacterium acnes), which is a common microorganism on the skin. The C. acnes bacteria exists in 6 different types and a group of researchers set out to see if certain types are seen more often in acne.[1]

In the study, the researchers examined the different types of C. acnes bacteria in patients with severe acne and individuals who were acne-free. In 71% of patients with severe acne, their P. acnes bacterial communities were near-identical on their face and back. However, this similarity was present in only 45% of acne-free individuals. Furthermore, the individuals who were acne-free had a more bacterially diverse group of C. acnes, while those with severe acne had an overwhelming predominance – on average, 95% -- of only one type of C. acnes.

In other words, there were more types of C. acnes in those without acne and it was a less diverse group of C. acnes bacteria in those with acne.  

The study’s findings, therefore, suggest that acne may be correlated to the diversity of the many tiny microorganisms on our skin, known as the skin’s microbiome. With the study suggesting that the diversity of the skin’s bacteria is perhaps related to acne, the common zit is far more complex than one may think. 

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  1. Dagnelie MA, Corvec S, Saint-Jean M, et al. Decrease in Diversity of Propionibacterium acnes Phylotypes in Patients with Severe Acne on the Back. Acta Derm Venereol.2017;10.2340/00015555-2847 PMID: 29136261 Link to research.