Acne sufferers rejoice! Relief may now be found in the form of a common herb, which is even more effective than expensive creams and prescription gels, UK researchers have found.
Thyme, a garden herb used in everyday cooking, has been found to kill more acne-promoting bacteria than more commonly used treatments including plant-derived products and peroxide-based preparations such as Clearasil and Oxy.
Researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University composed a tincture (alcoholic extract) of thyme, then added billions of the bacterium that causes pimples (propionibacterium) to the mix, allowing five minutes for it to take effect.
The thyme tincture killed around 100,000 of the bacteria per millilitre, or roughly half a million bacterium per teaspoon.
The mixture also proved to work better than two other tinctures the researchers had made using equivalent amounts of marigold and myrrh — two plants commonly used to treat acne.
The researchers told the Society for General Microbiology that it was not merely the sterilising properties of the alcohol that killed the bacteria, but that the steeping of the herb in alcohol for days or even weeks helped draw out its active compounds.
"We now need to carry out further tests in conditions that mimic more closely the skin, and work out at the molecular level how these tinctures are working," researcher Dr Margarita Gomez-Escalada said.
"If thyme tincture is proven to be as clinically effective as our findings suggest, it may be a natural alternative to current treatments."
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Dr Gomez-Escalada spoke of the benefits of thyme as a great alternative for harsh medication and peroxide-based products, which can leave bleach marks on clothes and pillow slips, and also make skin feel irritated or sore.
"The problem with treatments containing benzoyl peroxide is the side-effects they are associated with," Dr Gomez-Escalada said. "A burning sensation and skin irritation are not uncommon. My students talk about how horrible it is.
"Herbal preparations are less harsh on the skin due to their anti-inflammatory properties, while our results suggest they can be just as, if not more, effective than chemical treatments.
"If it is proven for it to really work, it would be fantastic for it to become a mainstream treatment," she said.
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Dr Phillip Artemi, a dermatologist with the Australian College of Dermatologists told ninemsn he welcomed new acne treatments whether they were natural or synthetic.
"[But] it's too early to get overly excited about thyme as no clinically controlled trials have been undertaken and comparison to other well-established topical anti-microbial agents is lacking," Dr Artemi said.
"Treating acne is not just about targeting propionibacteria acnes and it is highly unlikely thyme would be helpful in the case of severe cystic acne," he said.
"Propionibacteria are just one of many factors that play a part in the development of acne. There are hormonal issues, sebaceous gland stimulation and blockages in the sebaceous duct. A lot more research will be required before thyme can play a significant role in the treatment of acne."
Many Australians experience an outburst of acne during their lifetime. Outbursts usually occur during adolescence — girls between the ages of 14 and 17, boys between 16 and 19 — due to hormone changes causing the sebaceous glands (skin pores) to produce an excess of sebum (oil). This can lead to pimples in the form of blackheads or whiteheads, and sometimes even scarring.
Acne can be a debilitating condition that can severely affect self-confidence, especially for the 10-20 per cent of people who continue to suffer well into adulthood.