We know from experience: Acne is persistent, recurrent and can be really depressing and make you feel unattractive. It's also a bitch to treat. Luckily, science is making great strides in this area.
We chatted with Dr. Eric Schweiger, a dermatologist and founder of the Clear Clinic in NYC, to learn about the present and future of acne treatment. From crustaceans (yup, really) to Star Trek-worthy lasers to killer viruses, here's the latest in fighting acne.
Topicals: The Gold Standard
Good old benzoyl peroxide is still a cornerstone of acne treatment--it acts to directly kill P.acnes (the bacteria that causes acne). So are topical antibiotics, but Dr.Scheiger noted that erythromycin, an antibiotic once used freely both orally and topically for acne treatment, isn't being used anymore because of bacterial resistance. His new fave is the combo benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin topical treatments (available by prescription only).
Benzoyl peroxide gets a bad rap sometimes because of its potential to dry out skin, but Dr.Schweiger says only about 5% of patients have issues. He recommends using a gentle moisturizer like Cetaphil or CeraVe before and after you apply your topical med to prevent overdrying.
Red and Blue Light Therapy:
"We’re finding more and more patients that have done so many at-home remedies or prescription meds that they’re looking for something else," Dr. Schweiger said. Enter in-office procedures like red and blue light therapy. The procedure takes about 30 minutes and is totally painless. Blue and red LED lights are applied to your skin--blue light kills bacteria and red light acts as an anti-inflammatory, so it hits the problem in two different ways.
Another version is called Photodynamic Therapy. A topical medication, Levulan, is applied to the skin and gets absorbed into pores. Blue light is then applied, directly killing bacteria. But the Levulan also shrinks oil glands, meaning you get more long-term (in some cases even permanent) results.
These treatments don't come cheap though. The light treatments can set you back $250-$450 per session.
The Isolaz laser is one of the newer lasers on the market for treating acne, combining suction and pulsed light. According to Dr. Schweiger, "The suction cleans out the pores and the pulsed light kills the acne bacteria." There's no pain or downtime, but patients usually require weekly treatments for six weeks. The cost is similar to to other in-office light treatments, going for about $350/session.
OK now how about what's coming down the pipeline? A new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests that shellfish may hold the next weapon in the fight against acne. Yes, not only are they delicious with butter, but they may clear up your zits!
Chitosan, a "nanoparticle" derived from crustaceans, was shown to directly kill the P. acnes bacteria. Even better? It plays nicely with benzoyl peroxide and provides more of a bacteria killing effect when used in combo with the benzoyl peroxide than when used alone. Dr. Schweiger suspects it may be marketed as a combination topical. However, since the study is still in vitro, approval and an actual medicine could be five to seven years away.
Viruses to Kill Acne Bacteria:
Scientists at UCLA have figured out that a harmless virus that lives on our skin could be the next big gun against acne. Think of them as tiny little Terminators on your skin that are programmed to kill P. acnes bacteria. The virus, called a phage, essentially eats up bacteria like a Pacman. Unfortunately scientists still need to figure out how to harness a protein from the phages to turn it into an active treatment, so this one is likely years away, too.