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Skin

Is the acne vaccine the spot cure we’ve all been hoping for?

October 16th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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Immunising ourselves against acne sounds nothing less than miraculous given that 80% of under-30s suffer, but there’s a catch according to one leading dermatologist…

From the flu jab to the MMR vaccine and the newer HPV vaccine, the importance of inoculations can’t be underestimated, as the NHS puts plainly:

“Vaccination is one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine. No other medical intervention has done more to save lives and improve quality of life.”

Some of the world’s deadliest diseases have been all but wiped out thanks to widespread vaccination programmes, and while not a direct danger to life, the prospect of a jab to prevent acne, a skin condition that can significantly affect quality of life while causing both physical and mental pain, is a literal injection of hope for the 80 per cent of under-30s who suffer and the approximate 25 per cent of women over 30 who experience adult acne.

Promising news in the development of an acne vaccine was published recently in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, with a team led by the Department of Dermatology at the University of California demonstrating that a vaccine can target harmful proteins secreted by the P.acnes bacteria, reducing the inflammation that can lead to acne and that’s already active in acne lesions. The breakthrough is particularly significant as the vaccine doesn’t destroy the P.acnes bacteria altogether (it’s a natural bacteria present in your skin’s microbiome), but instead encourages the production of antibodies against the inflammatory process caused by the P.acnes bacteria that’s a key factor in the development of acne.

New, safe, and efficient therapies are sorely needed

The vaccine has so far proved successful for inhibiting inflammatory responses in tests in mice and ex vivo in human skin cells but further trials are required to assess potential side effects and formulate a safe, effective vaccine for use in humans. Nevertheless, lead investigator Chun-Ming Huang PhD thinks that the acne vaccine has enormous potential as a future treatment option:

“Once validated by a large-scale clinical trial, the potential impact of our findings is huge for the hundreds of millions of individuals suffering from acne vulgaris.

“Current treatment options are often not effective or tolerable for many who suffer from this multi-factorial cutaneous inflammatory condition. New, safe, and efficient therapies are sorely needed."

Given the frustration and complexity involved with treating acne at different life stages and the occasionally severe side-effects of acne treatments such as roaccutane, the emergence of an injection that can prevent breakouts before they happen, and block the inflammatory cycle in active acne cases, seems like nothing short of wonder jab, but not everyone in the skincare community is convinced of its all-encompassing acne elimination capability. Dr Rikin Parekh, leading dermatologist at Avanti Aesthetics Academy in Harley Street and skin trainer at ZO Skinhealth explains why the vaccine likely isn’t the holy grail of acne treatments:

“Targeting P.acnes with a vaccine could be considered a more precise and less “toxic” way to treat acne than chemical therapies, however, not all P.acne bacteria is bad as it’s made up of different strains, and while some cause acne, others are beneficial. If it targets the wrong strains, the vaccine could possibly worsen the patient’s condition by disturbing the skin on a cellular level.”

Everyone’s epidermis is different so a ‘one vaccination fits all’ ideal may not be completely successful

In Dr Parekh’s view, a good old fashioned skincare routine should take precedence over needles, at least for the time being:

“I can’t see the vaccine being a totally effective way to cure every person’s acne - it is an interesting concept but one that would need to be trialed and tested before being used on patients. The vaccination may also involve mild to severe side effects depending on the patient, so this should be noted. Furthermore, everyone’s epidermis is different so a ‘one vaccination fits all’ ideal may not be completely successful. Ultimately, a consistent skincare regime tailored to a patient’s skin type using an appropriate cleanser, exfoliator and a toner that reduces sebum will help to reduce and prevent acne from forming.”

It’s boring advice and you’ve heard it all before, but in a recent blog post exploring new findings that indicate that acne is more of a chronic inflammatory skin condition than was once thought, consultant dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams seconds Dr Parekh’s skincare focus:

“The best approach is to use preventative creams that prevent new spots from developing. Ideally treatment should include a combination of anti-inflammatory, keratolytic (‘pore unclogging’) and antibacterial elements.”

Given that the root causes of acne can be so varied, from hormones to genetics to conditions such as PCOS, certain medications, cosmetics, haircare and skincare that clog pores and even wearing helmets or masks, it seems far fetched that a vaccine could totally eliminate acne but it does offer a serious dose of positivity for the future, particularly seeing as more potent current treatments such as roaccutane and antibiotics aren’t suitable for long-term use. Immunological treatments for acne could also help to reduce not only incidences of the skin disease but also costs associated with treating it for both the sufferer and the NHS, but we could be waiting a while for an effective vaccination plan to be rolled out - Chun-Ming Huang estimates that clinical trials could take up to 15 years to complete.

From spironolactone to topical over the counter options and hormonal contraception, acne treatments are many, varied and should be tailored to your exacting needs, but any new developments in the acne treatment arena are most welcome, especially given that a study of 92 private dermatology clinics in the UK in 2016 revealed a 200 per cent rise in adults seeking treatments for acne. There’s no silver bullet to the rising issue but everyone deserves to be happy in their skin so the more effective treatment pathways that are open to us, the better. It seems that an acne vaccine is far from a shot in the dark, but time will tell whether it can be applied IRL.

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