Can it be true? Could there soon be an acne vaccine? Could a one off treatment rid you of acne once and for all? Could painful, red and inflamed acne lesions be a thing of your past?
Fact: Acne is the 8th most suffered disease in the world.
This is huge and helpfully means – acne research is right at this moment receiving an enormous amount of funding. A sizeable amount of which is being put into investigating an acne vaccine.
It sounds like sci-fi. Can it be true? Let’s find out…
In a nutshell: Acne is an inflammatory skin disease with explosive pathology. New research suggests acne causing bacteria make a highly irritating/inflammatory protein called CAMP factor. Vaccination against this protein could help cure acne.
Recap: the cause of your acne
First off – to understand how an acne vaccine might work, you first need to understand exactly what’s causing your acne. Very simply acne is a 3 step cascade;
- Step 1) Your pores are triggered to make more sebum and skin cells aka they become prone to clogging.
- Step 2) You guessed it (!) pores become blocked i.e. a dead skin cell plug is formed.
- Step 3) Acne causing bacteria feed on dead skin cell plugs causing irritation, inflammation and activation of your skin’s immune function i.e. you end up with an angry looking, pus filled acne lesion.
Bottom line: Acne solutions which work help prevent one of the above 3 causes of acne.
Recap: the role of bacteria in acne
Did you squirm when reading step 3 of the acne causing cascade? Bacteria get a bad reputation. Truth is not all bacteria are bad. In fact acne causing bacteria naturally live on everyone’s skin – even skin types which are acne free.
The best way to think of skin bacteria is like gut bacteria. Your gut needs bacteria. Science knows this. And just like no blockbuster film is complete without a hero and a villain, so too is no bacterial population complete without the good and the bad.
Welcome to your skin’s microflora. A complex ecosystem of needed skin bacteria.
When skin goes wrong, more often than not – your microflora is upset.
When acne strikes it’s a specific type of bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (p.acnes) which grows to out of control sizes. P.acnes is an anaerobic bacteria which means it loves oxygen free environments i.e. the oil filled hole of your skin’s pore can make a very happy home for it.
Fact: p.acnes being an anaerobic thriving bacteria is a key reason why oily and combination skin types are most prone to acne.
P.acnes & inflammatory acne
As p.acnes growth explodes your skin becomes exponentially irritated. More p.acnes bacteria equals more irritation which equals more inflammation. Notice how your skin reacts to a friction burn or graze? It gets red, hot and angry looking. The exact same reaction which causes inflammatory acne i.e. papules and pustules.
Recent studies show it’s not actually acne bacteria which irritate your skin but instead something they make. It works like this;
- Step 1) P.acnes bacteria get comfy in oil filled, dead skin cell blocked pores.
- Step 2) P.acnes bacteria feed, breed and multiply.
- Step 3) P.acnes bacteria excrete out an inflammation causing protein known as CAMP factor.
Notice that final step? CAMP factor protein causes inflammation. And that’s not all it does, recently published studies show CAMP factor proteins can;
- Cause death of microphages i.e. a vital component of your skin’s immune function
- Open up holes in all kinds of skin cells (CAMP is known as a pore-forming toxin) making your skin vulnerable to all kinds of infection – in acne this can cause bursting/rupturing of pores releasing pro-inflammatory material into surrounding areas i.e. spreading acne inflammation further
- Trigger death of sebocytes i.e. sebum making cells > causing inflammation
- Specifically target skin cells telling them to release inflammation causing biomarkers
The more acne causing bacteria you have on skin – the more CAMP factor gets release and therefore the more inflammatory your acne becomes. Once active it’s a viscous and self-amplifying cycle. Yikes.
What is a vaccine?
With a major cause of acne identified it’s now possible for scientists to work on an acne vaccine.
Remember – a vaccine is a 1-off shot/dose or a series of immune boosting injections to provide protection against disease.
A vaccine can in many cases cure or in technical trueness – stop a person from contracting a disease or virus. Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or dead form of a virus i.e. it acts like a test run for your immune function.
In scientific terms: a vaccine is an antigen which stimulates production of antibodies i.e. the biology which helps neutralise invading bacteria or pathogens.
Once your body’s developed the correct antibodies it knows exactly how to defeat a specific antibody i.e. you can create yourself an acne vaccine.
While skin care can help manage acne, skin care alone cannot cure acne. This is because skin care is able to help pacify acne triggers i.e. a build up of dead skin cells however skin care is not able to prevent them from happening in the first place. This is what makes an acne vaccine different. An acne vaccine has potential to prevent inflammation at its source.
How new acne vaccine works
The 30th June 2018 saw a landmark of scientific acne vaccine learnings published in the investigative journal of dermatology. This is huge news. The involved researchers looked at how p.acnes grows/how much inflammation it’s able to cause when p.acnes bacteria can make CAMP protein and when it can’t i.e. the researchers created a breed of p.acnes bacteria which would excrete a mutated CAMP protein – not the real thing.
Results are in: When tested in animal model the strain of p.acnes with a mutated CAMP factor significantly reduces p.acnes colonization and acne causing inflammation aka the cytotoxicity of p.acnes is hugely reduced.
Next step – testing this new acne vaccine in a human model.
To do this the researchers collected acne lesions from acne patients. Firstly they noted a spotlight difference between acne infected skin and non-acne infected skin – the increased expression of CAMP factor plus 2 inflammatory biomarkers (IL-8 and IL-1β). Secondly they incubated aka bathed these acne lesions with antibodies for CAMP factor. Can you guess what they found? Inflammation biomarkers aka those 2 inflammation biomarkers which are over expressed in acne infected skin – reduced.
Bottom line: p.acnes excreted CAMP factor is a major source of inflammation in acne. If CAMP factor can be vaccinated against step 3 of the acne causing cascade could be enormously reduced or in some cases stopped.
What this could mean in real life? Inflammation is the root cause of acne and if vaccinating against CAMP protein can significantly reduce inflammation – your acne could be significantly reduced or best case scenario – cured. Red, angry, bumpy, hot, painful and pus filled acne lesions could with 1 injection clear up over a period of several months.
Remember – once your body’s developed antibodies against a known antigen i.e. CAMP factor – your body has either life-long immunity or long-term immunity. Long-term immunity can be extended with booster injections i.e. as prescribed for vaccines like tetanus.
Will an acne vaccine work for you?
Whether an acne vaccine will or won’t work for you depends on the type of acne you have.
- If for example you suffer with blackheads – this acne vaccine will not work. That’s because this acne vaccine focuses on reducing inflammation and in general blackheads are not inflammatory.
- If for example your skin is also being irritated by a further infection i.e. a staph infection, this acne vaccine will not work. This is because it does not vaccinate against staph infection.
- If however you have inflammatory acne which is predominantly being caused by p.acnes made CAMP protein – yes – this new acne vaccine has huge potential to work for you. Not only is this acne vaccine active in stopping CAMP protein induced inflammation, it’s also active in reducing p.acnes colonization. 2 significant changes which could ultimately lead you to clear, healthy, happy skin.
Where can you get the acne vaccine?
While the mechanics of a working acne vaccine have been proven there remains a significant amount of research still to do before an acne vaccine can be commercialized i.e. researchers need to meet stringent conditions to prove it as safe and effective to use.
Here’s the deal: p.acnes naturally lives on skin in a complex microbiome of many bacteria – even in healthy non-acneic skin. Therefore before you can get the acne vaccine, it must be proven that vaccinating against p.acnes created CAMP protein doesn’t ‘screw-up’ your skin’s microbiome.
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Acne vaccine takeaways and key learnings;
- P.acnes bacteria live on all skin types however in above normal concentrations p.acnes irritates skin aka makes skin inflamed.
- Acne bacteria are believed to irritate skin because they excrete a protein known as CAMP factor.
- CAMP factor proteins are a primary cause of inflammation in acne.
- Acne affected skin types over express CAMP factor.
- At this very moment in time researchers are developing a promising vaccination against CAMP factor which could provide a cure for acne by preventing the inflammatory cascade CAMP factor causes.
- The acne vaccine we’ve discussed in detail here is currently under development and not yet available for use – significant safety testing must be completed before such a vaccination may be commercialized.
Note: It usually takes between 10 to 20 years for a new vaccine to be developed, validated and approved for use in humans.