Understanding & Controlling Propionibacterium acnes
baby with propionibacterium acnes

Unless you’re a baby, it’s hard to feel cute with acne. Image from Marie Claire Camp.

Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes isn’t always as awful as it sounds. This bacterium is part of most healthy people’s skin flora. In fact, it’s friendly when it’s kept under control. In exchange for our fatty acids it performs useful tasks such as preventing the overgrowth of mold on our skin. Propionibacterium acnes lives off the sebaceous glands in our hair follicles andis found in healthy people’s gastrointestinal tracts too. It’s found on newborns but makes its first big appearance during pre-adolescence.

When is Propionibacterium acnes a problem? If your skin pores become blocked, the bacteria will keep multiplying but have no escape. The result will be inflammation and outbreaks such as acne vulgaris or folliculitis. At the same time, the bacteria damages cell walls because it generates an enzyme that breaks down skin cells. This makes your skin more susceptible to other infections. Staphylococcus is especially a risk. P. acnes is equally common among males and females but is most severe, on average, among teenage boys.

The Propionibacterium acnes bacterium is also associated with blepharitis, or chronic eyelid inflammation, and endopthalmitis, a very serious inflammation of the internal coating of the eye. On rare occasions it infects heart valves, joints, prostates and other parts of people’s bodies. This article though is devoted to P. acnes as it relates to skin clarity.


Fighting Skin Problems Caused by P. Acnes

The news is generally good about fighting these acne-causing bacteria. They’ll give in to a wide range of antimicrobial chemicals. You could start with an over-the-counter medication such as benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is an active ingredient in Exposed, a top-ranked skincare system. It’s also a main ingredient in the Proactiv system. Sulfur may also be effective.

If you need a prescription your dermatologist might prescribe a lincosamide such as clindamycin, a tetracycline such as doxycycline or minocycline or a macrolide such as erythromycin. However, some people are now showing resistance to these common antibacterial drugs. The resistance is especially pronounced in Europe and North America. Some other families of drugs that might be effective include penicillins, quinolones and sulfonamides.

Some people have advised that honey is a natural antimicrobial and therefore a natural remedy for Propionibacterium acnes. We think that sounds too good to be true! Honey might be effective for babies’ acne but is unlikely to handled troubled teen or adult skin.


Preventing Outbreaks

As explained in the introduction, Propionibacterium acnes becomes a problem when pores are blocked. You can help prevent inflammation by using a gentle exfoliator twice daily. Many skincare systems include exfoliating cleansers. Often these products combine salicylic acid with a natural sloughing material like finely ground walnut shells. These help keep pores’ entryways clear of dead skin and other debris.

Reminder: Sunscreen should be used daily, and especially when you use an exfoliator. After all, you’re exposing a fresh new layer of skin to the world. The irony is that sunscreens can cause breakouts! If this has been a problem for you in the past, maybe look for a skincare regimen that includes an acne-fighting sunscreen. Mineral makeup is also a natural sunscreen.