Student Kimberley Sanderson and supervisor, Dr Margarita Gomez Escalada, a Senior Lecturer in Microbiology and Genetics at Leeds Metropolitan, found that a solution using the common herb thyme (known as a tincture) was more effective in killing the acne bacterium than traditional chemical-based creams. The research has been presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin this week.
Acne is caused by a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes which infects the skin pore and then forms a pimple. Currently, the most common treatments for acne are antibiotics or a topical cream or wash containing the chemical benzoyl peroxide. These treatments are often associated with side-effects, for example benzoyl peroxide often causes a burning sensation on the skin and irritation.
A solution, known as a tincture, can be made using plants and herbs, where the plant is steeped in alcohol for days or weeks. This extracts the different compounds from the plant. The research team tested the effectiveness of thyme, myrrh and marigold tinctures in killing the acne bacterium using a test commonly used to test disinfectants. The activity of the tinctures was also compared to that of the benzoyl peroxide used in acne creams.
Dr Gomez Escalada commented: "What makes the project so amazing is that all the practical work was done by one of our undergraduate students as part of her final year project. We found that all the preparations tested were able to kill a number of bacteria. The preparation that was found the most effective was thyme tincture, even better than benzoyl peroxide. This shows the potential of thyme tincture for treating acne. We now need to carry out further tests in conditions that mimic the skin to confirm the effectiveness in practical use. If thyme tincture is proven to be effective for the treatment of acne, it will provide a natural alternative to current treatments."
Thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures are commonly used by herbalists as well as other alternative medicine practitioners to treat acne and other skin conditions. However, little research has been done into their effectiveness and they have never before been tested against the bacterium that causes acne to see if they have any effect on its growth.