Anyone with a temperamental stomach knows the virtues of probiotics. Just ask those who have popped a supplement chock-full of the “good” bacteria in hopes of combating indefatigable belly flu or a just as uncomfortable longer-term condition—you’ll hear nothing but relieved affirmation.

Long hailed for its digestive boons, probiotics might be gaining in popularity on another front: skincare.

Relatively recent research suggests the strain of bacterium could abet acne flareups or other breakouts too. Great news for those with erratic skin.

Might it be time to chuck the astringent and tetracycline once and for all?

Despite its menacing name, Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) makes up about 90% of the bacteria found in nearly everyone’s pores, yes, even people with enviable marble-slick skin.

So why does P. acnes go rogue on some (read: your dermatologist’s favorite patients) but not affect others?

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute set out to solve the puzzle.

The research team unearthed a crucial detail that could help pimpled folks everywhere. According to findings published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, P. acnes appears to contain a particular strain that causes blemishes and another one with protective properties.

101 volunteers—49 with skin troubles, 52 fresh-faced—supplied their own strains thanks to pore-cleaning strips administered by volunteers.

The bacterial DNA was then isolated, mapped out, and the result was this: strains taken from those with healthy skin differ enormously from those with more problematic skin.

Additionally, another version of P. acnes, found often on blemish-free skin but hardly in troubled pores, was discovered.

Says team leader Huiying Li, an assistant molecular and medical pharmacology professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine,

We suspect that this strain contains a natural defense mechanism that enables it to recognize attackers and destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell.

So all that biology jargon to say: some folks have good bacteria that keeps pimples at bay, much like how that found in the gut protects against stomach irritation, and some don’t.

Is it as simple as that?

Maybe, but before you happily toss your salicylic acid and retinol treatments, this research is very preliminary, but the team will investigate if topical treatments infused with probiotics will do the trick.

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