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Viruses For Acne Bacteria: An Unconventional Cure

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Acne is a widespread condition that more than half the population will experience, and as such, there are a plethora of treatments and remedies1 to deal with it. Recent science suggests that there may be viruses that are also capable of killing acne bacteria, ultimately curing acne.

Acne bacteria
Scientists have discovered that viruses can potentially help cure acne.

Scientific researchers2 Laura Marinelli, Ph.D. and Robert Modlin, MD, have discovered that a type of virus called Propionibacterium acnes phages has the ability to attack and destroy Propionibacterium acnes. This specific species of acne bacteria is a major cause of acne vulgaris, a skin disease that blocks and inflames sebaceous glands resulting in lesions. But the P. acnes phages attacks this acne-bacteria, injecting the acne bug with the phages’ genetic material to form more and more phages3, ultimately infecting the bacteria until it dies.

These UCLA researchers sampled and studied the results of 11 different phages that could effectively kill acne-bacteria and discovered they were all almost genetically the same (about 85% similarity). Part of their tests included sequencing the phages’ DNA, programming it to target and kill specific bacteria. To perform the study, they tested the 11 strands of the virus on the faces of volunteers, using over-the-counter-pore-cleaning strips. The results showed that the viruses not only killed P. acnes but also a broad range of multiple sub-varieties of the bacteria.

This leads the researchers to believe that this virus may become an integral part of future anti-acne treatments and therapies. Its killing mechanism makes it ideal to use since unlike antibiotic acne treatments, it does not harm the beneficial bacteria that live in your body and on your skin.

The next step for the UCLA researchers will be to study the enzyme that the virus produces, called endolysin. This enzyme breaks down bacterial cell walls4. Further research will reveal exactly how this enzyme works and hopefully be used to develop future treatments for acne.


  1. Kraft J., Freiman, A. Management of acne. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2011;183(7):E430-E435.
  2. Marinelli L.J., Fitz-Gibbon S., Hayes C., Bowman C., Inkeles M., Loncaric A., Russell D.A., Jacobs-Sera D., Cokus S., Pellegrini M., Kim J., Miller J.F., Hatfull G.F., Modlin R.L. Propionibacterium acnes phages display limited genetic diversity and broad killing activity against bacterial skin isolates. mBio. 2012;3(5).
  3. Jończyk-Matysiak E., Weber-Dąbrowska B., Żaczek M., Międzybrodzki R., Letkiewicz S., Łusiak-Szelchowska M., Górski A. Prospects of phage application in the treatment of acne caused by Propionibacterium acnes. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2017;8:164.
  4. Castillo D.E., Nanda S., Keri J.E. Propionibacterium (Cutibacterium) acnes bacteriophage therapy in acne: Current evidence and future perspectives. Dermatology and Therapy. 2019;9(1):19-31.
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