THE HERB THYME may be better at fighting acne than prescription creams, a new study has shown.
The study, ‘Effectiveness of herbal tinctures against Propionibacterium acnes compared to benzoyl peroxide’, was carried out by researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University and will be presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s spring conference in Dublin today. The Society for General Microbiology (SGM) is a professional body for scientists who work in all areas of microbiology.
While acne is typically treated with prescription creams that contain ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, this study tested the effect of thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures on Propionibacterium acnes – the bacterium that causes acne by infecting skin pores and forming spots.
The group found that while all the preparations were able to kill the bacterium after five minutes exposure, thyme was the most effective of the three.
They went on to discover that the thyme tincture had a greater antibacterial effect than standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide.
Dr Margarita Gomez-Escalada, who is leading the research project, explained how tinctures are made from plants and herbs.
The plant material is steeped in alcohol for days or even weeks to prepare a tincture. This process draws out the active compounds from the plant. While thyme, marigold and myrrh are common herbal alternatives to standard antibacterial skin washes, this is the first study to demonstrate the effect they have on the bacterium that causes the infection leading to acne.
The researchers used a standard in vitro model that is used to test the effect of different substances applied to the skin. The effects of the tinctures were measured against an alcohol control – proving their antibacterial action was not simply due to the sterilising effect of the alcohol they are prepared in.
The scientist said she was pleasantly surprised with the results. “I’m quite inquisitive – I thought you never know, it might be wonderful, it might be a compelte flop but I was really surprised on the actual level of antibacterial activity that we found.”
These initial findings pave the way for more research into the use of tinctures as a treatment for acne. Dr Gomez Escalada explained:
We now need to carry out further tests in conditions that mimic more closely the skin environment and work out at the molecular level how these tinctures are working. If thyme tincture is proven to be as clinically effective as our findings suggest, it may be a natural alternative to current treatments.
Dr Gomez-Escalada said the problem with treatments containing benzoyl peroxide is the side-effects they are associated with, such as a burning sensation and skin irritation.
Herbal preparations are less harsh on the skin due to their anti-inflammatory properties while our results suggest they can be just as, if not more, effective than chemical treatments.
The Society for General Microbiology’s spring conference is taking place at the Convention Centre today.