One of the last lines of defense against persistent acne is typically dermatologist-prescribed antibiotics, but a troubling study first reported at the British Association of Dermatologists’ annual conference says that the overuse of topical and oral medications could lead to a strain of “super acne.”
The study shows that acne sufferers are taking antibiotics for a lot longer than necessary — the average was six months — before being referred to a specialist. “It could cause the emergence of antibiotic-resistant Propionibacterium acnes — the bacterium implicated in acne — making acne harder to treat in some cases,” said researcher Dr. Alison Layton, according to the BBC. “Worryingly, the use of oral antibiotics is also likely to drive resistance in other bacteria, unrelated to acne.”
The report comes on the heels of the discovery of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the United States — bacteria that is often resistant to Colistin, an antibiotic that’s given as a last-ditch effort when others don’t work.
“It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics — that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” CDC director Tom Frieden said in May, according to CNN.
Does this mean that acne will be untreatable in the future? Not necessarily. Acne can range from mild to severe, and the treatments range from topical creams with active ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to harsher antibiotics. The key, according to the researchers, is to not rely on antibiotics for the long term.
“Antibiotics are just one element of what we have on offer to treat acne. There are other options,” said Dr. Heather Whitehouse, according to the BBC. “If your acne’s milder, there are good creams. Once the acne is under control, then you can stop the antibiotics in tablet form and carry on with creams to maintain that benefit you’ve seen in the skin.”
“We want to be able to continue to use [the antibiotics], and so in order for them to be effective, we have to be responsible for how we’re prescribing them,” Whitehouse said.