Doctors warn acne could become resistant to antibiotics

By Lindsay Brown
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
A drawing of a blocked poreImage source, Thinkstock

There's a warning that if doctors continue to prescribe antibiotics to treat acne over a long time, sufferers could become resistant to it.

It means a strain of so-called "super acne" could develop which would be untreatable by antibiotics.

The official advice is if antibiotics don't work after three months, patients should be referred to a skin specialist.

Delaying treatment could cause scarring.

"It is definitely a concern which I think both patients and doctors need to be aware of," Dr Heather Whitehouse, who specialises in skin complaints, told Newsbeat.

A recent study, released at the British Association of Dermatologists' Annual Conference, found that on average patients were prescribed antibiotics to treat acne for six and a half months before being referred to a skin specialist.

One person was prescribed antibiotics for seven years.

Researcher Dr Alison Layton said: "It could cause the emergence of antibiotic-resistant Propionibacterium acnes - the bacterium implicated in acne - making acne harder to treat in some cases.

"Worryingly, the use of oral antibiotics is also likely to drive resistance in other bacteria, unrelated to acne."

What is acne?

Acne is a very common skin condition characterised by blackheads and whiteheads and pus-filled spots.

It usually starts at puberty and varies in severity from a few spots to a more significant problem that may cause scarring.

Image source, Lucy Arnold
Image caption,
Lucy says her acne made her into a recluse

For the majority of sufferers it tends to clear up by late teens or early 20s, but it can persist for longer in some people.

Lucy Arnold developed acne when she was 22.

"My face, my back and my chest were all covered."

Like many sufferers, having acne had a huge effect on Lucy's life.

"It was really hard for me. It turned me into a bit of a recluse. My skin was awful.

"I'd cry taking off my make-up.

"It changed me. I lost a lot of confidence."

Image source, Lucy Arnold

Lucy, who's now 25, used to work with children teaching pottery.

"The kids used to ask me what was wrong with my face. That really used to upset and distress me.

"People used to think I was dirty or mucky but it isn't something you can help."

Image source, Lucy Arnold
Image caption,
Lucy suffered with acne for three years

Lucy tried several types of antibiotics but none of them worked.

She was desperate and started searching for treatments she'd researched online.

"I tried turmeric capsules, I tried using [certain] products and then using no products, then wheatgrass, a clean eating diet, no gluten and then no dairy.

"I feel like I've tried everything possible over the last few years to try and make a difference to my skin."

"Antibiotics are just one element of what we have on offer to treat acne. There are other options," Dr Whitehouse explains.

"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.

"The other thing to do is use the cream alongside the tablet antibiotics because that reduces the chance of developing the resistance in the first place.

"We want to be able to continue to use them, and so in order for them to be effective, we have to be responsible for how we're prescribing them.

"There's lots of different types of antibiotics so switching can help."

After three years Lucy was referred to a skin specialist who put her on a strong drug that seems to have worked.

Image source, Lucy Arnold
Image caption,
Lucy's skin has now cleared up

Lucy says despite the side-effects, it's been worth it.

"My skin's absolutely beautiful now. The clearest it's ever been."

For help and more information on acne, check out the BBC Radio 1 advice pages.

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