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Bacteria: Not all bad

Published on August 15th, 2018 by Dr. Jennifer Herrmann

The word bacteria never conjures a warm fuzzy feeling. Indeed, bacteria is responsible for soured milk, strep throat and even deadly internal infections. But, when it comes to our skin, research has shown that bacteria plays an increasingly important role in protection. Normally, there are millions of micro-organisms growing on the skin, and just the right balance of organism types is important for a healthy skin ecosystem or “microbiome.” Healthy, symbiotic bacteria keep this balance intact by producing antimicrobial peptides to keep more dangerous bacteria types at bay. When this balance is interrupted, the skin becomes more prone to both infections and inflammatory conditions like acne, eczema and rosacea.

In addition to its role in maintaining the skin’s microbiome, healthy bacteria may also be helpful in skin cancer prevention. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have identified that a resident skin bacteria found on normal healthy skin called Staphylococcus epidermidis produces a specific chemical–6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP)–that appears to be toxic to cancer cells but not normal cells. When mice were exposed to cancerous doses of UV radiation, those whose skin had 6-HAP producing strains of bacteria grew smaller and many fewer tumors than those that lacked this chemical. When other mice were transplanted with deadly melanoma cells (the most dangerous form of skin cancer), those that received injections of 6-HAP had tumors that were significantly suppressed compared to controls, and they didn’t suffer side effects.

Although this is quite preliminary work, it is believed that 6-HAP prevents DNA synthesis, which is important for growth and spread of cancer cells. More needs to be done to determine how this chemical might be used as and agent for skin cancer prevention or treatment, but it’s an exciting area we’re continuing to watch! Stay tuned…

Moy, Fincher, Chipps Facial Plastics and Dermatology’s team are the leading dermatologists in Beverly Hills. Our team of board certified dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons stay current on industry innovations, research and new treatments.

Ref: Nakatsuji et al. A commensal strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis protects against skin neoplasia. Science Advances, 2018.

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