Thyme could be a more effective treatment for acne than medicated creams, scientists say.
Acne is caused by a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes, which infects skin pores, forming pimples.
Common treatments for the condition include antibiotics and topical creams, or washes which contain the chemical benzoyl peroxide, but these can sometimes cause side effects.
Scientists from Leeds Metropolitan University tested the effectiveness of thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures at killing the acne-causing bacterium and compared it with that of benzoyl peroxide, used in acne creams. The tinctures were prepared by steeping the herbs in alcohol.
The scientists used a standard in vitro model, commonly used to test the effect of different substances applied to the skin. This included an alcohol control to ensure that any antibacterial action was not due to the sterilising effect of the alcohol in the tincture.
While all the herbal tinctures were able to kill the bacterium after five minutes of exposure, the thyme one was the most effective, the researchers said.
They also found that the thyme tincture had a greater antibacterial effect than standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in most anti-acne creams and washes.
The preliminary findings could pave the way for herbal treatments for acne – welcome news for people with the condition who experience side effects from current treatments.
Lead researcher Dr Margarita Gomez Escalada, a senior lecturer in microbiology and genetics, said: “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.
“The problem with treatments containing benzoyl peroxide is the side-effects they are associated with. A burning sensation and skin irritation are not uncommon.
“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 research was presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Dublin this week.