Scientists at the University of California in San Diego are trialling a new acne vaccine which could be available in the next two years but is already causing controversy among health professionals.
News of the planned vaccine has been welcomed by acne sufferers but specialists warn that vaccines – usually treatments reserved for life-threatening illness – may have unexpected side effects.
According to ABC Health and Wellbeing, up to 85 per cent of Australian’s will develop acne during their life, with approximately 5 per cent experiencing severe acne (also known as cystic acne).
Acne commonly affects people between the ages of 15-24, however nearly half of men and women continue to experience acne into their thirties.
It causes spots to develop on the skin, usually on the face, back and chest, and if left untreated it can last for many months or years.
This skin condition can be very distressing and embarrassing, especially during adolescence at a time when individuals are at their most vulnerable, having a negative effect on their self-esteem.
Monash University, arts degree student Megan Carter, started suffering acne at the age of 14, and says that “acne was a constant burden” making her feel “compelled to wear makeup”.
At the height of her acne in 2015, Ms Carter sought a dermatologist who prescribed her 20mg of Roaccutane daily along with Doxycycline, an antibiotic, and the contraceptive pill as an 8-month treatment plan to combat her severe acne.
Ms Carter suffered from the side effects of the treatment, “incredibly dry skin, lips and hair”, and says she would have been keen to try the vaccine instead – had it been available at the time.
“I think an acne vaccine could be beneficial to sufferers of cystic acne, however it could be a dangerous phenomenon in that people who suffer only mild acne or occasional skin irritation may seek this vaccine unnecessarily”, she said.
But Pain Management Specialist, Dr. Edward Workman, said:“Vaccines that target bacterial infections are difficult to make due to the fact that the offending bacteria in this case are always present, but can get out of control. Killing them all could pose problems in the bacterial eco-system of the skin.”
Despite his concern, Dr. Workman remained “hopeful” with this vaccine, as “early results look promising”.
RMIT University’s Dr. Liza Oates, the course co-ordinator for ‘Food as Medicine’, warned that the idea of a vaccine is “much harder to sell, when you are talking about creating a vaccine for something that is not a life threatening condition”.
She said: “Vaccines should be reserved for conditions where there is a genuine benefit to the community” and would like to see substantial “evidence that there were absolutely no risks and very strong benefits to warrant this approach.”
“I think when you are talking about something that is largely cosmetic it is much more difficult to justify the risk benefit ratio.”
The role of diet and lifestyle on those suffering from acne also remains a contentious issue.
Dr. Oates suggests that “there are certainly dietary issues that can affect inflammation and immunity, both of which must be considered in the treatment of acne.”
“The immune system, which is responsible for fighting the bacteria that is involved in acne, requires certain nutrients, so if someone doesn’t have a good diet, they might not have all the nutrients they need for the immune system to function effectively.”
She concludes that “as a general rule, the diet and lifestyle would still need to be addressed, so I doubt a vaccine on its own would really be the whole picture.”
Unaware of this developing acne vaccine, advertising student at RMIT University and a previous sufferer of acne, Siobhan Bird, used the combination prescribed medication like Carter, which produced “incredible” results, but she said she would have been “open to” the acne vaccine if it had been an option at the time.
Bird didn’t realise “how much it [acne] affected” her “self-esteem until afterwards.”
As Dr. Oates concludes “the jury is still out” on this vaccine.