Illustration: Maja Moden
It has long been suggested that an occasional glass of vin rouge can be good for our health, but now scientists are learning that an antioxidant derived from grapes and found in wine also can help to clear up one’s complexion. The compound in question, resveratrol, works to inhibit growth of the bacteria that cause acne, UCLA researchers have found.
The team also found that combining resveratrol with a common acne medication, benzoyl peroxide, may enhance the drug’s ability to kill the bacteria and could translate into new treatments. Resveratrol is the same substance that has prompted some doctors to recommend that adults drink red wine for its heart-health properties. The antioxidant stops the formation of free radicals, which cause cell and tissue damage. Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, is an oxidant that works by creating free radicals that kill the acne bacteria.
“We initially thought that since the actions of the two compounds are opposing, the combination should cancel each other out, but it didn’t,” says Emma J.M. Taylor, MD (RES ’10, FEL ’12), assistant clinical professor of medicine in the Division of Dermatology. “This study demonstrates that combining an oxidant and an antioxidant may enhance each other and help sustain bacteria-fighting activity over a longer period of time.”
The team grew colonies of the bacteria that cause acne and then added various concentrations of resveratrol and benzoyl peroxide, both alone and together. They found that benzoyl peroxide was able to initially kill the bacteria at all concentration levels, but the effect was short-lived and didn’t last beyond the first 24 hours. Resveratrol didn’t have a strong killing capability, but it inhibited bacterial growth for a longer period of time. Surprisingly, the two compounds together proved the most effective in reducing bacteria counts.
Scientists have long understood how benzoyl peroxide works to treat acne, but less has been known about what makes resveratrol effective. Using a high-powered microscope, the researchers observed that bacteria cells lost some of the structure and definition of their outer membranes, indicating that resveratrol may alter and possibly weaken the structure of the bacteria. The researchers also cultured human skin and blood cells with the two compounds to test their toxicity. They found that benzoyl peroxide was much more toxic than resveratrol, which could help explain what causes skin to become red and irritated when it’s used as a topical treatment in high dose or concentration.
“Resveratrol Demonstrates Antimicrobial Effects against Propionibacterium acnes In Vitro,” Dermatology and Therapy, September 2014