Healing from the Pantry: Thyme Out for Acne
Acne vulgaris (the medical term for acne, or pimples) results when the skin becomes infected by bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes. New research suggests that nature’s medicine chest may hold the key to a new treatment that is more effective than current treatments, with fewer side effects. Infection with P. acnes causes a localized inflammatory reaction, yielding the classic angry red pustules associated with acne.
Over-the-counter acne remedies often contain the active ingredient, benzoyl peroxide; a harsh chemical that can dry out skin and stain clothes. Prescription treatments include topical antibiotics and vitamin A-derived compounds, called retinoids. Retinoids can evoke even worse skin irritation, while antibiotics often promote the growth of resistant strains of bacteria, making it even harder to treat outbreaks in the long term.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L) is another aromatic medicinal plant that grows like a weed in dry sun-washed areas of the Mediterranean basin. It’s a favorite herb in the spice cabinets of most American cooks, valued for its ability to enhance the savory quality of many meat and vegetable dishes. It’s also one of the fundamental ingredients in classic seasoning blends, like Herbes de Provence and bouquet garni. It’s hard to imagine roasting a chicken, or whipping up a ratatouille worth its name, without the addition of this classic herb.
Like oregano and rosemary, thyme is an aromatic herb brimming with essential oils, many of which have beneficial properties. For instance, two compounds, thymol and carvacrol, have been shown to prevent inflammation of the skin when applied externally. According to the British news organization, The Telegraph, scientists reported last week at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin, Ireland, that thyme extract (a tincture was prepared by soaking thyme in alcohol) is better at killing P. acnes than standard anti-acne treatments.
Oh TH, Kim SS, Yoon WJ, Kim JY, Yang EJ, Lee NH, Hyun CG. Chemical composition and biological activities of Jeju Thymus quinquecostatus essential oils against Propionibacterium species inducing acne. J Gen Appl Microbiol. 2009 Feb;55(1):63-8.