Being a teenager isn’t easy. Besides coping with pressure from school, parents and extracurricular activities, studies say that up to 90 percent of adolescents also struggle with acne, an inflammatory skin condition that can be painful and negatively impact their mental health.
Though often attributed to the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty, acne can also persist into adulthood. Scientists have long suspected that besides hormones, dietary factors could also trigger the inflammation of the hair follicles and cause breakouts. “Acne has been linked to a high intake of foods rich in fatty acids, such as dairy products, cakes and chocolate, and a low intake of fruits and vegetables,” explained Satoshi Nakamizo, a former Principal Investigator at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN).
Nakamizo collaborated with A*STAR researchers Florent Ginhoux and Kenji Kabashima to examine more closely the relationship between fatty acid consumption and skin flare-ups like acne. The scientists studied mice on normal and high-fat diets, simulating acne through the topical application of a mild irritant. They then performed a series of tissue, protein and genetic analyses to track the influx of inflammatory immune cells into hair follicles.
The researchers found that mice on the high-fat diet were more prone to the clogging of pores with sebum, an oily substance produced naturally by the skin. This clogged follicle, also known as a comedone, appeared to be exacerbated by excess fatty acid consumption which then set off a chain of events that led to acne formation.
“Bacteria grow within the microcomedones, attracting inflammatory cells and resulting in inflammatory acne,” explained Nakamizo, adding that follicle infections were also observed in mice that were on a normal diet but had fatty acids and a mild chemical irritant applied to their skin.
The team plans to expand the scope of their study to include lipid samples from human donors to better understand how molecular imbalances on the skin contribute to acne. For now, Nakamizo advises that a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables could help maintain healthy skin.