As a chronic inflammatory skin disease well known for its poor cosmesis including scarring, residual macular erythema, and postinflammatory pigment alteration, acne vulgaris may, according to recent research, confer some antiaging benefits to affected patients. In a research letter published online on September 27 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology , Ribero et al analyzed white blood cells and found that women who said they had acne had longer telomeres (the "caps" at the end of chromosomes that protect them from deteriorating following repeated cell replication). Telomere length, or rather shortening, has been correlated with age-related degenerative change, according to Saum et al ( Exp Gerontol . 2014;58:250-255), and therefore the thinking is that in women with acne, something is going on that maintains the length of the cellular guardians. Let's clarify a couple things to help us all understand the why and what.
The impetus of this study, according to Ribero et al, was the observation that women with acne show signs of aging later than those who have never had acne. I personally have not witnessed this finding in my patients, and given that acne in its essence is a disease of chronic inflammation resulting from, for example, persistent activation of toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) and NOD-like receptor family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) pattern recognition receptors, one would think the skin damage accrued would make these individuals look older, right? Last I checked, pitted scarring does not make one immediately think of the fountain of youth.
The results from the study show that there is a link between acne and longer telomeres, but the study did not show that telomere length is a cause of acne, that women with longer telomeres had fewer signs of skin aging, or that women with acne lived longer.
Given these points, Ribero et al concluded that "delayed skin aging may be due to reduced senescence," which means that skin aging may be delayed because the longer telomeres in the cells protect them from deterioration. They did find that the expression of one gene in particular was reduced in women with acne--the regulatory gene zinc finger protein 420, ZNF420--suggesting that those without acne may produce more of a particular protein linked to that gene, though the significance is unclear.
What's the issue?
This study is interesting, but it is important not to make any broad conclusions, such as those who get acne will live longer or look younger longer regardless of other factors such as acne treatment, comorbidities, or even environmental factors. This study may give more support for the genetic contribution of acne, but much more work is needed to determine the clinical relevance. For starters, what about men?
Would you assure your acne patients that their disease may be for their own cosmetic good?