Whether you call it acne, pimples, or zits, the skin secretion known as sebum has a role to play. This oily secretion has been understood for some time to be behind many a case of pimple-speckled skin, but the exact knowledge of “why” has been limited. A group of researchers has recently released findings on what exactly is in sebum lipids that might influence the prevalence and severity of acne.
The fat molecules in sebum are extremely complex, diverse, and unique. Some aren’t found in the body’s other oils and others don’t even appear in other species. This complexity has stymied efforts to understand the way sebum can influence skin disorders, not just acne.
For the study in question, the researchers recruited 61 teenagers and divided them by whether they had or did not have acne as well as by severity of acne types. Sebum samples were then taken and analyzed. Since there was a high risk of embarking on a fishing expedition (rarely a good thing in science), the researchers limited themselves to only looking at “neutral lipids” in sebum.
When compared to the non-acne group, the sebum from the acne groups showed higher concentrations of diacylglycerols, followed by fatty acyls, sterols, and prenol lipids. Of these compounds, the diacylglycerols showed the strongest correlation to acne severity.
What This Means
The finding of these sebum compounds is a contribution to efforts to understand what in the oily secretions influences acne. It is important to keep in mind that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. All of these fat molecules may indeed be responsible for pimples, or they could be implications of something else.
Or they could be coincidence—this is just a single piece of research after all and needs verification. These are all standard caveats and are not meant to take away from the efforts of the researchers. Looking for biomarkers that indicate how prone to acne or how severe one’s acne can be is a novel idea and one that will hopefully be supported by others so that the research can continue.
Camera, E., et al., “Use of lipidomics to investigate sebum dysfunction in juvenile acne,” Journal of Lipid Research, 2016; 10.1194/jlr.M067942.