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Can traditional remedies beat modern medicine when it comes to getting rid of acne?

A laboratory study suggests herbal preparations of thyme may do a better job of killing acne-causing bacteria than benzoyl peroxide – the active ingredient in many anti-pimple creams and washes.

Researcher at Leeds Metropolitan University in Britain tested three different herbal remedies – thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures– on Propionibacterium acnes, the bacterium that leads to acne by infecting skin pores. All of the preparations reduced bacterial levels after five minutes, "but we found thyme was the best by far," senior researcher Margarita Gomez-Escalada said.

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When thyme was then compared with benzoyl peroxide, "it was 100 times better," said Dr. Gomez-Escalada, who presented the findings in Dublin at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology.

Herbal tinctures are produced by steeping plant materials in ethanol, a type of alcohol, for several days or weeks to draw out key compounds.

In the case of thyme tinctures, the active ingredients include thymol and carvacrol – which are believed to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. (Thyme tinctures also worked better than pure ethanol, suggesting the anti-bacterial action is not due to just the sterilizing effect of alcohol.)

The researchers are hoping to do further studies by comparing the treatments on volunteers. Dr. Gomez-Escalada said it would be good to have an alternative to benzoyl peroxide, which at high doses can cause burning sensations and skin irritation. "Herbal preparations are less harsh on the skin," she said.

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