Thyme could be a more effective treatment for acne than prescription creams, according to scientists.
The fragrant herb has long since been known for its astringent properties and widely used in herbal remedies as a treatment for the skin condition.
But new research, presented at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin this week, suggests the natural treatment could have a greater effect than its chemical-based counterparts.
The research team at Leeds Metropolitan University tested the effect of thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures on Propionibacterium acnes - the bacterium that causes acne by infecting skin pores and forming spots, which range from white heads through to puss-filled cysts.
It was found that while all the preparations were able to kill the bacterium after five minutes exposure, thyme was the most effective of the three.
They also discovered that the thyme tincture had a greater antibacterial effect than standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide - the active ingredient in most anti-acne creams or washes.
Lead researcher Dr Margarita Gomez-Escalada said of the tinctures: "The plant material is steeped in alcohol for days or even weeks to prepare a tincture. This process draws out the active compounds from the plant.
"While thyme, marigold and myrrh are common herbal alternatives to standard antibacterial skin washes, this is the first study to demonstrate the effect they have on the bacterium that causes the infection leading to acne."
The effects of the tinctures were measured against an alcohol control to prove their antibacterial action was not simply due to the sterilising effect of the alcohol they are prepared in.
It is believed further clinical testing could lead to an effective, gentler treatment for the skin condition.
"We now need to carry out further tests in conditions that mimic more closely the skin environment and work out at the molecular level how these tinctures are working. If thyme tincture is proven to be as clinically effective as our findings suggest, it may be a natural alternative to current treatments," Dr Gomez-Escalada added.
A gentler, natural treatment would be particularly beneficial to acne sufferers with sensitive skin.
"The problem with treatments containing benzoyl peroxide is the side-effects they are associated with," said Dr Gomez-Escalada.
"A burning sensation and skin irritation are not uncommon. Herbal preparations are less harsh on the skin due to their anti-inflammatory properties while our results suggest they can be just as, if not more, effective than chemical treatments."
"Pomegranate contains many anti-oxidant and phytonutrient compounds such as Ellagic Acid, that help keep inflammation in check and support the skin during the many elements of the day, such as heating and cold air, as well as environmental toxins," explains Robyn Mason.
"Blueberries are one of the most powerful edible antioxidants thanks to its unique anthocyanains. These build up the skin's capillaries and protect them from breakages, which cause rashes and broken veins," says Dr Barbara Olioso.
"These cheerful, crunchy vegetables are sky-high in beta carotene, which strengthens the skin against sun damage," says Dr Barbara Olioso.
"Artichokes contain sillymarin and cynarin, whcih both help support the liver and gallbladder. This ensures skin doesn't turn dull and lifeless, as it gets rid of the toxins and waste from the body which also minimises puffiness," advises Robyn Mason
"These are Sicily's best kept secret... The prickly pear is a great tonic for the kidneys with its kidney detoxifying properties that help keep skin clear and glowing," says Dr Barbara Olioso.
"Bananas are rich in potassium, which helps the body cope with stress, a collagen killer. This fruit will help your skin avoid stress-related break-outs and premature ageing," says Dr Barbara Olioso.
"Broccoli contains a compound that helps boost DNA repair cells and is high in vitamin C, which is needed for collagen production, as well as folate, which is needed for healthy new cell production. Broccoli is also a great source of Sulforaphane, which helps heal the skin from UV rays," says Robyn Mason.
"Tomatoes, especially beneficial when cooked, are rich in Lycopene, which is a key anti-ageing property for the skin, so eat these whenever possible," advises Louise Thomas-Minns.
"Coconut contains triglycerides, which are healthy fats that plump up skin membranes and cells by keeping them hydrated. Without these fats, the skin becomes dehydrated no matter how much water you drink. Adequate essential fatty acids really do make the skin glow," says Robyn Mason.
"Garlic is rich in sulphur compounds and is known as the 'beauty mineral' due to its long established benefits for all kinds of skin concerns. Onions and garlic are also prebiotic foods which are good for the gut flora and supports liver detoxification - helping skin stay clear of toxin break-outs," says Robyn Mason.
"Snack on a kiwi fruit to bump up your vitamin C intake, as this is vital for boosting collagen production," says Louise Thomas-Minns.
"The fruit of passion is a rich source of vitamin C, a great collagen production booster. Combine these with carrots and you've got yourself a potent, but natural defence against the sun's UV rays," advises Dr Barbara Olioso.
"Kale is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a fantastic anti-ageing anti-oxidant. In addition, it also contains other carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxathin, which help protect the skin from UV rays. Kale also contains manganese, which is helps the Super-Oxide Dismutase, a hard-working enzyme that helps the skin fight against free radical damage," says Robyn Mason.
"The green 'butter rich' avocado is rich in nutrients and helps keep skin soothe and soft on the outside. However, these are best eaten fresh rather than in an oil form, as the oil is prone to oxidation," explains Dr. Dr Barbara Olioso.
"Pineapples not only taste great, but they contain a massive amount of vitamin A, C and the bromelain enzyme, which helps burn fat and aids digestion. For the skin, this means that it helps break down fatty tissues and is particularly beneficial for reducing cellulite," says Dr Barbara Olioso.