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."