Acne vulgaris, more commonly known as simply acne affects millions of people worldwide. Most people will develop acne in their lifetime, but a relatively small percentage does not react to conventional treatment. To combat this debilitating, in regards to quality of life condition, billions of dollars are spent every year. There are topical treatments, pills, laser treatments and a number of other methods. But not all sufferers find relief using the aforementioned.

Now, researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara and the medical device company, Sebacia, have developed a new approach to treating an age old problem affecting many people, acne. This method involves using advanced nanotechnology, ultrasound and lasers. 

Acne is caused by accumulation of sebum, an oily, waxy substance that builds up in pores, causing inflammation and infection, redness, and excessive pimples. It usually occurs in adolescents as a result of increased hormone production, but disappears after puberty. But, in some people, acne becomes a chronic problem that affects their lives in many ways. The psychological problems associated with acne include anxiety, depression, low self­esteem and even suicidal thoughts.

This novel method uses gold­coated silica nanoparticles that are delivered to the sebaceous glands and are pushed through with a special ultrasound transducer. These infiltrators are then blasted with a near­infrared cosmetic laser that heat up the nanoparticles which cause the glands to stop producing sebum. This prevents the buildup of the sebum plug and stops acne from forming.

“The unique thing about these particles is that when you shine a laser on them, they efficiently convert light into heat via a process called surface plasmon resonance,” said Samir Mitragotri, a professor of chemical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. This also marks the first time ultrasound, which has been proved for years to deliver drugs through the skin, has been used to deliver the particles into humans.

This technique has demonstrated good results as seen in two clinical trials held in Europe and Sebacia have boasted a significant 60% reduction in lesions, with mild associated side effects from the procedure. Although this is the first application of ultrasound delivered nanoparticles used in humans, researchers still do not know the long term effects of this process. As the number of people afflicted with acne is tremendously high, the prospect of such a method is promising.