Fighting Acne with Coconut Milk and Gold

May 4, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Skincare


Acne can be a curse, whatever your age, and many a menopausal woman has found herself suddenly the victim of this everyday teenage problem. Research comes in many guises, but I don’t usually associate engineering students with devising health solutions, so full marks to Dissaya “Nu” Pornpattananangkul who has devised an effective delivery system for a natural solution to acne.

She is a bioengineering graduate student from the University of California at San Diego in the Jacobs School of Engineering. There is a natural product found in both coconut oil and human breast milk — lauric acid – that looks set to be a possible new acne treatment thanks to Pornpattananangkul’s work. She has developed a “smart delivery system that is capable of delivering lauric-acid-filled nano-scale bombs directly to the skin-dwelling bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) that cause common acne.

Many common current treatments for acne have undesirable side effects including redness and burning. Lauric-acid-based treatments could avoid these side effects and the new smart delivery system includes gold nanoparticles attached to surfaces of lauric-acid-filled nano-bombs. The gold nanoparticles keep the nano-bombs (liposomes) from fusing together and also help the liposomes locate acne-causing bacteria based on the skin. Rather like a heat seeking missile, it would seem, and once the nano-bombs reach the bacterial membranes, the acidic microenvironment of the skin causes the gold nanoparticles to drop off. This frees the liposomes carrying lauric acid payloads to fuse with bacterial membranes and kill the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria.

Why they need this ‘Dr Strangelove’ language of bombs and payloads I am not quite sure, but if nuking the acne is what is needed then this sounds like a promising solution and minimises any side effects. Pornpattananangkul, who is originally from Thailand, said that it’s just a coincidence that her research involves a natural product produced by coconuts – a staple of Thai cuisine – but no doubt it will be a welcome boost to that economy.

The good news for acne sufferers is that all building blocks of the nano-bombs are either natural products or have been approved for clinical use, which means they are likely to be tested on humans in the near future and then rolled out to the rest of us. Think of the kudos in telling your friends that your acne responded to being treated with gold!