Is Acne Contagious?

Since a type of bacterial infection causes zits, it makes sense to wonder if acne might be contagious. Let's explore the question

The classic symptom of acne, the pus-filled zit, makes it clear that breakouts are a type of infection. After all, pus consists mostly of dead white blood cells that sacrificed themselves to protect the body from attackers. And we usually pick up infectious organisms from the outside environment.

So it seems logical to wonder whether acne might have some contagious component. The answer is... maybe, but probably not.

The Company Line

Dermatologists have had a pretty good handle on the mechanism of acne for decades. All indications are that while inflammatory forms of acne are caused by infection, they're self-inflicted.

You see, there's this sneaky bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) that lives in your hair follicles. When something blocks a follicle pore's opening so that oxygen can't get through to P. acnes, it understandably gets upset over not being able to breathe and, well, acts up.

Contagious, or Not?

Because P. acnes bacteria tend to stay below the skin, and become sealed off during outbreaks, the standard explanation is that they can't pass from one person to another. But they can pass from one part of you to another, if the bacteria colonize the nose (yuck) and you accidently transfer them elsewhere.

But even though you can infect yourself, doctors do not consider standard acne to be a contagious disease.

Rethinking the Paradigm

Alas, certainty rarely survives for long in the real world. According to recent research, some P. acnes strains can in fact pass from person to person...and possibly this happens in dermatology clinics, which if true is Not Good News.

But before you freak out, remember that this research is still tentative at this point; and even if acne does prove to be a communicable disease under some circumstances, apparently only those genetically predisposed to acne are susceptible.

So What's It Gonna Be, Alfie?

Let's just say that right now, it's most likely that common acne is NOT a contagious disease. That said, there are some indications that it can be transmitted between individuals under certain circumstances.

However, the research suggesting this is still hotly contested and far from proven. Therefore, while a few dermatologists are taking a "wait and see" approach, most still dismiss the possibility of acne contagion.

Here's the common sense answer: if acne were clearly communicable, we'd know it for sure by now. Acne is something that most people get because we just happen to harbor the same annoying breed of bacteria in our follicles, and sometimes it flares up and attacks us.

So no worries about catching P. acnes from kissing or casual contact. The bad news being, of course, that no acne vaccine is likely to be forthcoming anytime soon.

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