In a recently published paper in the Journal of Lipid Research, Emanuela Camera and her colleagues at the San Gallicano Dermatologic Institute in Italy analyzed the lipids in sebum and shed light on how sebum composition might correlate with the severity of acne in adolescence. “One of the many insults of adolescence is pimple-speckled skin. Sebum, an oily skin secretion, plays a major role in causing zits. But "the knowledge of what exactly in sebum is responsible for the occurrence of acne is rather limited," says Camera. The lipids in human sebum are so unique that some are not even found in other oily substances in the body, or in other species. The complexity of sebum lipids makes them difficult to fully analyze. Researchers are unsure of what they are and how they contribute to acne and other skin disorders.
Aiming to better understand these lipids, 61 teenagers were recruited with the help of dermatologists. Camera and colleagues grouped adolescents by those who had acne and did not, and into a smaller subsection into mild, moderate, and severe acne groups. All teenagers were asked to stick a special tape onto their foreheads to absorb sebum. They then took the tape and analyzed them by mass spectrometry to see what lipids collected on them, focusing on the neutral lipids in sebum. Their data suggests that diacylglycerols were the predominant species among the lipids in acne sebum, alongside datty acyls, sterols, and prenols. The more acute cases of acne had higher levels of diaclyglyerols. It is important to understand what causes the skin disorders because severe forms of acne can be disfiguring. Acne is diverse and therefore can look different from person to person, manifesting itself as white and black heads, papules, pustules, and combinations. Because of varied appearance of acne, Camera recommends "a personalized approach. Thus, biomarkers of acne and acne severity can be instrumental in the definition of acne pathogenic mechanisms and indicate novel drug targets."—Amy MacArthur