Many of us have been plagued with acne from our teenage years well into adulthood. We've desperately tried every over-the-counter three-step kits, home remedies, and even prescription meds to become more like our clear skin counterparts. Now, researchers at King's College in London have found that acne has its benefits: sufferers are more likely to live longer than those with perfect skin.

“For many years dermatologists have identified that the skin of acne sufferers appears to age more slowly than in those who have not experienced any acne in their lifetime. Whilst this has been observed in clinical settings, the cause of this was previously unclear,” said Dr. Simone Ribero, a dermatologist from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's, in a statement.

In the study, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Ribero and his colleagues found signs of aging, such as wrinkles and thinning skin, often appear much later in acne sufferers because they have longer protective caps on the ends of their chromosomes in white blood cells — telomeres. These are repeated nucleotides at the end of chromosomes, responsible for protecting chromosomes from deteriorating during the process of replication. Typically, telomeres break down and shrink as cells age, leading to cell death — a normal part of human growth and aging.

Previous research has found white blood cell telomere length is a biomarker for aging. Geneticist Richard Cawthon and colleagues at the University of Utah found shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease, and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

To understand the relationship between acne and aging, Ribero and his research team measured the length of white blood cell telomeres in over 1,200 twins. Twins were recruited because it's easier to identify which factors are linked to environment, and which are linked to a shared genetic profile. The length of telomeres was taken from the white blood cells of ance sufferers to compare to women who said they never had the skin condition. A quarter of the twins said they had acne at some point in their lives.

Woman looking in mirror Acne sufferers may outlive their counterparts with clear skin due to slower cell aging. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, Public Domain

Separately from the telomere study, researchers age-matched 195 twins without acne to 39 twins with acne. They then took skin biopsies and used their whole genome data to compare gene expression. In other words, they analyzed whether a gene is "switched on" or not between the groups.

The findings revealed telomere length was significantly longer in acne sufferers, meaning white blood cells were more protected from the usual deterioration that comes with age. While telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process, it is not yet known whether shorter telomeres are just a sign of aging like gray hair, —or if they actually contribute to aging.

It’s been previously suggested the acne anti-aging effect is due to oil production. As we age, our natural oil production decreases, creating dry skin that becomes resilient to the constant stretching of our muscles, which results in wrinkles. Those with acne tend to have higher oil production, which has a protective effect against premature aging.

Regarding gene expression, the researchers found one gene pathway (the p53 pathway) — regulates programmed cell death — was less expressed in the skin of acne sufferers. Reduced expression of the gene in those with acne suggests these people may produce more of a particular protein linked to that gene. By looking at skin biopsies, researchers were able to begin to understand the gene expressions related to this.

Acne sufferers can now brag about the size of their long telomeres; after all, it's keeping them forever young.

Source: Ribero S et al. Acne and telomere length. A new spectrum between senescence and apoptosis pathways. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2016.