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SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — The market for acne treatments is simultaneously oversaturated and sorely lacking. There are the mainstays, of course — the Proactivs and Clean & Clears of the skin care world. There are the new kids on the block, the Glossier zit sticks and K-beauty toners and manuka honey face masks. And there are the solutions that require a trip to the dermatologist, like generic Accutane and antibiotics.

But there could one day be a new option in the acne treatment arsenal: microscopic bacteria and viruses.


As scientists uncover more details about the skin microbiome, small startups and beauty giants alike are exploring how the trillions of microorganisms on and in our bodies could be used to treat a range of skin conditions, either by battling the bad bugs or bolstering the good ones. But as businesses launch new efforts to investigate that idea, they face an existential question: Are they a beauty company, a biotech company, or somewhere in between?

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