An egg white’s primary function is to protect the egg yolk and to provide additional nutrition for the growth of the embryo. Egg white is 88% water and 11% protein. The remaining 1% is made up of carbohydrates and fatty acids.1
Egg white masks are an increasingly popular at-home treatment for acne. However, scientists have, to date, performed no clinical studies examining the effect of topical egg whites on acne. However, there are several medicinal properties of egg whites that may be relevant to the treatment of acne.
Specifically, egg whites exhibit two properties that may help reduce acne...
- Antibacterial : Egg whites demonstrate an antibacterial effect against some bacteria in the same class as P. acnes, a bacteria strain known to worsen acne.
- Wound healing: Preliminary evidence suggests that egg whites may speed wound healing, a relevant finding for acne since acne lesions are essentially small wounds.
Pro- and anti-inflammatory: Acne is an inflammatory disease. When it comes to inflammation, egg whites may be both pro-inflammatory (increase inflammation) and anti-inflammatory (reduce inflammation).
Let's have a closer look at how the antibacterial, wound healing, and pro- or anti-inflammatory properties of egg whites might affect acne.
Antibacterial Properties of Egg Whites
Bacteria, particularly a strain of bacteria called P. acnes, may aggravate acne, and therefore the antibacterial activity of egg whites might be helpful in the treatment of acne. Scientists have shown that egg whites are able to prevent the growth of some strains of bacteria, and from this data we can hypothesize that egg whites may also help prevent the growth of P. acnes, although we can’t know for certain until a study is performed specifically on P. acnes.2,3
There are three main components of egg whites that make them antibacterial--something that is important to the protection of the growing bird inside the egg. Egg whites have:
- A high pH, which limits bacterial growth
- Lysozyme, an enzyme that weakens bacteria through compromising the bacteria's cell walls
Ovotransferrin, a substance that deprives bacteria of the iron they need to survive
Let's have a closer look at how each of these properties helps reduce bacteria:
The pH of egg white, which is high, creates an unfavorable environment for bacterial growth.
This is demonstrated in results from a 1952 in vitro study published in the Journal of Bacteriology which showed that the antibacterial effect of egg white increased each time the scientists increased the pH of the egg white medium in which they were growing bacteria.3,4
Lysozyme is another way that egg white is antibacterial. Lysozyme is an enzyme in egg white that attacks a specific protein called peptidoglycan that is present in the bacterial cell walls, causing the cell wall to weaken. The body’s defense systems can then break into the bacteria's weakened cell walls and kill the bacteria. Additionally, once the bacterial cell wall is weakened, it will fail to regulate the flow of water and minerals into the cell, resulting in too much water and too many minerals accumulating inside the cell—eventually causing the cell to burst.
P. acnes bacteria is scientifically referred to as a "gram-positive" bacteria. Data shows that lysozymes are effective in limiting the growth of some strains of gram-positive bacteria, although there are also resistant gram-positive strains.3Therefore, it is possible that the lysozymes in egg whites may be effective against P. acnes since it is gram-positive, but it is also possible that P. acnes may be resistant to lysozymes. More research is necessary to say for sure.
Ovotransferrin is another antibacterial substance present in egg white. Ovotransferrin binds to iron, essentially depriving bacteria of the iron they need to grow. Recent research also suggests that ovotransferrin can bind to the bacterial cell wall, causing the cell to leak ions such as sodium and potassium, and ultimately killing the cell. Some species of bacteria are sensitive to ovotransferrin and some are resistant.2,3Therefore, while it is possible that ovotransferrin may inhibit the growth of P. acnes, more research is needed to know for sure.
Although egg white exhibits antibacterial properties, it is important to remember that bacteria can still grow under some circumstances. Specifically, eggs that are stored at room temperature may be at risk for bacterial growth.3If applying eggs to the skin, it may be best to avoid eggs that have been stored at room temperature.
Wound Healing Properties of Egg White
Current research on egg whites and wound healing is limited. In one in vitro study, researchers evaluated the effect of an egg white protein called ovomacroglobulin on the body’s production of fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are cells important in wound healing. The study examined both mice and human skin cells. The results, reported in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in 2016 suggested that raw egg white could increase the production of fibroblasts. These preliminary results indicate that egg whites may help wounds—including acne wounds—heal faster, but more research is needed.7
Pro- and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Egg White
Scientists believe that acne is an inflammatory disease. Although researchers have not studied topical egg white masks in the treatment of acne, they have studied the ways in which egg whites affect inflammation when people eat eggs. Data from these studies can help us hypothesize about whether the topical use of egg white is likely to help with the inflammation inherent in acne.
Eggs whites contain several compounds that possess both pro- and anti-inflammatory properties. These proteins include ovalbumin, ovotransferrin, ovomucin, and lysozyme, and avidin. In other words, some proteins in egg white can increase inflammation and some can reduce it.6
Research has looked at levels of inflammatory substances in the blood stream before and after people eat eggs and has found that body weight and overall health are both important factors in determining whether egg consumption causes inflammation or reduces inflammation. Among healthy individuals, eating eggs increases inflammation in the body. In contrast, when overweight and diabetic people eat eggs, inflammation levels either drop or remain steady.6
So, dietary consumption of eggs may either increase or reduce inflammation depending upon a person’s overall health. However, there is currently no information on the topical application of egg whites, making it difficult to hypothesize about how topical application of egg whites might affect skin inflammation associated with acne.
Of course, some people are allergic to eggs and, for these individuals, egg consumption increases inflammation in the body. If you experience an allergic reaction when you eat eggs, it is best not to apply them topically.5
The Bottom Line
Nature evolved egg whites to protect the growing embryo from bacterial invaders and to keep it healthy. It makes sense that the antibacterial and wound healing properties of egg whites might therefore help with acne to some degree. However, this is merely a hypothesis at this point since there is no direct evidence on topical egg whites and acne.