Today, as 40 years ago, we still rely on a limited number of antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide to treat inflammatory acne. An alternative way of suppressing the growth of Propionibacterium acnes is to target the environment in which it thrives. We conjecture that P. acnes colonises a relatively "extreme" habitat especially in relation to the availability of water and possibly related factors such as ionic strength and osmolarity. We hypothesise that the limiting "nutrient" within pilosebaceous follicles is water since native sebum as secreted by the sebaceous gland contains none. An aqueous component must be available within colonised follicles, and water may be a major factor determining which follicles can sustain microbial populations. One way of preventing microbial growth is to reduce the water activity (a w ) of this component with a biocompatible solute of very high water solubility. For the method to work effectively, the solute must be small, easily diffusible, and minimally soluble in sebaceous lipids. Xylose and sucrose, which fulfil these criteria, are nonfermentable by P. acnes and have been used to reduce water activity and hence bacterial colonisation of wounds. A new follicularly targeted topical treatment for acne based on this approach should be well tolerated and highly effective.