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Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC
President & Chief Clinical Officer

PCOS and Acne: Causes, Treatment and More

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition common in females of reproductive age. PCOS can cause enlarged ovaries, small cysts around the edges of the ovaries, and an imbalanced release of hormones that may result in acne, weight gain, mood swings, diabetes, and infertility.

In this article, we explain the connection between PCOS and acne, what to know, and how to treat it.   

What Causes PCOS?

The female body relies on messages from the pituitary gland to produce the perfect amount of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. However, PCOS distorts these signals from the pituitary gland, resulting in the production of increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone. 

This imbalance of hormone production prevents ovulation from taking place, causing the ovaries to become enlarged and cysts to form around their edges. Additional symptoms triggered by the imbalanced production of hormones include irregular periods, infertility, hair growth on the face, back, or chest, diabetes, as well as weight gain, and acne.    

How Does PCOS Cause Acne? 

PCOS causes the ovaries to overproduce androgens, the most common of which is known as the male sex hormone testosterone, and usually only found in small amounts in women. While this overproduction of androgens mainly affects female fertility and ovulation, it is also known to trigger several hormone-related side effects, like acne. 

Androgens are naturally produced by the human body to kickstart puberty and are then used to regulate physical growth and reproductive health as humans develop and age. 

In response to the overproduction of androgens caused by PCOS, the skin produces a surplus amount of an oily substance called sebum. When sebum and dead skin cells build up inside skin pores or hair follicles, bacteria is trapped underneath the skin and results in acne or pimples. 

As well as facial acne, up to 34% of women with PCOS have reported developing acne on the neck, chest, and upper back. For some, the appearance of acne can lead to less confidence or embarrassment, however, effective treatment options are available.  

Treatment Options for PCOS-related Acne

There are several options for treating PCOS-related acne including proper skincare, over-the-counter medications, hormone balancing contraceptive pills, and natural supplements. Not all work in the same way for every woman, so it’s best to consult with a doctor or dermatologist for the best treatment option for you. 

Proper Skincare 

The first line of defense against any form of acne is to care for your skin. And contrary to belief, skin experts never advise squeezing or popping pimples. 

To minimize acne breakouts, dermatologists recommend washing the face at least twice per day with a gentle cleanser. According to the experts, applying a cleanser with gentle strokes of the fingertips is considered better than scrubbing the skin with a sponge, cotton pads, or cloths.

Afterward, use warm water to thoroughly rinse the cleanser off and pat the face dry with a gentle face towel. And if you use makeup, try to use non-comedogenic makeup only.

Lifestyle & Dietary Changes

As well as updating your skincare routine, have a look at your lifestyle and dietary choices. Research has shown that healthy food choices can have a substantial impact on skin conditions. In addition, studies have shown that a mere 5% loss of body weight through improved diet and exercise can reduce testosterone levels as well as insulin resistance associated with PCOS.  

Over-the-counter Acne Medications for PCOS-induced Acne

Even though over-the-counter (OTC) acne medications can work for some to reduce breakouts, they don’t treat the underlying condition that results in hormonal acne. Should you believe that your acne is induced by PCOS, it is better to speak with your doctor about prescribing medication that can treat hormonal acne or the natural remedy mentioned below. 

Oral Contraceptives

Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs), also known as birth control pills, are known to relieve PCOS symptoms such as hormonal acne. However, only combination birth control pills containing both estrogen and progestin are effective in stabilizing the hormones for the entire menstrual cycle.

It is also important to note that while birth control pills may reduce acne and result in zero side effects for some, they can cause high blood pressure, bloating, weight gain, headaches, and sometimes nausea for others. 

That said, according to studies, women with PCOS have reportedup to a 60% reduction in inflammatory acne within 3–6 months of OCP treatment. 

Inositol Supplements

Inositol is a type of sugar naturally made in the body to balance moods, fertility, cholesterol, blood sugar, and metabolism. Inositols also play a part in how the body responds to insulin.

The interesting part is that women suffering from PCOS continue to produce insulin, however, due to the disrupted messages received from the pituitary gland, the body is unable to effectively use it.

During the last two decades, researchers found that a combination of Myo and D Chiro Inositol in supplement form can significantly help to influence the use of insulin in women suffering from PCOS, as well as regulate brain hormones such as serotonin and dopamine.

Regulating these hormones, and correcting the use of insulin in the body, results in several benefits for PCOS patients, including rebalancing testosterone levels, clearing acne, promoting ovarian health and fertility, as well as preventing diabetes.    

The added ashwagandha and vitamin D in the Myo and D Chiro Inositol Supplement from Intimate Rose also work to reduce additional symptoms of PCOS like stress and mood swings, making it the most powerful inositol supplement on the market. 

Last Word on Treatment Options

Whichever option you choose, make sure that a proper skincare routine is part of your treatment plan. It makes it a lot more difficult for bacteria to become trapped in pores or hair follicles when the skin is cleaned properly twice per day. 

Conclusion

Due to the overproduction of androgens, which in turn promotes the secretion of an oily substance called sebum in the skin, acne is a recognized symptom of PCOS. Also known as hormonal acne, it can develop on the face, neck, chest, or upper back.  

With several treatment options now available, ranging from over-the-counter medication to natural remedies, hormonal acne doesn’t have to affect your confidence. Speak with your health practitioner if you suspect you have PCOS or hormonal acne to find the best treatment option for you. 

References

American Academy of Dermatology Association – Adult Acne - https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/really-acne/adult-acne

Harvard Health – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and The Skin - https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-and-the-skin-

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Update on Management of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome for Dermatologists - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6434760/

Web MD – When It’s More Than Acne - https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/more-than

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Effects of Inositol(s) in Women with PCOS: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5097808/