It happens to the best of us. One day you’re living your best life and the next you wake up with a breakout of pimples. Irrespective of your self-confidence, zits can be a bit of a mood dampener. But sometimes acne is more than just an aesthetic issue – it can be the sign of a serious hormonal disorder.
How are acne and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) related?
Quite closely, in fact. While most acne is caused by excessive oil production, clogged pores and bacteria, it can also be caused due to an imbalance in hormones. In PCOS, the high levels of testosterone and androgens cause sebaceous glands (the skin’s oil-producing glands) to go into overdrive secreting sebum, leading to acne. The increased sebum production gives more feeding ground for the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, which is the culprit causing acne. In severe cases, inflammatory or cystic acne can develop.
Acne is just one of the signs of PCOS.
What does PCOS-related acne look like?
This kind of acne can be painful, deep, cystic and usually presents itself on the lower side of the face – i.e. the jawline, chin and neck.
Treating it the right way
While temporary fixes with concealer and topical creams are handy, you need to first get to the root of the problem – the hormonal imbalance. Alongside your acne medication, you must consider making lifestyle and dietary changes to manage your PCOS.
Nourish your body with anti-inflammatory and high-protein foods and proper hydration. Make it a point to include leafy greens, fruits, fatty fish, and complex carbohydrates. Limiting your dairy and sugar intake will also help in reducing the acne. If needed, consider taking Vitamin B12 and D supplements.
Exercise, sleep and stress management
Regular exercise, adequate sleep and stress management go a long way in regulating your hormones and improving your skin health.
Topical creams that contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, azelaic acid and even sulphur have been proven effective in treating acne. Topical medications containing retinoids are often prescribed by dermatologists and can work wonders when followed properly.
For quicker results, you can request your dermatologist for a spot treatment or chemical peel. These contain high concentrations of exfoliating acids and are administered by trained professionals. It’s important to note that different skin types will react differently to such treatments.
Oral contraceptives and anti-androgen drugs
Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills that contain a combination of oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen counteracts the increased sebum production, therefore reducing acne symptoms. Oral contraceptives are not a one-size-fits-all solution and take some trial and error before finding one that works for you. Anti-androgen drugs are also a commonly prescribed treatment for PCOS-related symptoms.
As with any medications, there are always risks, therefore talk to a doctor to determine if these treatments are right for you.
The worst thing you can do is to touch or pop this kind of acne as it will only aggravate it further! Stay away from greasy cosmetics, and make sure you're using a gentle face cleanser daily.
Instead of self-medicating, we recommend consulting an expert who will prescribe a custom treatment factoring in your age, skin type and medical history. To know more about how you should treat your acne, book an appointment with Veera Health’s experienced dermatologists.
Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician or trained professional.
Toosy, S., Sodi, R., & Pappachan, J. M. (2018). Lean polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): an evidence-based practical approach. Journal of diabetes and metabolic disorders, 17(2), 277–285. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40200-018-0371-5
Çerman, A. A., Aktaş, E., Altunay, İ. K., Arıcı, J. E., Tulunay, A., & Ozturk, F. Y. (2016). Dietary glycemic factors, insulin resistance, and adiponectin levels in acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 75(1), 155–162. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2016.02.1220
Franik, G., Bizoń, A., Włoch, S., Kowalczyk, K., Biernacka-Bartnik, A., & Madej, P. (2018). Hormonal and metabolic aspects of acne vulgaris in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. European review for medical and pharmacological sciences, 22(14), 4411–4418. https://doi.org/10.26355/eurrev_201807_15491