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PCOS & Acne

Published : October 8, 2021 5 mins read Updated On : Jun 25, 2024

Did you know that over 30% of PCOS women suffer from acne? Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. It is characterized by a range of symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, excess androgen levels, and polycystic ovaries. Among the various symptoms, acne is a significant and distressing one. This blog explores the relationship between PCOS and acne, delving into the underlying mechanisms, and discussing effective treatments.

Does PCOS Cause Acne?

Yes, PCOS can cause acne. The condition is often associated with hormonal imbalances that lead to the overproduction of androgens, or male hormones. Androgens, such as testosterone, can stimulate the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin, leading to increased oil production. This excess oil can clog pores, resulting in inflammation and acne. Research has shown that up to 30% of women with PCOS experience moderate to severe acne (1).

The Connection Between PCOS and Acne


To understand the link between PCOS and acne, it's essential to explore the hormonal disruptions that characterize PCOS:

1. Excess Androgens: Women with PCOS typically have elevated levels of androgens. These hormones can lead to increased sebum production, contributing to the formation of acne. Androgens also influence the skin's follicular unit, leading to enlarged pores and the development of acne.

2. Insulin Resistance: Many women with PCOS exhibit insulin resistance, which can exacerbate acne. Insulin resistance causes the body to produce more insulin, which in turn increases androgen levels. Higher androgen levels can stimulate oil production and contribute to acne formation.

I3. Inflammation: PCOS is often associated with low-grade inflammation, which can worsen acne. Inflammatory markers are elevated in many women with PCOS, leading to skin conditions such as acne.

4. Genetic Factors: Genetics play a role in both PCOS and acne. Family history can influence the severity of symptoms, including acne.

Treatment for Acne Caused by PCOS


Managing acne in the context of PCOS involves addressing the underlying hormonal imbalances and incorporating skincare practices. Here are several effective treatments (2):

Medical Treatments

Hormonal Contraceptives: Birth control pills containing estrogen and progestin can help regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels, thereby controlling acne. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that combined oral contraceptives effectively reduce acne lesions in women with PCOS.

Anti-Androgen Medications: Spironolactone is an anti-androgen medication that can reduce acne by blocking androgen receptors. It decreases oil production and has been shown to be effective in treating acne in women with PCOS.

Insulin-Sensitizing Agents: Metformin, commonly used to manage insulin resistance in PCOS, can also help reduce acne. By improving insulin sensitivity, metformin can lower androgen levels and subsequently reduce acne severity.

Topical Treatments: Dermatologists may prescribe topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or antibiotics to directly target acne. These treatments help unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and kill acne-causing bacteria.

Isotretinoin: For severe cases, isotretinoin (Accutane) may be prescribed. This powerful medication reduces sebaceous gland size and sebum production but requires careful monitoring due to potential side effects.

Lifestyle and Natural Treatments

Dietary Changes: A low glycemic index (GI) diet may help manage acne in women with PCOS. High GI foods can cause insulin spikes, increasing androgen production and exacerbating acne. Studies suggest that low GI diets can improve acne symptoms by reducing insulin levels.

Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can improve insulin sensitivity and lower androgen levels, which may help reduce acne. Weight loss in women with PCOS has been associated with improved acne and hormonal profiles.

Skincare Routine: Adopting a gentle skincare routine that includes non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) products can help manage acne. Avoiding harsh scrubs and using salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide cleansers can keep acne under control.

Stress Management: Stress can exacerbate both PCOS and acne. Techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, and regular physical activity can help manage stress levels, potentially reducing acne flare-ups.

Scientific Studies Supporting Treatments


Hormonal Contraceptives: A systematic review published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that combined oral contraceptives effectively reduce acne lesions by balancing hormone levels.

Anti-Androgen Therapy: A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology demonstrated that spironolactone significantly reduces acne severity in women with PCOS by decreasing androgen activity.

Low GI Diet: Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that a low glycemic index diet can improve acne symptoms by stabilizing insulin levels.

Metformin: A review in the Journal of Women's Health highlights that metformin improves acne by enhancing insulin sensitivity and reducing androgen levels in women with PCOS.

Conclusion


Acne is a common and frustrating symptom for many women with PCOS, primarily driven by hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. Effective management requires a combination of medical treatments, lifestyle changes, and skincare practices. Hormonal contraceptives, anti-androgen medications, and insulin-sensitizing agents are key components in treating acne associated with PCOS. Additionally, adopting a low glycemic index diet, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight can provide further relief (3).

Understanding the connection between PCOS and acne empowers women to seek appropriate treatments and make informed choices about their health. By addressing the underlying hormonal imbalances and implementing targeted acne treatments, women with PCOS can achieve clearer skin and improved quality of life.

FAQs

1. How do you get rid of PCOS acne?
To get rid of PCOS acne, use hormonal treatments, anti-androgens, topical acne medications, a low GI diet, weight management, and stress reduction techniques. Consult a healthcare provider for personalized care.

2.What are the first signs of PCOS acne?

The first signs of PCOS acne include persistent, cystic acne along the jawline and lower face, increased oiliness, and acne that resists conventional treatments. Often, it worsens around menstruation.

3.Where is PCOS acne located?

PCOS acne typically appears on the lower face, especially the jawline, chin, and upper neck. It can also affect the back, chest, and shoulders due to hormonal imbalances.

4. What worsens PCOS acne?

PCOS acne worsens with high androgen levels, insulin resistance, stress, a high glycemic diet, poor skincare habits, and hormonal fluctuations. Use of certain cosmetic products can also exacerbate the condition. 

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