Wondering what the best PCOS acne treatment is?
I’m asked often and remember what it was like to have embarrassing spots that just wouldn’t go away. Yet many women find relief with some simple changes to their PCOS diet, lifestyle, and through supplementation.
I’ll talk about each of these in a moment, but before we do I want to share a bit more about PCOS acne… because it matters.
Acne is synonymous with the androgen excess of puberty and PCOS. In fact, I’ve read estimates that up to 80% of women with moderate to severe acne have PCOS. As this is so frequent…
I believe that if a woman not currently diagnosed with PCOS goes to see her health professional with significant acne, there should be an automatic discussion about the possibility of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
What is acne, technically?
Acne consists of excess sebum (oil) production and bacteria in the pores. Blackheads and whiteheads arise from pores clogged with sebum, dead skin and bacteria. Many women with PCOS acne experience this on the face, chest, back, and neck.
The following grading system is used by health professionals to define the severity of acne:
Mild: Small, painless comedones (large whiteheads or blackheads) and fluid-filled acne (papules) less than 10 in number, found mainly on the face.
Moderate: Papules with redness about 10−40 in number and pus-filled acne (pustules) about 10−40 in number, found mainly on the face.
Moderate to severe: Numerous papules (40−100), pustules (40−100) with large comedones (40−100), affecting the face, upper chest and back, sometimes accompanied by larger node-like inflamed acne up to five in number.
Severe: Inflamed and painful acne with nodes and cysts (fluid-filled lesions) found mainly on the chest and face along with many papules, pustules, and comedones.
And as there is a link between excessive hair growth (hirsutism) and acne in PCOS, let’s take a quick look at…
How hirsutism and acne are alike
The high levels of active testosterone that trigger dark, thick hair growth also cause the glands in the skin to produce more oil and exacerbate acne.
Like hirsutism, excessive androgen levels are associated with the presence of acne, but the severity of the acne does not correlate with the amount of androgen excess. Some studies have shown that reduced SHBG, which contributes to increased levels of free testosterone, is associated with increased acne.
In addition, hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance contribute to androgen excess and worsen hirsutism and acne symptoms.
And just before we dive into my recommended PCOS acne treatment options, it’s important to know the…
Other causes of acne (and hirsutism)
The acne and hirsutism associated with PCOS do not appear overnight. They are a result of slow and gradual changes to your hormonal balance. If these conditions develop suddenly, they may be caused by:
- Tumour or cancer of the adrenal gland
- Tumour or cancer of the ovary
- Cushing’s syndrome (a condition where the body produces abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol)
- Certain medications like testosterone, danazol, anabolic steroids, glucocorticoids, cyclosporine, minoxidil, phenytoin, etc.
Conventional PCOS acne treatment
Conventional treatments aim to reduce free testosterone with synthetic anti-androgen drugs, or the oral contraceptive pill or, more recently, by decreasing insulin levels with insulin sensitising drugs. Widely used to treat the hyperandrogenism and insulin resistance of PCOS, some scientific researchers question their efficacy as well as their safety.
Topical medications to help acne include:
- Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs
- Salicylic acid
- AntibioticsThe side effects of these treatments may carry risks that are, often times, more severe than the initial condition.
Cosmetic therapies for PCOS acne
These include can include laser skin resurfacing, chemical peels and dermabrasion.
If this helps, great!
Now, let’s take a look at how to also address the underlying cause of excessive androgens levels.
Food as PCOS acne treatment
Food plan and lifestyle changes, including losing weight where needed, and exercising, are key to rebalancing your hormones, improving your PCOS and reducing acne. They do take some time.
These changes are the safest and most long-lasting way to reduce, even eliminate, PCOS acne. They also address the body as a whole.
Several research studies have shown how an appropriate food plan can help rebalance hormones…
One study reported that women who stayed on a low-calorie diet for at least six months lost weight and reduced insulin resistance. Their levels of SHBG increased, which reduced the amount of free testosterone in their blood. As expected, the women reported a reduction in the severity of their acne.
Another study treated young men with severe acne for 12 weeks with a diet containing 25% protein and 45% low glycaemic foods. At the end of the 12 weeks, the men had lowered insulin resistance and less acne. This improved insulin resistance and lowered acne are transferable to women with PCOS.
Yet another study reported that a vegetarian diet that included a high percentage of plant proteins resulted in decreased free testosterone and DHEA in the blood.
An Italian study showed substituting meats, eggs and dairy products with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes significantly reduced excessive testosterone levels. These changes also increased SHBG.
What do these studies show?
These studies support eating more protein, fewer carbohydrates and adding low glycaemic load foods to reduce insulin resistance and decrease testosterone production. Low glycaemic load foods are those that do not cause a significant or sudden blood sugar rise.
One note of caution when selecting foods − low calorie is not the same as low glycaemic and vice versa. Here are some tips for selecting healthy, low glycaemic load foods:
Fruits and vegetables are low glycaemic and low-calorie foods. Increasing your daily servings of fruits and vegetables will not only help you balance your hormones but will also give you the additional nutritional benefits such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, to help you heal your skin.
Apples, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, grapefruit, oranges, peaches and kiwi fruit are some of the best choices. Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, carrots, yams, green beans, leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens), summer squash and tomatoes also meet the low calorie and low glycaemic load standards.
Gluten-free whole grains, peas, beans, and lentils are low on glycaemic load and calories. They contain complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre and the nutrients required to help balance your hormones.
Foods that contain harmful types of saturated fats, white flour, sugar, artificial colours or flavours, and preservatives are not part of a healthy food plan. These ingredients wreak havoc on hormonal balance and weight management, making the symptoms of PCOS, including excess hair and acne, worse. Processed foods such as lunch meats and boxed dinners contain many of these unhealthy ingredients and should be avoided.
So now to another question I’m often asked about…
What about supplements to help my PCOS acne?
We already know that women with PCOS are more likely to be:
– Insulin resistant
– Deficient in the important mineral, magnesium
And that common insulin sensitising medications can cause a B vitamin deficiency and the signs and symptoms that come with it.
Plus, as I have said for many years, I’ve never consulted with a woman with PCOS who didn’t have some level of digestive problems that may be adversely affecting the ability to absorb nutrients.
So, yes, I absolutely recommend and personally take daily supportive supplements. And if you’re reading this, this includes you!
I searched for many years to find a foundational nutrient system that was liquid and food-based so women with PCOS could easily absorb the key nutrients they required and full of the nutrients I feel are crucial. Kyani is the company I am comfortable recommending for your nutrient foundation system. And by reducing your inflammation levels, improving insulin sensitivity, and boosting your nutrients, naturally, you’ll likely be amazed by how different your skin feels and looks.
One woman shared that after only a week taking the Kyani health triangle she could go out without any makeup for the first time in years. Imagine!
Get started on The Health Triangle now and let us know how you get on 🙂
While many women with PCOS struggle with poor skin health, with the right approaches and natural choices PCOS acne treatment can be incredibly successful.
From PCOS to perfect health, with love,
Dr. Rebecca Harwin
The PCOS Expert
Chiropractor & Bestselling Author of Conquer Your PCOS Naturally