What is Acne?
Acne is a skin condition that results in lesions or cysts forming on the skin (1). It normally forms in areas of the skin where there are the most sebaceous glands (glands located within the hair follicle that secrete an oily substance to lubricate and waterproof the skin) (2). These areas tend to be the face, back and upper part of the chest.
There are a couple of factors at play in the formation of acne (3):
- Basically, your pores can get blocked by dead skin cells that don’t slough away.
- Your pores can become infected by a kind of bacteria that causes acne.
- The sebaceous glands can become over active as a result of high testosterone levels.
- General inflammation can result in the development of acne (4).
You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?
Acne and PCOS
One research study has found that 27% of all women with acne also have a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (5). The thing is, we know that PCOS raises our testosterone levels. It’s this high testosterone that causes the sebaceous glands to produce too much of the oily sebum, resulting in acne.
We also tend to get acne in certain areas that are particularly sensitive to hormones like on our jawline, cheeks, chin and the angles of the neck in particular. Also, instead of getting small bumps on our skin, we get “tender knots under the skin” that take time to go away (6).
So, we know that Acne and PCOS often go hand in hand and it can be not only embarrassing but also it can be painful. What are the best ways to deal with it, though?
How to Deal with Acne
Manage your Testosterone Levels
We know that high testosterone levels cause our sebaceous glands to go into overdrive so it’s really important that we get those testosterone levels down. You can do this is a number of ways:
Firstly, your diet and supplements are key. Here is an article where you can find out more about the Top Testosterone Lowering Foods for Women with PCOS.
Focus on lowering inflammation
Women with PCOS are prone to generalized inflammation and our inflammation markers are higher than the average population. This inflammation acts on our insulin sensitivity, testosterone levels and acne.
There are foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect (8). These include
- Wild salmon (not farmed salmon) as it is high in Omega 3
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, etc. Just be aware that these foods are also goitrogens and can impact on your thyroid function if you have any thyroid issues.
- Extra virgin olive oil – drizzled over salads for example. It loses some of it’s health benefits when it is cooked.
- Green Tea
- Sweet potatoes – they are also low GI and a great alternative to normal potatoes.
According to Dr Nancy Dunne, you should also consider taking the following supplements to help manage inflammation and your acne (9):
- Zinc gluconate or zinc citrate (30mg daily)
- Vitamin B6 (100mg three times per day, for the two weeks prior to your menstrual cycle
There are medications that can be taken to manage acne, particularly if it caused by hormones, as is the case with PCOS (6).
- Birth control pill: This seems to be one of the main medical treatments for PCOS anyway. Birth control that contains a combination of Estrogen and Progesterone is often prescribed. Although birth control can balance your hormones and help with your PCOS symptoms, it is just a band aid on the problem. When you come off birth control, it is likely that your PCOS symptoms will come back, unless you are proactively managing your symptoms with diet, supplements and exercise.
- Spironolactone: This is actually a diuretic drug that minimizes the effects of testosterone. It is commonly prescribed to treat hirsutism and acne in women with PCOS.
Summing it Up:
So, we know that acne is a common symptom of PCOS and it is related to our hormone imbalances. In order to treat our acne naturally, we need to focus on:
- Managing our testosterone levels through diet
- Focusing on anti-inflammatory foods
- Taking supplements to help manage inflammation
If you have tried the natural approach and have not had success, you could try medications (which must be prescribed by your doctor) like:
- Birth control
If you suffer from acne with PCOS and have had success in overcoming it, I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried something that has really helped that I haven’t mentioned? Please let us know so that we can all benefit!
Tarryn is the founder of PCOS Diet Support, the top ranked PCOS diet & lifestyle site with over 50,000 users per month. As a fellow cyster there are no empty promises here, just facts
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