If you ask me, acne is the single most devastating symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS.) The very word makes my stomach churn. Unlike other skin-related PCOS symptoms like excess facial hair and pigmentation, which can be masked through beauty treatment, PCOS acne is simply impossible to hide. The acne doesn’t just leave scars on the skin, but on the soul as well. It will shake up your confidence and body image. And don’t be surprised when acne wreaks havoc on your personal and professional relationships as well, simply because you’re too self-conscious. I should know; I dealt with it for several years. To call it ‘horrible’ would be an understatement.
Sadly, acne affects a large percentage of PCOS patients and brings with a lot of pain – physical and emotional. Studies have found that 27% of women seeking treatment for acne suffer from PCOS. No adult wants to deal with huge cystic acne along the jawline, cheeks, chin and upper neck. Yet that is exactly what PCOS throws your way.
The truth is – there is no ‘magic pill’ that will treat cystic acne (a severe form of acne) caused by PCOS. I found through personal experience that the most effective approach to treating the acne was to heal the body from within. PCOS acne is triggered by the imbalance of hormones that is the hallmark of this health condition. And treating this imbalance is the only way to heal PCOS acne for good.
Common Causes of PCOS Acne:
Insulin resistance and acne are closely linked. It’s caused when the beta (β) cells in the pancreas produce insulin (which is necessary to turn sugars into energy) but it can’t be efficiently used. This leads to high levels of sugar in your blood. These unstable blood sugar levels triggers the pancreas into releasing more insulin in an effort to normalize high blood glucose levels, leading to a condition known as Hyperinsulinemia. Now, hyperinsulinemia signals the ovaries to produce more androgens, like testosterone. And this is what causes the hormonal imbalance which manifests as PCOS. Hyperinsulinemia massively increases sebum production, and enhance the ability of androgens to do the same.
An over-active sebaceous gland causes excess oil, dead skin cells and dirt to plug hair follicles. Then these pores become irritated, inflamed and infected which allows colonization by the bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).
Low-Grade Chronic Inflammation
Low grade chronic inflammation is common in women with PCOS. It could be another key reason for cystic acne. This consistent inflammation sends the immune system into overdrive, so that a simple small pimple turns into an ugly, painful cyst.
Stress is particularly bad for acne and PCOS. Studies have found that acne severity correlates highly with increasing stress, suggesting that emotional stress from external sources may have a significant influence on acne.
How Is PCOS Acne Different From Regular Acne?
In general, acne is caused when the sebaceous glands produce too much oil. And this oil blocks the pores of the skin, causing legions and pimples. PCOS acne is a more severe form of general acne. And it is characterized by tender knots under the skin instead of fine surface bumps. These cysts are concentrated along the more “hormonally sensitive” areas of the skin – namely the jawline, cheeks, chin and upper neck, but can also occur on the chest and back. These under-the-skin cysts are often very painful unlike regular acne, and leave behind terrible scaring as well.
Typically, acne occurs as pores are blocked by dead skin cells which traps the natural oils, causing breakouts on your skin. Unfortunately, regular shedding that removes dead skin cells doesn’t help much if you have PCOS. This is because the extra testosterone (male sex hormones) floating around your body sends the sebaceous glands into over-drive. As a result oil, bacteria, and skin cells get trapped in your skin’s pores faster than you can imagine.
The Importance Of Curing PCOS Acne From Within:
As you can see, PCOS acne is caused by internal factors like insulin resistance, excess testosterone, inflammation and stress. Yet a lot of women turn to over-the-counter topical acne ointments that include harmful acids. These are often too harsh on your already delicate skin, causing irritation, redness, dryness and further inflammation.
Additionally, several others use prescription drugs like Accutane, birth control pills and Spironolactone to treat just the acne. Let me assure you, none of these work in the long run. They are nothing more than a Band-Aid; they don’t address the root cause of PCOS acne.
Unless you treat the underlying causes, your acne will eventually return with a vengeance. Additionally, the many side-effects of these prescription drugs like – headaches, dry eyes, vitamin B deficiency, depression, cracked lips, bleeding gums, and fatigue do more harm than good.
If you want to get rid of acne once and for all, and reduce the chances for future flare-ups, you have to treat these underlying causes. Heal your acne from within, and opt for natural remedies that come without equally distressing side-effects.
8 Steps To Heal PCOS Acne From The Inside
To clear up your acne for good, you need to heal your body from within. By reversing hormonal imbalances that are the trademark mark of PCOS, you can find permanent relief from acne as well.
Eliminate Dietary Culprits
It all begins with your diet. A diet devoid of processed sugars and carbs will help increase insulin sensitivity. If you also need to lose a lot of PCOS related weight gain, try a gluten free diet. Studies support the beneficial effects of gluten-free diets in reducing unwanted body fat, inflammation and insulin resistance. Many people also find that cutting back on dairy helps with acne and other PCOS symptoms. We highly recommend a LCHF or Low Carb – High Fat diet.
Manage your Testosterone Levels
One of the benefits of changing your diet will be better control over testosterone levels. Along with a healthy diet, some dietary supplements can assist you in lowering testosterone levels naturally. Omega 3 fatty acids, Ashwagandha, Diindolylmethane (DIM), Vitamin D, Calcium-D-Glucarate, Vitex Agnus Castus, Black cohosh, Spearmint Tea, Saw palmetto and Dong Quai root can be extremely helpful.
Keep Insulin Levels Stable
Treat your insulin resistance to treat PCOS acne. It’s really that simple. A healthy lifestyle change focused on eating the right kinds of foods and exercising regularly should help reverse insulin resistance. Again, dietary supplements like Aloe Vera, Inositol, Flaxseed, Licorice root, Fenugreek, Cod Liver Oil can increase insulin sensitivity. Cook with herbs and spices that have an anti-hyperglycemic effect. It’s important that you keep a close eye on your fasting glucose levels and insulin levels while adopting these changes. This helps you chart your progress and also make sure you are headed in the right direction. Your aim is to get your fasting glucose levels below 100 mg/dl, and fasting insulin level to below 8.4mIU/ml, ideally 5.0mIU/ml or lower.
Add Probiotics To Your Diet
PCOS and acne are both linked to gut health. Gut microbiota influences systemic inflammation and may also have important implications in cystic acne. While probiotic supplements are an easy way to ensure gut health, you can also add natural probiotics to your diet. Bone broth, Kefir, Kombucha, Buttermilk, Yogurt, Kimchi, Miso, pickles and other fermented foods that contain healthy probiotic bacteria strains.
Eat more Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Combat systemic inflammation with the right diet. Focus on eating more natural foods like seasonal fruits and vegetables and lean meats. We particularly love leafy greens like spinach, kelp, mustard leaves, lettuce, arugula and collard. Healthy fats like coconut oil also have an anti-inflammatory action. Other fats to add to your diet include grass-fed butter, ghee, olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Turmeric, ginger, garlic and green tea offer many health benefits and should be a part of your PCOS diet.
Exercise improves insulin resistance. Any kind of exercise helps — think brisk walking, cycling, dancing, swimming and yoga. Muscle and weight training workouts are particularly helpful as these build lean muscle mass and help the body become more sensitive to insulin. If you’re carrying excess abdominal fat, resistance training can be especially beneficial. We recommend weight lifting plus body weight exercises one to two times a week.
Drink Plenty of Water
Water is crucial to stay hydrated. Not only will it help balance pH levels in the body, it will also greatly help with bloating, that is all too common in PCOS. Water helps carry nutrients and vitamins to your skin cells, and also helps to flush out toxins and waste products. Water will keep your skin hydrated, moisturized and cleanses your cells of built-up waste and harmful skin bacteria. Aim for 7 to 8 glasses of water every day.
Get Enough Sleep
Research has found that insufficient sleep quantity may facilitate and/or exacerbate pain and increased inflammation. It comes as no surprise then that poor sleep patterns and chronic stress will worsen systemic inflammation, worsening all your PCOS symptoms including acne. Aim for 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night.
Natural Remedies That Can Help With PCOS Acne
While your body heals from within through the above-mentioned tips, you can also use natural remedies to gently heal your irritated skin from the outside. Fresh aloe gel has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent properties that help treat acne naturally, without irritating the skin or causing dryness. If you want an all-natural alternative to salicylic acid, try willow bark. Make your own scrub to gently exfoliate skin, or look for an OTC cleanser with willow bark as an active ingredient.
Tea-tree oil is another effective treatment for PCOS acne. It doesn’t clog pores and dries up cystic acne, while also preventing scarring. You can also apply green tea topically to reduce sebum production and soothe your irritated skin. Honey (especially Manuka honey) has significant antibacterial effects and is a great all-natural moisturizer to soothe red, inflamed, acne-ridden skin.
Try Goats Milk Soap made from pure goat milk, nourishing oils (like coconut oil, palm oil and olive oil) and a blend of skin-healing essential oils. It can gently exfoliate the skin while moisturizing the skin. Additionally, goat milk contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Treating PCOS acne takes time and patience. But it can be done. Above all, make sure that you don’t stress over it too much, as stress will only worsen your acne. Trust an all-natural approach and work towards becoming the healthiest, fittest, happiest version of yourself. And eventually, you will be rid of acne for good.