The Relationship between PCOS and Hormonal Breakouts
How you can effectively treat your PCOS Acne
Fact checked by Grzegorz Stanislawski, MD
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common types of endocrine disorders (disorders that mess with your hormones), and those afflicted by it know it comes with a whole host of stressful complications.
One of those, unfortunately, is an increase in hormonal acne breakouts.
If you’re dealing with PCOS and acne, then you know how annoying it can be. Between all the different life rhythms that influence hormonal acne for women, PCOS can really be one of the most frustrating to manage.
However, there is hope! In fact, there are many different treatment options that can help alleviate your PCOS-related acne symptoms and take back control of your skin health.
So let’s get started!
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a disorder marked by an overproduction of androgens, the development of fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries that can block hormone receptors, and irregular or prolonged menstrual periods(1).
How widespread can it be, though?
Well, a whopping 6 to 10% (2) of women of reproductive age are reported to suffer from PCOS, making it an incredibly common disorder.
Other symptoms of PCOS can include excess hair growth, difficulty with weight loss, dark patches, mental health complications such as anxiety and depression, and acne breakouts.
While it’s not really known what exactly causes PCOS, there is evidence (3) to suggest a correlation between having PCOS and cases of insulin resistance and having higher levels of blood sugars.
Hormonal acne can be defined, basically, as breakouts of pimples, cysts, and other skin irritations due to fluctuations in the levels of certain hormones in your body, the most impactful of which being the levels of androgens. (4)
These hormones send a signal to the sebaceous glands in your skin to produce more sebum (oil), which can get clogged up in your pores and cause acne breakouts.
There are many reasons why hormone levels can fluctuate. Most commonly, women tend to experience hormonally-influenced acne breakouts during the pre-menstrual phase of a normal cycle.
Want to discover how your menstrual cycle influences your acne? Check out our app to get personalized insights into your skin health through our cycle tracking system.
Is PCOS acne a form of hormonal acne?
In short: yes, yes it is.
PCOS acne is influenced by hormonal changes in the body, particularly from increased levels of androgen hormones.
These androgen hormones stimulate that excess production of pore-clogging sebum, particularly if you already have acne-prone skin.
In addition (5), the heightened insulin/blood sugar levels that are common with PCOS can further contribute to increased sebum production in the skin.
Learn more about acne-prone skin and what your breakouts actually mean.
Is acne caused by PCOS the same as other forms of hormonal acne?
In many ways, acne breakouts caused by PCOS are the same as any other type of hormonal acne. PCOS acne really just comes down to that same excess of androgens that are known to increase pore-clogging sebum production.
However, this differs from the hormonal acne many women experience during their menstrual cycles, in that the levels of androgens don’t really dip back down again.
What this means for those with PCOS is a much more prolonged period of breakouts and blemishes that aren’t carried away with the monthly cycle.
How can I treat hormonal acne caused by PCOS?
As we said, there is, unfortunately, no definitive cure (6) for PCOS.
However! There are a plethora of different treatment options that can help manage the symptoms and effects of PCOS for those who suffer from it.
While obesity and PCOS together can create worsened symptoms, small amounts of weight loss can actually help to mediate the impact of PCOS on the body.
The most targeted treatment for PCOS can be oral medications (7), which can be chosen to make a variety of changes depending on the symptom addressed. When looking to help re-regulate menstrual periods, oral contraceptives can help raise levels of estrogen/progesterone (which can alleviate acne symptoms).
If you’re looking to increase chances of fertility, then medications such as clomiphene and metformin can be beneficial.
Metformin in particular (8) can assist with clearing up hormonal acne, as the medication has been proven to reduce acne severity through the reduction of androgens in the system.
In more severe cases, it’s also possible to treat PCOS through surgical means, but this is definitely something you’ll have to discuss with your doctor.
Alongside, though, we always suggest adopting a dedicated skincare routine of cleansing, spot treatment, exfoliation (to get out all those dead skin cells), and moisturizing to keep your skin clean, protected, and hydrated, and to minimize the appearance of breakouts.
Keep your skincare routine on track with our habit-building all-in-one skin health app.
System Akvile Skin Health Program
There's more to life than skincare, but tell that to anyone dealing with difficult acne prone skin!
We believe that everything has an impact on your skin's health. So, our app offers:
A 6-week skin health program designed by experts
A face scan to monitor your progress
Skincare and lifestyle tracking
We believe in demystifying skincare
There is no one-size fits all solution for acne prone skin: even though pimples form the same way every time, the factors that lead to breakouts are different for everyone.
We’re all about finding what works for you and helping you to exclude one possible trigger factor at a time. Download our app and start your journey with us, today.
- Hart R, Hickey M, Franks S. Definitions, prevalence and symptoms of polycystic ovaries and polycystic ovary syndrome. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2004;18(5):671-683. doi:10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2004.05.001
- McCartney C, Marshall J. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine. 2016;375(1):54-64. doi:10.1056/nejmcp1514916
- Ajmal N, Khan S, Shaikh R. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and genetic predisposition: A review article. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol X. 2019;3:100060. doi:10.1016/j.eurox.2019.100060
- Iftikhar U, Choudhry N. Serum levels of androgens in acne & their role in acne severity. Pak J Med Sci. 2019;35(1). doi:10.12669/pjms.35.1.131
- Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology. 2016;2:81-86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146
- Gainder S, Sharma B. Update on Management of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome for Dermatologists. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2019;10(2):97-105. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_249_17
- Badawy A, Elnashar. Treatment options for polycystic ovary syndrome. Int J Womens Health. 2011:25. doi:10.2147/ijwh.s11304
- Sharma S, Mathur DK, Paliwal V, Bhargava P. Efficacy of Metformin in the Treatment of Acne in Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Newer Approach to Acne Therapy. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2019;12(5):34-38.
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