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  5. Acne And PCOS: What Is The Relation Between Them?

One of our acquaintances had been experiencing unusual acne, weight gain and irregular periods for several years. The acne, which had started as small bumps on her face, slowly developed into painful cystic acne!

She tried everything from pimple treatments to heavy make-up, to cover them up. But, nothing worked. She wasn’t even aware that her hormones were going haywire. Like her, almost 70% [1] of women do not know that a hormonal imbalance in their body has led to PCOS.

So, if you have suddenly gained weight, developed severe acne, or if your periods have become irregular, you should read this article. Because, chances are you have PCOS. Don’t stress! Just scroll down to know all the details about PCOS acne, what causes it and how you can control it.

What Is PCOS Acne?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) [2] is a disorder related to the reproductive system in women. It is due to a hormonal imbalance [3] which enlarges the ovaries and small cysts are formed on them. It affects the woman’s reproductive health, and causes acne.

PCOS is a very common condition of the reproductive endocrine system. It mostly occurs in younger women -- teenagers and those in their 20’s and 30’s. The hormonal disorder has many side effects, one of which is acne.

PCOS symptoms include hyperandrogenism [4] which leads to acne vulgaris [5], hirsutism [6], and androgenic alopecia [7]. PCOS is also known to cause hyperpigmentation -- patches of dark and uneven skin on the body in areas like the back of the neck [8] and elsewhere.

What Causes PCOS Acne?

Your pituitary gland [9] sends signals to the body to produce the right amounts of hormones -- oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These signals are disrupted due to PCOS. This is when the oestrogen and progesterone levels drop while the level of testosterone increases.

When this imbalance occurs, it prevents ovulation and causes irregular periods. It increases testosterone levels in the body, which in turn increases the production of sebum that leads to acne. One of the main reasons that is widely believed to be causing PCOS is poor lifestyle and lack of physical activity, though there can be other medical reasons too.

How To Treat PCOS Acne?

To treat PCOS acne, it is vital that you seek treatment for the underlying cause -- the hormonal imbalance. Consult your gynecologist and dermatologist for a holistic treatment protocol. This could include oral and topical medication or just simple lifestyle changes.

1. Birth Control Pills

Your doctor may prescribe oral contraceptive pills which contain a mix of drospirenone [10], progestin norgestimate [11] or norethindrone acetate [12] along with ethinyl estradiol [13].

If you are a smoker, suffer from high blood pressure, blood clots or have had breast cancer, your doctor may not prescribe birth control pills.

2. Anti-Androgen Medication

Another treatment protocol prescribed by your doctor could be anti-androgen medication [14]. Anti-androgen drugs lower the testosterone levels. However, acne due to a hormonal imbalance is not always due to raised androgen levels. Women normally have lower levels of androgens.

3. OTC Treatments

The OTC acne treatments for PCOS may include topical medicated creams that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These may not be as effective for PCOS acne as they are for acne due to other causes.

4. Retinoids

Usually, some version of a retinoid [15] cream is prescribed for normal acne. But, if you have acne due to PCOS, it is best you ask your dermatologist to prescribe a medical retinoid option. These come in oral or topical forms. Isotretinoin is a popular form of an oral retinoid of prescription-strength.

If you do use a topical retinoid, avoid using it in the day time as it makes your skin more sensitive to the UV rays, increasing the risk of skin cancer. It is best to apply it in the evening, after sundown.

5. Lifestyle Changes

To ease the symptoms of PCOS, it is advisable to change your lifestyle. Include daily exercise, lose weight and be physically active. A study found that a low calorie, low carb diet with minimal dairy helped in reducing the levels of testosterone, and helped with weight loss. [16]

Just losing a few kilos can regulate periods, thus improving fertility, reduce symptoms such as hirsutism, and make women less likely to get diabetes and also lowers cholesterol levels. Being physically active can also keep depression at bay.

What To Eat If You Have Acne Due To PCOS?

Since research has not conclusively proven that certain foods can lead to acne on their own, there needs to be an underlying cause. If you have PCOS, it is important to know what foods cause inflammation which in turn can cause acne.

Foods To Eat

To prevent acne, ensure a daily intake of foods that have anti-inflammatory qualities -- such as olive oil, berries, tomatoes, turmeric, walnuts, almonds, spinach, kale and salmon. These can play an important role in controlling acne due to PCOS.

Adding anti-inflammatory supplements to your diet can also aid in the reduction of acne due to PCOS. Foods like garlic and turmeric; vitamins A and C, zinc and copper; and bromelain derived from pineapples can help reduce inflammation.

Foods To Avoid

Avoid red meat, sugar-laden desserts and potatoes as these foods are known to cause inflammation. You should also avoid processed and fried foods.

Wrapping Up

If you have PCOS, chances are you could have a breakout of acne too. The right medication along with a healthy lifestyle can help reduce their appearance. If you have PCOS acne, use make-up and skincare that do not block your pores. A diet containing anti-inflammatory foods can go a long way in preventing acne due to PCOS.

Did You Know?

  • At least 5-10% of teenaged girls are diagnosed with this condition.
  • About 80% of women suffer from a hormonal imbalance.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the cysts that grow on the ovaries are non-cancerous.
  • PCOS prevalence varies from 2.2%-26% globally.

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