You finally made it out of puberty and all the angst that goes with it, except your acne. It just won’t seem to respond to treatment. Then, your doctor discovers you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a hormone disorder in women that is linked to adult acne. If you have recently been diagnosed with PCOS and have acne, read on to become more familiar with this condition and potential treatment options.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

An estimated 10 percent of all women of child-bearing age have a condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS is a hormonal disorder that interferes with the production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The pituitary gland does not get the correct production signals and produces too much testosterone and not enough estrogen and progesterone.

This imbalance can have many effects on the body including large ovaries with cysts on them, hirsutism (excess dark hair growth), hair loss, hormonal acne, weight gain, cystic acne. Dermatologists treating hormonal acne in women in their 20’s who exhibit these symptoms and have a pattern of breakouts, will often refer them to women’s health to check for other PCOS symptoms either rule it out or know how to proceed. Many people may experience these symptoms for years and the health effects and be long and devastating.

Acne Patterns

PCOS can cause patterns of acne and cysts in hormone-sensitive areas of the skin. This can be one indication that these adult breakouts are related to ovarian cysts and not to bad skin. These flare-ups are most often found in the lower third of the face, around the chin, cheeks, jaw, and even the area of the neck nearest the face. Acne that appears as sensitive knots underneath the skin versus typically raised acne bumps is another sign to look for ovarian cyst acne. Women with PCOS-related acne also describe their breakouts as being worse during their menstrual cycle.


Generalized inflammation is another aspect of ovarian cyst acne that needs to be addressed. Most women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have higher levels of a protein in their blood which is a sign of swelling. Swelling is the body’s response to injury. It swells, turns red, and often painful, sort of like a warming system telling you not to touch or aggravate the area.

How to Treat PCOS Acne

Anyone suffering from symptoms of PCOS should seek medical advice for their overall health.

The first level of treatment for acne due to PCOS is to try and bring testosterone levels down to near-normal levels. Doctors have found that certain birth control pills are one of the best medications to achieve this. Studies have shown that patients may see results in three to six months, with most reporting inflammation being reduced by between thirty and sixty percent. It is estimated that over fifty percent and as high as ninety percent of women who take oral contraceptives see results.

Certain medications such as anti-androgen drugs, like spironolactone and flutamide, lower the amount of testosterone in the body. If your doctor chooses to go this route, you will have a blood test to find out if your androgen levels are high before you start the medication.

You may be tempted to try over-the-counter retinoids but you will find that many are not strong enough. Talk to your doctor about prescription-strength retinoid creams. The downside to topical retinoids is UV sensitivity, which places you at high risk for skin cancer. Topical retinoids should only be used at night to minimize this risk.

Recommended Diet for PCOS Acne

Studies have indicated that diet can play a role in managing acne caused by PCOS. While this is not a proven contributor, it can’t hurt you to eat a healthier diet, control your weight, and get some relief from severe breakouts. The idea is to focus your diet on healthy and naturally anti-inflammatory foods.

Foods that are natural anti-inflammatories include:

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Salmon
  • Kale

Foods that can cause inflammation include:

  • White Bread
  • White Potatoes
  • Sugary Desserts
  • Red Meat

Increase the number of anti-inflammatory foods and reduce the inflammatory foods and see if it works for you; it can’t hurt. At the very least, you can keep your CRP protein levels down by combatting inflammation naturally.

Skin Care Routine

You would be remiss not to include a good skincare routine in your quest for PCOS acne treatment. It doesn’t have to be expensive and time-consuming. If you had a skincare routine prior to being diagnosed with PCOS, there’s no reason to change it. Just follow some essential advice:

  • Purchase skincare wash and moisturizer formulated for your skin and that is non-oily.
  • Wash your face twice a day, morning and night.
  • Moisturize daily and at bedtime.
  • If you use makeup, do your research and buy only makeup that is designed not to clog pores.
  • Do not pick your face or bumps, ever.

While this may not prevent your breakouts, it can help lessen the severity.

Does PCOS Acne Go Away?

Currently, there are no known cures for PCOS or the acne that often accompanies the condition. The best your doctor can do is work with you to get you on a medication regimen that reduces the intensity of the breakouts.

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