Health Skin

How To Deal With Your Skin If You Have PCOS, According To 2 Experts

You’ve probably heard of polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. A hormonal condition that affects how the ovaries work, one in 10 women in the UK suffer from it, with symptoms varying from person to person. It’s a condition that often goes undiagnosed. “The three main features of PCOS are irregular periods, which mean your ovaries do not regularly release eggs; excess androgen, or high levels of ‘male’ hormones in your body, which can cause excess facial or body hair; and polycystic ovaries, where the ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (or follicles) that surround the eggs,” explains Dr Sohere Roked, a hormone and integrative medical doctor. “If you have at least two of these features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS.”

PCOS affects the body in any number of ways (from weight gain to thinning hair), but it is its impact on the skin that can be the most stressful side-effect. While some sufferers have excessive facial hair, others find their skin is oily and acne-prone, and difficult to treat. “Women with PCOS are androgen dominant, which is a hormonal imbalance,” explains aesthetic doctor Dr Sophie Shotter. “It can cause increased sebum production in the skin, which can in turn lead to acne, commonly affecting the face, chest and upper back.”

Higher levels of androgens can also prompt an increase in inflammation, making skin even more at risk of acne. While there are no hard and fast rules on where these blemishes emerge, Dr Shotter advices that PCOS acne tends to affect the lower third of the face. “Sufferers also usually find that spots are deeper and take longer to resolve – if you’re struggling with this and irregular periods, then think about being tested for PCOS,” she says.

How can those with PCOS get their skin under control? Below, the experts share their top tips.

See your doctor

In the first instance, it’s important to get diagnosed properly – there are a number of different methods that can help with all aspects of the condition, skin included. “There are treatments available on the NHS, such as the pill to pause your menstrual cycle, medication to treat excess hair, and Metformin to combat insulin-resistance, which can be present in PCOS,” explains Dr Roked.

Address hormone imbalances

“Patients with PCOS often become rapidly disenfranchised with skincare as their acne is usually quite stubborn,” says Dr Shotter, who name-checks medications like Metformin, Spironolactone and the oral contraceptive pill to help address the underlying hormonal imbalances – available via your doctor. “Supporting these imbalances will garner better results than skincare alone. I would always advise seeking expert advice as PCOS skin can be a challenge.” Rather than wasting lots of money on products that may not achieve results, work with someone who knows what they’re talking about – it’ll get you true results, and you might save money in the process. 

How to reduce excess oil

The age-old question. Instead of stripping the skin, a tempting proposition when you’re oily, start by ensuring it is hydrated. Use a lightweight moisturiser instead of a heavy duty formula, says Dr Shotter, who is a big fan of hyaluronic acid serums to keep skin healthy and happy, without negatively impacting your oil balance. Acne sufferers will know the power of salicylic acid to help combat excessive oil production, as well as a vitamin A product (or retinoid) to help problem skin. “We may also use prescription tretinoin, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr Shotter. “Regular in-clinic treatments, like Hydrafacial, will also help to keep pores clear and minimise breakouts.”

Consider your lifestyle

It’s all very well expecting improvements with the right skincare routine, but as we all know, healthy skin starts from within. Both Dr Roked and Dr Shotter advise assessing your lifestyle to ensure it is healthy and balanced, and that it incorporates regular exercise. “It’s also very important to regulate stress with techniques such as meditation,” says Dr Roked.

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Master your diet

As part of a healthy lifestyle, your diet is key to controlling both the skin and other PCOS symptoms. Both experts advise a low sugar diet that avoids processed foods, because insulin resistance is another symptom of PCOS. “You should also reduce or eliminate refined carbohydrates,” advises Dr Roked, who says the more whole foods you eat, the better.

The supplements to take

“I also look at supplements that can help my patients, such as probiotics which may help lower androgen levels; magnesium and vitamin B12, both which can be low in those with PCOS; and myo-inositol, omega 3, vitamin D and NAC, all of which are great anti-inflammatories,” says Dr Roked.

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