I have struggled with acne for what seems like most of my life. I was the first girl in my class to get pimples in the 5th grade. As a teenager I had very painful cystic acne on my face, back and chest. I tried all kinds of treatments, including two rounds of Accutane, various antibiotics and topical treatments.
The only medical remedy that seemed to work was the Accutane- but only while I was taking it. This medication is supposed to irradicate your acne for good, but it didn’t work for me. I found out later that this is a classic experience for women with PCOS.
Once I was on the birth control pill, my acne cleared up about 60%. Not amazing, but I was glad to have moments of clear skin. When I came off the birth control pill during nutrition school, my skin went haywire. In a school filled with beautiful and healthy people, I felt a fraud. I later found out I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and that was the cause of my acne.
PCOS + Acne
Acne is one of the most common noticeable PCOS symptoms. Generally the acne is cystic in nature, with deep and sometimes painful zits. Yuck! Many women with PCOS notice the acne is located along the jawline, chest and back.
The cause of this acne is an imbalance with your androgens (specifically testosterone). Excess testosterone floating around gets converted to a ‘bad’ form of testosterone on the surface of the skin, known as dihydrotestosterone or DHT. Excess DHT causes a lot of sebum to be produced, clogging pores and creating acne. This also happens to be a cause of hair loss and excess body hair growth in women with PCOS.
In order to get rid of acne with PCOS, you must balance those androgens! I also whole-heartedly believe in using both an internal and external or topical approach to managing your acne.
Natural Remedies for PCOS Acne
Saw Palmetto is a medicinal herb used for both men and women. Traditionally thought of as a prostate-helper in men, it has many beneficial applications for women with PCOS. Saw Palmetto works to reduce excess androgens in the body. In this way, it can assist in reducing acne, as well as hair loss and excessive hair growth.
Vitex or Chastetree Berry is another commonly used herb for women with PCOS. Vitex works in the brain, regulating hormones from the pituitary gland. It supports the production and function of progesterone and luteinizing hormone in your body. While it is slow-acting, vitex can be very effective for your PCOS acne by way of balancing your sex hormones.
Inflammation plays a big part in both PCOS and acne. Chronic, low-grade inflammation is often present in women with PCOS. By reducing inflammation, the amount and severity of your acne may change. One way to reduce this inflammation is to consume turmeric. This rhizome has been used both topically and internally for hundreds if not thousands of years. You can try 1 tsp of turmeric powder in your food each day or try a DIY face mask made from turmeric.
Cinnamon + Honey
Cinnamon when taken internally lowers testosterone and balances insulin, a contributing factor to PCOS acne. Cinnamon is also anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, making it an excellent topical suggestion for PCOS acne.
Raw honey is a fantastic topical remedy for acne. Raw honey contains many enzymes which are nourishing to the skin. Raw honey is also anti-microbial, being excellent for reducing unwanted bacteria on the skin’s surface. Raw honey also removes excess oil from the skin and leaves it feeling light and moisturized.
I personally like to combine the two and use it as a face wash or cleanser. I do not use store-bought cleansers on my acne-prone skin. After using a mixture of raw honey and cinnamon on my face for one month, I noticed a significant breakout reduction and less oil building up through the day. Not only that, my skin became incredibly smooth!
Dairy-Free, Whole Foods Diet
Frequent dairy intake and a high glycemic load diet both have links to your PCOS acne. Dairy foods are a no-no for acne because:
- It increases insulin levels leading to more testosterone (and acne)
- Milk products contain naturally-occurring hormones including DHT which increases sebum production and acne breakouts
- A protein in dairy called A1 casein converts to casomorphin, which causes inflammation, and impaired insulin sensitivity.
Instead of dairy, choose coconut or nut milk products as replacement. You will find plenty of calcium in leafy greens, nuts + seeds, and fish. Enjoying a whole foods diet that is high in these foods, and others that include protein, fat and fibre, is a great way to balance acne with food.