How to manage PCOS-related acne 

September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month and so today, I want to talk about how this medical condition can affect the skin. 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is defined as a hormonal imbalance of reproductive hormones that can cause irregular menstrual cycles, excess male hormone levels and fertility difficulties amongst other symptoms. It is thought to affect between 4% and 20% of women of reproductive age worldwide.*

PCOS can also be the cause of skin-related symptoms including oily skin, adult acne and dark patches of pigmentation. Women with PCOS can find that they suffer from persistent, unresponsive acne, particularly at times when their other symptoms are worse. 

Acne is believed to affect 10-34% of women with PCOS. Picture: PA
Acne is believed to affect 10-34% of women with PCOS. Picture: PA

Acne is believed to affect 10-34% of women with PCOS** and PCOS-related acne often manifests due to high levels of androgens – a key feature of PCOS and contributor to the development of acne. 

Androgens cause an excess of sebum, which can clog the pores and lead to spots. Flares often occur on the lower part of the face and those with PCOS may notice that acne lesions can also be inflammatory and sit under the skin (called papules). These lesions can conglobate, which is the nerdie word for form a compact mass. PCOS can also cause skin tags, which are thickened pieces of skin that resemble moles. This happens because women with PCOS can also experience insulin resistance, which can trigger skin tags.

If you think you may have PCOS, book an appointment to see your GP to discuss your symptoms. 

Skincare ingredients that can help manage PCOS-induced issues 

When it comes to skincare, the following ingredients can be effective in managing the issues triggered by PCOS;

Salicylic acid
 (if your skin is not sensitised): Hormonal acne should be treated the same way topically as other acne is treated, which means investing in salicylic acid! Salicylic acid is oil-soluble and therefore key to assisting with congestion and dissolving debris within the pores. 

Reserve use for alternate evenings (or as advised by the manufacturer) and remember to always use SPF during the day as this acid can sensitise your skin. Try Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser, €17.00 or Skingredients Sally Cleanse 2% Salicylic Acid Oil Control Cleanser, €33.00.

 Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser, €17.00
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser, €17.00

Hyaluronic acid and ceramides: these intensive hydrators are ideal for repairing and maintaining the skin barrier. I love ASAP Skincare Super B Complex, €75.00 and Declare Anti Irritation Serum, €65.00 to replenish lost moisture and assist in barrier repair.

Polyhydroxy acid: Great for those with sensitive skin, this gentle exfoliating acid hydrates the skin whilst encouraging cell turnover.

Retinyl Palmitate: An essential for healthy skin, vitamin A works to support the skin’s natural cell cycle and helps to regulate sebaceous activity.

Nerdie Pick

IMAGE Skincare Clear Cell Salicylic Acid Gel Cleanser is an intense, spot-fighting, pore-unclogging cleanser that contains salicylic acid, neem and tea tree. 

As well as salicylic acid, this cleanser also includes granactive acne, a botanical complex containing patented antimicrobial peptides and arnica montana to help reduce inflammation. Use alongside a non-active cleanser on alternate nights or around 1-2 times a week as a mask on confined broken out areas. For best results, always ensure that you remove your makeup first with a Cleanse Off Mitt!

IMAGE Skincare CLEAR CELL Salicylic Gel Cleanser, €40.50,

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