September 29, 2023

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Acne

A woman holding a paper model of female anatomy in front of her abdomen

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) causes the ovaries to overproduce hormones called androgens. This occurs because PCOS disrupts instructions from the pituitary gland to the ovaries. As a result, they produce less estrogen and progesterone than they should and more testosterone.

The small cysts that can develop with PCOS are responsible for its name. The condition can also cause fertility problems and hormone-related side effects, including acne.

This article addresses the relationship between polycystic ovary syndrome and acne, including available treatments and lifestyle changes that can reduce skin problems.

Understanding PCOS, Hormones, and Acne

PCOS is a common condition, affecting around 10% of young women. In addition to ovarian cysts and acne, it can cause:

  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain or trouble losing weight
  • Hair growth on the back, chest, or face
  • Dark skin patches on the neck and in other areas

It’s important to remember that other factors can contribute to acne, including:

  • Excess oil on the skin
  • Bacteria
  • Dead skin cells in pores
  • Stress
  • Specific medications, including corticosteroids
  • Dehydration
  • Not washing regularly
  • Using makeup or skin care products that clog the pores

So, PCOS can make you more likely to develop acne, with the issues above causing acne flare-ups.

How to Treat PCOS-Related Acne with Medication

Unlike typical acne, hormonal acne doesn’t respond well or fully to over-the-counter medications containing benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or salicylic acid. But there are ways to address acne caused by PCOS, including:

Birth control pills

Oral contraceptives that are “combination pills” (meaning they contain ethinyl estradiol plus progestin norgestimate, drospirenone, or norethindrone acetate) can help control hormonal acne.

However, birth control pills are not advised for people over 35 or with a history of blood clots, high blood pressure, breast cancer, or smoking.

Anti-androgen drugs

These medications lower testosterone levels, which can lead to helpful decreases in the production of pore-blocking substances like sebum and skin cells. But hormonal acne may not be related to testosterone, so your doctor may do a blood test to check your levels.


Retinoids are chemical compounds related to vitamin A. You can find them in over-the-counter products, but the prescription-strength oral or topical versions a dermatologist prescribes are more effective.

However, retinoids make your skin extremely sensitive to UV rays in sunlight, so it’s imperative that you apply sunscreen liberally before exposure and reapply regularly during your time in the sun. Failure to do so can lead to hyperpigmentation and increased skin cancer risk.

Diet and Hormonal Acne

Research on acne and diet has shifted in recent years. Experts are less convinced that eating junk food like french fries and chocolate is a factor and increasingly focus on the role of inflammation.

You may be able to reduce your hormonal acne by eating more anti-inflammatory foods, including:

  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes
  • Walnuts
  • Kale
  • Salmon
  • Berries
  • Turmeric

Your doctor may also recommend you consider anti-inflammatory supplements like garlic, copper, bromelain, zinc, and others. And you should avoid foods known to cause inflammation, including red meat, white potatoes, white bread, and sugary desserts.

Dietary changes won’t eliminate hormonal acne, but they can play an important role in clearing your skin.

Get Help with PCOS and Acne from Baptist Health

If you have questions or concerns about polycystic ovary syndrome and acne, the caring professionals in our women’s services group can answer them. Contact them at your convenience.

Learn More.