Hormones affect almost every function in the human body.
From your metabolism and mood, to your sleep, your SKIN, and so much more… A balance in hormones is so important for optimal health.
Hormone imbalances (either too much or too little of a given hormone) can disrupt regular processes; growth, emotions, skin cell turnover, oil production, even ovulation and fertility- all of these can be stopped or exacerbated when the associated hormone levels fluctuate.
This condition has an affect on the skin of many women experiencing acne and It’s important to understand the implications and treatments.
WHAT IS PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (commonly referred by the abbreviation: “PCOS”) involves an imbalance of hormones produced by the ovaries: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones are primarily involved in the reproductive functions of the female body. Testosterone (an androgen hormone) is often found in excess in women with PCOS.
“PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting 6% to 12% (as many as 5 million) of US women of reproductive age.”*
Insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar levels) also plays a role; Insulin resistance is found in most women with PCOS. High levels of insulin can actually be the cause of excessive androgens (testosterone), leading to PCOS. Research is still being done on this, but a common link between the two has been seen.
Although there is still a lot to be learned about the causes of this condition, genetics has a definitive hand in the possibility of a woman getting PCOS. If a female’s mom or sister has it, she may end up with it, too… Keep reading to learn about the symptoms and signs of PCOS…
How is it Diagnosed? (Symptoms/Tests)
PCOS is a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms (which is usually how it’s diagnosed):
- Irregular Periods
- Weight Gain / Insulin-Resistance
- Excess Hair Growth
- Male-Pattern Balding / Hair Loss
- Oily Skin / Acne Breakouts
- Cystic Ovaries
A doctor can assess whether a woman’s symptoms suggest abnormal hormone levels, and possibly proceed to order blood tests and/or an ultrasound.
To diagnose PCOS in the past, doctors would have to use an ultrasound machine to check for literal cysts on the ovaries (hence, the name "Poly-Cystic”). This method is less common now since some women without growths on their ovaries can still have PCOS, and others can have growths on their ovaries without PCOS. Sounds complicated, I know…
“A diagnosis of PCOS results when two of the three following symptoms are confirmed (this is also known as the Rotterdam criteria): irregular periods or ovulation, elevated levels of androgens or the associated symptoms like excess hair growth or loss, and/or "polycystic" ovaries (determined by ultrasound).”
Unfortunately, an estimated “70% of PCOS cases go undiagnosed”. With common health issues including weight gain, depression, eating disorders, sleep apnea, chronic acne and infertility related to PCOS, it’s important to raise awareness.
How Does PCOS Affect Skin/Appearance and What Can Be Done?
I have shared with my acne clients how androgens (like testosterone) affect the skin. Excess levels of testosterone stimulate the sebaceous (oil) glands, contributing to the buildup that causes acne breakouts. Since PCOS is usually involved with too much testosterone, “Acne is common, affecting 10–34% of people who have the condition.”*
Hirsutism (excess hair growth in unwanted areas, like the chin or upper lip), and thinning of hair on the head (male-pattern balding) are also common appearance-related issues experienced by women with PCOS. To combat these unwelcome changes, women can combine their current PCOS treatments with hair removal such as dermaplaning, waxing or laser hair removal, and hair regrowth treatments and supplements for healthy hair. A future post will be shared about these and other supplements since some may also trigger acne.
Fortunately, several treatment options exist for women with PCOS. Some find relief from symptoms by first reducing their insulin resistance with weight loss and/or a low glycemic diet and exercise. “A number of short- to medium-term studies demonstrate that modest weight loss (5–10% of initial body weight) improves metabolic, reproductive and psychological features of PCOS…”
Doctors often prescribe hormone replacement medications to regulate periods, manage insulin levels and/or assist fertility. There are also programs designed to help women reverse their PCOS naturally with lifestyle and diet changes used to heal the gut, balance hormones and restore metabolism functions.
Some homeopathic remedies such as meditation/stress reduction, supplements and acupuncture are being experimented with in hopes of finding more help for women with PCOS. One of the supplements I recommend to my acne clients is zinc (Optizinc brand). This mineral is known to be effective for clearing acne and helping with excess hair growth. It works by blocking androgens, killing bacteria, and slowing the production of sebum and keratin.
For those who are still struggling with acne as a result of their PCOS, my Clear Skin Boot Camp can help. The changes I encourage during the program aim to heal and treat the acne from the inside out. Many of those changes can also help reduce the effects of PCOS by removing hormone-disrupting foods and lowering overall stress and inflammation in the body.
Check out my Acne FAQ’s page to learn more!
*Thanks to CDC.gov, AAFP.org, Axia Women’s Health (AxiaWH.org), ClevelandClinic.org, ModernFertility.com, larabriden.com, MedicalNewsToday.com and my friend (who has PCOS herself), for being helpful resources to teach about this topic.