Picture this: You’re well into adulthood, yet acne continues to rear its unwelcome head. What if those stubborn breakouts aren’t just the random period-related acne but instead a sign of something deeper? Many women are finding a connection between adult acne and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Among the many symptoms of the condition is worsening acne caused by high androgen levels and excess oil production. It’s estimated that 5-10 percent of women have PCOS but that number isn’t accurate, as many with the condition go undiagnosed. Recognizing the symptoms can help give you a clue, so let’s dive into the world of PCOS, its causes, how to detect it, and effective treatments for acne relief.
Detecting PCOS: What to Look For
The key indicator of PCOS is irregular periods. Dr. Prabakar explains, “Women with PCOS may only get their period a few times a year because they don’t ovulate every month. When there is no egg released, there is no period.” Additionally, excessive hair growth, unexplained weight gain, and difficulties conceiving can also be associated with PCOS.
When it comes to diagnosing PCOS, it’s primarily a clinical judgment. Oakland, CA OBGYN and advisor for Luna Daily Cheruba Prabakar, MD notes, “Lab tests such as estrogen, progesterone, LH, and FSH can provide valuable insights. Additionally, an ultrasound can reveal the classic picture of PCOS ovaries, where several follicles are arranged on the outside like a ‘pearl necklace.’”
PCOS is more than skin deep. It’s a metabolic syndrome that can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even infertility. Early diagnosis and proper treatment play a vital role in managing the potential side effects.
“Acne is cystic in nature and it’s usually the lower face that is affected,” explains New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD. “Sometimes those patients also have hirsutism, so those patients may experience facial hair. My first question to them is are your periods irregular? If they say yes, I urge them to see their gynecologist to get tested, because once we have a diagnosis, we can identify the best treatment.”
Lifestyle Changes: Taking Charge of PCOS
While genetics may contribute to PCOS, certain lifestyle factors can exacerbate the condition. Dr. Prabakar advises, “Diet and exercise are the two most modifiable risk factors when it comes to lifestyle modifications. Consulting a health coach can provide personalized guidance in making effective changes.”
When it comes to treating PCOS-related acne, the approach depends on the specific concerns. Dr. Prabakar suggests, “Increasing insulin sensitivity is often the key factor. For many, that may involve weight loss. For those already at a healthy weight, it’s important to evaluate the types of foods consumed and make dietary adjustments. Hormonal medications, like birth control, can also help regulate menstrual cycles and alleviate acne symptoms.”
Dr. Peredo says once hormonal medications are brought into play, the acne tends to clear up. “Many times, the simplest solution is going on birth control or having an IUD [inserted] to help menstruation and hormonal imbalances.”
Dr. Prabakar addresses a common misconception, stating, “The most common one is that you have to be overweight or obese to have PCOS. In reality, there are many thin women who also experience PCOS. Recognizing this fact is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the syndrome and its diverse impact on individuals.”
If adult acne persists and seems resistant to conventional treatments, it may be worth exploring the possibility of PCOS. “Identifying the symptoms and understanding the underlying causes can lead to timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment,” says Dr. Peredo. With proper care, acne breakouts can be managed and PCOS symptoms navigated, leading to healthier-looking skin.