As someone who struggles with hormonal acne, I’m no stranger to treatments and products that promise to clear my skin and fix my life, and believe me when I say I have tried them all: harsh, burning peels that left my face angry and red, facials, extractions, topical antibiotics, and just about every spot treatment and medicated cleanser on the shelf at CVS. 

But the one thing that has helped my skin the most? Talking to my dermatologist about PCOS. She told me to drop the acids and instead prescribed spironolactone, a pill to treat the root cause of my acne — my hormones. Within weeks, my breakouts were gone and my skin was as smooth and clear. I stopped getting as many breakouts around my period and even noticed that my skin appeared less oily throughout the day. 

If you’re struggling with PCOS skin woes, there is hope! Here is what experts recommend to get your best skin yet:

woman popping pimples in the mirror

How does PCOS affect your skin? 

If you have tried everything on the shelf and nothing seems to work for you, it’s likely because you are not treating the underlying cause of your problems: your hormones. According to Dr. David Li of Boston Derm Advocate, a digital platform dedicated to the exploration of evidence-based skincare, women with PCOS have higher levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which stimulates the ovaries to create excess androgens. 

These excess androgens can cause several skin problems, such as:

  • Acne around the jawline, neck, and back

  • Excessive hair growth and hirsutism 

  • Male-pattern hair loss around the temples and crown of the head

Will balancing my hormones help my skin?

The good news is that many women notice that their skin improves as they treat the underlying causes of PCOS! 

If your doctor suspects that PCOS is the cause of your symptoms, they might suggest medication and lifestyle changes to improve insulin resistance and balance hormones. Dr. Li suggests consulting a dermatologist to see if you are a good candidate for spironolactone, a medication that lowers the amount of androgens in your body. It is safe and highly effective at treating hormonal acne and hormone-related hair loss!

The hormonal birth control pill is another great option to balance your hormones and treat the symptoms of PCOS. Like spironolactone, the pill lowers the amount of androgens that the ovaries produce. It is very effective as a treatment for acne, especially in combination with spironolactone. Because the pill is not without side effects, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting the pill.

Finally, Dr. Li suggested a balanced diet that is low in refined sugars to improve insulin resistance and improve PCOS symptoms. A PCOS diet that is high in fiber, whole grains, and lean protein has more benefits than just better skin  it can boost your energy, improve your insulin resistance, and help maintain a healthy weight!

woman eating a healthy salad

What are the best skincare products for women with PCOS?

The best first step in your skincare journey is to consult a dermatologist, who can help you develop a routine that works for your skin. They might suggest the pill or spironolactone, but might also suggest skincare products or treatments to address hormonal acne or excess hair growth. 

For acne:

If you are struggling with hormonal breakouts, Dr. Li suggests a gentle facial cleanser with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to remove dirt and impurities from the skin while treating breakouts. The good news is that cleansers don’t need to break the bank either– here are two dermatologist-loved options available at the drugstore:

Try: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser ($12)

Dermatologists love CeraVe for their gentle, effective, and budget-friendly products. This cleanser features salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and niacinamide to gently treat breakouts without drying out the skin. 

Try: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash ($10)

This foaming cleanser helps balance oily skin and features 10% benzoyl peroxide to banish breakouts.

For excessive hair growth: 

If you are experiencing excessive hair growth or hirsutism on your face and body, Dr. Li suggests laser hair removal as a long-term solution to hair growth. Laser hair removal can cause a 70-90% reduction in hair growth after several sessions, but requires regular maintenance to keep up results. It is recommended that patients consult a dermatologist for laser hair removal because improperly trained technicians can cause skin damage, especially for women with melanated skin

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For an at-home option, waxing can be an affordable option to treat excessive growth. At-home options include wax strips and salon-style hard wax. We love:

Try: Sally Hansen Hair Remover Kit ($6)

These easy-to-use and affordable wax strips are great options for hair growth on the face.

Try: Gigi Hair Removal Starter Kit  ($47)

If you prefer hard wax, this kit includes everything you need to get started. Better yet, this wax can be used on the face and body.

woman getting waxed above the lip

What skincare products should women with PCOS avoid?

According to Dr. Li, women with PCOS should avoid harsh exfoliants, like exfoliating scrubs (we’re looking at you, St. Ives…) and acid peels, as well as comedogenic products that can worsen acne. He also recommends a healthy, balanced diet with minimal processed sugars, which can exacerbate insulin resistance, and worsen PCOS symptoms.

It’s common to feel alone if you are struggling with PCOS. Join the Rescripted community to connect with other women going through the same thing as you, and share advice for dealing with PCOS!

Erin Pettis is a content strategist, freelance writer, and women’s health advocate. She lives in New York City and holds an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business.