How To Treat PCOS Acne & Foods To Avoid If You Have It

Ditch the triggers and make healthy choices to control your symptoms.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Somodyuti Chandra, MBBS, MD DVL & DNB Dr. Somodyuti Chandra Dr. Somodyuti ChandraMBBS, MD DVL & DNB facebook_icon
Written by , MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) Monomita Chakraborty MA (Journalism & Mass Communication) linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
Edited by , BA, MSc Eshna Das BA, MSc linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English Literature) Swathi E MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years
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If you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you may also experience PCOS acne. It is a classic symptom of this serious hormonal and reproductive condition. PCOS affects around 7% of adults worldwide and causes weight gain, excessive hair growth, in male pattern, irregular menstrual cycles, and ovarian cysts (1).

If you have PCOS acne, you know how difficult it is to manage them. But we are here to help you. This article explains everything about PCOS acne and how to manage it. Keep reading!

Why Do People With PCOS Have Acne?

PCOS acne is caused by hormonal imbalance. This endocrine disorder affects the body’s hormonal equilibrium and leads to high levels of androgens (male sex hormones).

The data, based on a sample of 2,000 U.S. adult citizens, indicates that 17% of individuals experience acne during or around their menstrual period. It also reports that 12% are personally affected or have friends or family members affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

The thecal cells (endocrine cells associated with ovarian follicles) produce high amounts of testosterone that stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce excess oil (1). Excess sebum combined with dead skin cells, dirt, and debris can clog the pores, increasing the risk of acne breakouts.

PCOS acne can show up in body parts with the highest concentration of sebaceous glands. They include:

  • Face
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Upper Back

Since various internal and external factors trigger PCOS acne, it is important to know how to differentiate between normal acne and PCOS acne for the right treatment.

Signs Of PCOS Acne

If you notice persistent and widespread breakouts on your face, chest, or back, they may be indicators of PCOS. These blemishes may be deep and cystic, resisting typical acne treatments. They make the skin oilier, leading to blackheads. Symptoms may worsen during your menstrual period, and severe inflammation may increase the risk of scarring. Irregular periods or hair thinning along with these acne formations can be additional signs of polycystic ovary syndrome.

When it comes to treatments, the doctor may recommend combination therapy, including oral and topical treatments and lifestyle changes. Scroll down to learn ways to manage PCOS acne.

How To Treat PCOS Acne

1. Retinoids

Topical retinoids are beneficial in acne management. They have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce comedones and microcomedones (2). The doctor may prescribe topical or oral retinoids (isotretinoin). However, the strength of the retinoids may depend on the severity of your condition. So, avoid self-medication. Also, it may make your skin susceptible to UV damage. So, always use sunscreen when on retinoids.

protip_icon Quick Tip
If you are using it for the first time, apply it every other day for the first couple of weeks to avoid irritation.

2. OTC Medicines

The doctor may recommend OTC topical medicines containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Both ingredients are first-line treatments for acne and work by exfoliating the skin, killing acne-causing bacteria, and reducing excess sebum production (3 ),(4). They also reduce skin irritation and inflammation and speed up the healing process.

3. Birth Control Pills

Estrogen and progestin birth control pills are usually recommended to manage hormonal skin changes and PCOS acne. However, it is a temporary solution and should be balanced with other medications and lifestyle changes (5).

4. Laser Therapy

Laser-based therapies target acne and may also help reduce acne scarring (6). Lasers remove dead skin cells and reduce excess oil production to control acne.

protip_icon Pro Tip
You may experience redness, scarring, or stinging of the skin after the treatment. However, they are mild and may disappear in a day or two.

5. Spironolactone

Spironolactone is primarily used as a diuretic or water pill to treat high blood pressure. However, it is also prescribed off-label for various conditions, including the management of hormonal issues. In PCOS, it helps in reducing the production of oil in your skin. When it is taken as prescribed, typically at a low dose in the beginning, it may take a few months to show results (7).

6. Lifestyle Management

Lifestyle management is a critical aspect of PCOS acne management. Since PCOS may also affect metabolic factors, which may contribute to acne, you must maintain a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes you may need, exercise regularly, consume a balanced diet, and maintain a healthy weight.

While the medications work internally to maintain hormonal imbalance, you can accelerate the healing process through your diet. Read on to find out what food you should avoid if you have PCOS acne.

Foods To Avoid  If You Have PCOS Acne

Several food items may aggravate acne, especially if you have PCOS. They include (8), (9) :

  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, and dairy-based chocolates)
  • High-calorie foods like sugary beverages, baked goodies (cakes and cookies), processed and junk food (pizza, burger, and fried foods)

Acne is one of the common symptoms of PCOS. You may experience breakouts in the areas with the highest concentration of sebaceous glands, like your face, chest, neck, and upper back. Managing PCOS means managing the hormonal imbalances and maintaining your skin health. Retinoids, OTC medicines, laser therapies, birth control pills, and lifestyle changes may help manage PCOS acne. You can also consult your doctor to know more about this condition and plan your diet to prevent flare-ups. Following these will help you get rid of PCOS acne.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does PCOS acne look like?

PCOS acne is considered a severe form of acne and is characterized by large, painful, and red pimples on your face, neck, and chest.

What foods are good for PCOS acne?

A high-fiber and low-glycemic diet may help manage PCOS acne (10).

How can I treat PCOS acne without birth control?

You can follow a specific skin care routine, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and cope with stress effectively to manage PCOS acne.

Key Takeaways

  • If your acne is accompanied by weight gain, menstrual irregularities, excessive hair growth, or ovarian cysts, you may be dealing with PCOS and related acne.
  • Retinoids, OTC medicines, laser therapy, and prescribed birth control pills can help manage your PCOS-related better.
  • Lifestyle and diet changes can go a long way in keeping your PCOS-acne flare-ups under control.

Get practical tips to manage PCOS acne from this informative video. From skincare routines to lifestyle changes, discover why these painful boils appear on your skin to help control breakout symptoms for a more confident appearance. Click play to learn!


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  2. Topical retinoids in acne–an evidence-based overview
  3. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients
  4. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments
  5. Use of oral contraceptives for management of acne vulgaris and hirsutism in women of reproductive and late reproductive age
  6. Laser and light-based treatments of acne and acne scarring
  7. Effectiveness of spironolactone for women with acne vulgaris (SAFA) in England and Wales: pragmatic, multicentre, phase 3, double blind, randomised controlled trial
  8. Diet and acne: a review of the evidence
  9. The epidemiology of adolescent acne in North East China
  10. Dietary Options in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
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Dr. Somodyuti Chandra
Dr. Somodyuti ChandraMBBS, MD DVL & DNB
Dr. Somodyuti is a board-certified dermatologist with 9 years of experience, who specializes in skin, hair, and nail problems, laser surgery, and esthetic procedures. After completing her MBBS and MD DVL and DNB, she went on to do DNB Dermatology from the National Board (New Delhi) and MRCP - SCE Dermatology, from the Royal College of Physicians, UK.

Read full bio of Dr. Somodyuti Chandra
Monomita Chakraborty
Monomita ChakrabortyBeauty & Lifestyle Writer
Monomita has a graduate degree in mass communication and video production from St. Anthony's College, Shillong, and a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the Royal Global University, Guwahati. She is also a certified skincare coach with a keen interest in skin, hair, tattoos, nail art, and lifestyle trends.

Read full bio of Monomita Chakraborty
Eshna Das
Eshna DasAssociate Editor
Eshna is an associate editor and a certified skin care coach. She has over three years of experience, a triple main bachelor’s degree in psychology, English, and journalism from Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru, and a master’s degree in psychology from Sampurna Montfort College, Bengaluru.

Read full bio of Eshna Das
Swathi E
Swathi ESenior Beauty & Lifestyle Writer
Swathi has a postgraduate degree in English literature from The English And Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, and over three years of experience in writing on beauty, health, and lifestyle. She also has a diploma in English journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Kottayam, and is a certified skincare coach.

Read full bio of Swathi E