5 PCOS Skin Symptoms & How to Treat Them

Learn the most common PCOS skin problems, and how you can fix them.

PCOS may be causing some of your most problematic and persistent skin issues.

Acne, skin tags, or excess hair growth, are all signs you may be suffering from a hormonal balance.

Think of them as your body's warning signals: one study published in the 2022 Gynecological Endocrinology journal suggests skin problems like acne and hirsutism, excess body hair, are crucial for making an early PCOS diagnosis.

Therefore, it’s essential to be aware of the common PCOS skin symptoms and take steps to treat them.

Using the right treatment, you could have glowing, healthy skin. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common PCOS skin problems and how to fix them.

What skin problems are caused by PCOS?

PCOS is associated with a hormonal imbalance. Because of this imbalance, you might experience a range of skin problems. 

The most common skin-related symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Acne: Acne is a common symptom of PCOS that can cause painful, red pimples on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders.
  • Skin tags: Skin tags, which are small growths of skin, can occur on the neck, armpits, eyelids, or groin area.
  • Hirsutism: Hirsutism is a common symptom of PCOS and is characterised by excessive facial and body hair in women. It is most often seen on the upper lip, chin, chest, abdomen, and back.
  • Acanthosis nigricans: dark, velvety patches of skin usually found in the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Seborrhea: an itchy rash that shows up as dandruff when it affects the scalp.

Higher than normal levels of male hormones, called androgens, cause acne and hirsutism. While insulin resistance is linked with skin tags and acanthosis nigricans.

How can I treat my PCOS skin?

Diet, exercise, natural remedies, and prescription medication can help manage PCOS, improving PCOS skin problems. 

Eating a balanced diet that is low in processed foods, saturated and trans fats, and refined carbohydrates can help balance hormones, reduce inflammation, and reduce skin issues associated with PCOS.

Regular exercise is also beneficial for managing PCOS skin problems. Exercise helps regulate hormones, reduce stress, and promote better blood flow throughout the body. 

Natural remedies can also help manage PCOS skin flare-ups. Hormone balance supplements such as zinc, magnesium, chasteberry, and inositol are thought to be helpful for managing PCOS.

Finally, medication exists for several PCOS skin symptoms, including acne and hirsutism. These medications seek to address the hormonal imbalance at the heart of PCOS. Most will reduce insulin resistance and lower testosterone. Skin care products also contain ingredients that can help to control oil production.

Remember to seek medical advice if you notice any changes in your skin. A doctor can help diagnose the condition and determine the best course of treatment for you.

The most common PCOS skin symptoms and how to treat them

PCOS skin problem #1: Acne

Ance is a skin problem that causes pimples, and with PCOS acne may frequently appear on the jaw, back, or chest. 

Research shows acne could be one of the “common dermatological manifestations in PCOS”. Acne is tied to excess male hormones in women with PCOS, reports this paper.

“Acne might be a marker of hyperandrogenism, and persistent, severe, or late-onset acne may suggest PCOS in women.”

Futher, a review of the latest research into acne and PCOS finds PCOS is a major cause of acne among adult women.

“One of the most common causes of acne vulgaris in adult women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The hyperandrogenism and metabolic disorders present in this syndrome may contribute to the formation of blackheads, pimples, and cysts on the face, chest and back.” 

By far, acne has been my worst PCOS skin symptom. Not only did I get painful pimples regularly, they always left dark  marks or small, pitted scars. 

How to treat it:

Effective treatments for PCOS acne are a healthy diet, medication, and a consistent skincare routine. 

One research paper investigated the role of diet in treating acne associated with PCOS.

“Nutritional factors play a significant role in the pathophysiology of both acne and PCOS and have been shown to be effective therapeutic interventions. As a result, the International Guidelines recommend that dietary modification should be the first-line of treatment for all women with PCOS. The currently available evidence supports the recommendation that nutritional therapy should be the first-line of management for all adolescents and women with PCOS and acne.”

Insulin-sensitising medication like Metformin is commonly prescribed to treat PCOS. One study found metformin improves acne. 

Birth control pills are another option. According to this paper, hormonal contraceptives can improve acne and hirsitutism because it changes the hormones in the body. These pills release a combination of hormones like oestrogen and progestin into the body, lowering testosterone levels

You could also use retinoids, derived from vitamin A. Research has shown that topical retinoids can improve acne because it reduces sebum production and inflammation.

Hormonal supplements, like inositol, can also treat acne. While supplements designed to improve gut health, such as a probiotic may also promote healthy skin, according to this research paper.

A consistent skincare routine can help to manage PCOS skin symptoms by removing excess oil.

The New York Times guide on skincare recommends following three basic steps:

  • Cleansing 
  • Toning
  • Moisturising 

Start by washing your skin every day, using a gentle cleanser that won't strip away natural oils. After cleansing, apply a moisturiser to keep your skin hydrated. Look for one that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to boost hydration. Be sure to protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen every day.

PCOS skin symptom #2: Hirsutism

Hirsutism is defined as excess body hair in females. If you have hirsutism, hair may appear on the upper lip, chest, or back. Hirsutism is caused by an increase in androgens or male hormones. Androgen levels can be higher in women with PCOS because our ovaries produce too many of these hormones. 

That's all to say, like acne, hirsutism is a common PCOS skin symptom. In fact, it’s used to diagnose PCOS in some cases. A paper in the Diagnostics journal said hirsutism is the “main manifestation of hyperandrogenism in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)” .

The main treatment for hirsutism is medications that reduce androgen levels, such as birth control pills or spironolactone.

If you choose to remove the hair, the options include waxing, electrolysis, laser hair removal, or depilatory creams.

I’ve had dark hair growth on my upper lip, chin, toes, and fingers.

PCOS skin symptom #3: Skin tags

Skin tags, or acrochordon, are small growths that hang off the skin. The exact cause of skin tags is unknown, though they can be associated with a variety of lifestyle and environmental factors such as obesity, genetics, skin friction, and PCOS.

Skin tags have been linked with insulin resistance, according to this paper. Insulin resistance, a condition where the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, is the root cause of many PCOS symptoms. 

The good news is that skin tags are usually harmless.

Most skin tags do not require treatment unless they become irritated due to friction from clothing or jewelry. If you choose to have them removed, your doctor may recommend several methods to remove them, such as freezing or burning the skin tag off. 

If you’re dealing with skin tags and have PCOS, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how best to manage your condition. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing serious illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease.

PCOS skin symptom #4: Acanthosis Nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is the darkening of skin around the body most commonly the back of the neck, groin, or armpits. These velvety patches are often found in the folds of the skin.

According to this paper, acanthosis nigricans usually develops in people with obesity, diabetes, and PCOS. It is also linked to certain hormonal imbalances, such as high levels of insulin. This can be caused by stress, excessive consumption of processed foods, and genetic factors.

The first step in treating acanthosis nigricans is to identify and address the underlying cause, in this case, PCOS. In some cases, prescription creams and lotions may be used to lighten the dark patches of skin.

In addition to these treatments, it is important to practice healthy lifestyle habits that can help prevent acanthosis nigricans. Eating a balanced diet low in processed foods and exercising regularly can help maintain a healthy weight. Managing stress levels and getting enough sleep can also help keep hormones in balance.

According to the Open Health journal, a healthy diet can alleviate PCOS symptoms and lower insulin resistance. Specifically, researchers said the low-glycemic index is beneficial for PCOS. This means eating low-GI foods like fruits, beans, and vegetables and restricting high-GI food like white bread and sugary soft drinks.

Like diet, exercise is a key treatment for PCOS in general. Many exercises can balance hormones, lowering insulin resistance. Some of the best exercises for PCOS include walking and yoga. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

Again by lowering insulin resistance, exercise can contribute toward improving acanthosis nigricans.

PCOS skin symptom #5: Seborrhea

Seborrhea causes an itchy red rash and can appear in the hair, around the nose, forehead, or behind  the ears. In the hair, it usually shows up as dandruff.

One study found that seborrhea is a skin condition associated with PCOS. Researchers suggest increased androgens, genetics, and climate may play a role in seborrhea. 

Seborrhea, and dandruff, can be managed. A doctor may recommend over-the-counter anti-fungal shampoos and medications.

In addition, lifestyle changes such as reducing stress and avoiding triggers can help manage symptoms. Eating a healthy diet, avoiding certain skin products, and avoiding excessive washing are also recommended.

A Medical News Today article reports that a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids may provide relief from dandruff. Omega-3 fatty acids can control oil production and inflammation. They’re found in foods like salmon and walnuts, and you can take them in supplement form.

Manage your PCOS Skin symptoms 

PCOS skin symptoms can trigger anxiety and distress.

If you're dealing with any of these skin symptoms, it's important to keep in mind that they're treatable and it doesn't have to define who you are. With the right treatment, you can manage your PCOS and improve your overall health.


Featured image credit: Photo by Ron Lach