Many women don't realize that skin conditions such as acne, dark spots, and thickening skin are symptoms of PCOS. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Find out about the other symptoms associated with PCOS and what you can do to combat them.
Many women struggle with acne, even those that believe they are “past that stage in life”, and if that wasn’t enough, many are also losing the battle on unwanted facial and body hair all the while not knowing why. A condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may be to blame. PCOS has women struggling to control both of these unwanted issues, and is the result of imbalanced sex hormones, affecting as many as 7 million women and adolescent girls today.
The ovaries normally make small amounts of male hormones. Tiny cysts on the ovaries, created by PCOS, cause the ovaries to overproduce male hormones. Those elevated hormone levels (testosterone) cause many unwanted cosmetic changes. Symptoms of PCOS typically begin to develop about the age of 13 and appear to have a genetic component to it because many individuals afflicted with PCOS have had a family member diagnosed as well.
Cosmetic issues may not be the only problem to arise as many women with PCOS also suffer with painful endometriosis (a condition in which tissue that normally lines the uterus begins growing outside), with approximately 50% being insulin resistant. This unfortunately can also lead more serious issues such as diabetes, infertility issues, high blood pressure, and many other serious health issues.
The Struggle with PCOS is Real
Recently even celebrities are speaking out about PCOS and their own struggles with this disease. ‘Star Wars’ actress Daisy Ridley last week shared on Instagram her struggle since age 15 with PCOS. She mentions the support that she has received during her struggle and also suggests “to any of you who are suffering with anything, go to a doctor; pay for a specialist; get your hormones tested; get allergy testing; keep on top of how your body is feeling and don’t worry about sounding like a hypochondriac. From your head to the tips of your toes we only have one body, let us all make sure ours is working in tip top condition, and take help if it’s needed.” Wise words to listen to!
The External Symptoms of PCOS
The most common external problems caused by PCOS are acne, darkened patches of skin on the body, and excessive hair growth on the face or body. Skin tags can start to pop up everywhere. The darkened skin patches (acanthosis nigricans) can occur at the nape of the neck, underarm area, inside thigh area, and under the breasts. The skin can become thicker and develop a rough texture on the elbows and knees. Excessive hair, especially on the face, can make any woman obsessive in trying to rid herself of the hair; it may even grow on the fingers and toes.
Additionally, hidradenitis suppurativa (acne inversa), an inflammatory condition, can also develop. These sometimes painful boil-like lumps can pop up under breasts, groin area, and under armpits.
The severity of these unwanted skin conditions vary from woman to woman.
Daisy Ridley stated on Instagram, “I hate wearing makeup but I currently don’t want to leave the house without it on.” She goes on to state “However progress is being made!” She mentions getting help from her physician, cutting out dairy, and cutting down her sugar intake in dealing with her condition. Fortunately we have women like Daisy who are speaking out and letting others know there is help out there.
Besides seeking help from a physician for treatment of your PCOS symptoms, there are a few other things that you can do to help with these skin conditions. For example, in battling acne it is important for you to change your pillowcases frequently. Use one side of the pillow one night, flip it over for the next night, then wash or change. This keeps the bacteria to a minimum which, if left unaddressed, can make acne worse. It is also a good idea to take clean washcloths with you each day and use cold water to gently wash face throughout the day. Hypoallergenic makeup, avoiding grease or oil, and getting adequate sun daily will also help.
Many shave and wax the unwanted excessive hair caused by PCOS; however, staying on top of it can take time and a lot of energy. Laser hair removal treatments tend the most effective at keeping hair away.
Many women have used a zinc supplement taken at night to reduce skin disturbances while others have reported using diluted tea tree and aloe vera topically to help with acne.
Because weight gain is also common for women suffering with PCOS, eating a well balanced diet, lowering sugar intake, limiting saturated fatty foods such as meat, cheeses, and fried foods will help significantly with weight control. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, and whole grains are ideal foods to eat.
In order to treat PCOS you will need to see a physician who may do any of the following treatments or a combination.
Metformin, a medication used to treat Type 2 diabetes, affects the way insulin is controlled in the blood sugar, moves glucose into cells, decreases insulin production, and lowers testosterone levels.
Some fertility medications (Clomid, Letrozole, Gonadotropins) have also shown to improve PCOS by stimulating ovulation. Medications that decrease hair growth such as Vanique cream and Aldactone can be prescribed to battle excess hair growth. Potential side effects of any medications prescribed should be discussed with you doctor.
Because PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance, it is important to have your levels checked and, if your physicians deems it necessary, prescribe bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) to attempt to re-balance the hormones.
Dealing with the skin problems associated with PCOS can be life altering. Depression is common, as is low self esteem issues while dealing with PCOS symptoms. Try to be gentle with yourself and ask for support from family or friends, and if necessary, reach out to PCOS foundations and awareness for even more support and education regarding the condition. Certainly consult with your physician to find out ways you can help relieve your symptoms.