Understanding PCOS acne: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Medically reviewed by Dr. Mandy Liedeman

Key takeaways

  • PCOS-related acne is more than occasional blemishes; it’s persistent and often clustered around the jawline and lower face.
  • Hormonal imbalances, especially elevated androgens, drive PCOS-related acne.
  • PCOS-related acne can take various forms, from cystic nodules to blackheads and whiteheads.
  • An individualized approach to treatment is key for effectively managing PCOS-related acne.
  • Maintaining a positive self-image is important; remember, your self-worth extends beyond your skin.


Millions of women worldwide suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Acne is a common symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) that may occur alongside the disease’s more well-known effects on reproductive health and hormonal balance.

Acne brought on by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a difficult and, at times, emotionally distressing. In addition to the obvious cosmetic effects, PCOS can cause emotional distress and a decline in self-confidence.

To thoroughly understand PCOS-related acne and how to manage it effectively, we will delve into its complexities in this blog.

Does PCOS cause acne?

In women, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) manifests itself in irregular menstrual cycles, increased levels of androgen (male hormones), and small cysts on the ovaries. Acne is one of the most obvious and inconvenient signs of this condition.

So, how does polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) play a role in developing these unsightly marks?

The primary distinguishing feature of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance, specifically an increase in androgens (also known as male hormones). These androgens largely trigger acne.

The sebaceous glands in your skin can be prompted to overproduce oil if you have an abundance of androgens. The proliferation of acne-inducing bacteria is facilitated by an environment characterized by an abundance of surplus sebum and deceased epidermal cells.

Androgens can also cause the sebaceous glands to swell, making them more prone to blockage. The proliferation of acne-inducing bacteria is facilitated by an environment characterized by an abundance of surplus sebum and deceased epidermal cells.

Acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common secondary symptom that can exacerbate an already difficult battle with the disorder’s other symptoms. The first step in managing and treating acne is realizing the connection between polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), androgens, and the skin condition.

PCOS acne is usually stubborn and needs professional help. Luckily, with the rise of telehealth, you can discuss your condition with an online doctor at your earliest convenience.

What else causes acne?

There can be other contributing factors and causes of acne that need to be addressed other than PCOS. Some common causes of acne other than PCOS include the following:

  • Hair follicles clogged by oil and dead skin cells 
  • Excess oil or sebum production
  • Pressure on your skin
  • Your partner’s beard
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Bacterial growth
  • Inflammation
  • Diet

Other issues linked with PCOS

Acne due to PCOS and weight gain are the two most common symptoms of PCOS but other than acne, the conditions that can cause severe discomfort for women include:

  • Disturbed menstrual cycle
  • Weight gain or struggle in losing weight
  • Hirsutism (excess hair growth on face, chest, and back)

Dark skin appearance a condition known as acanthosis nigricans

Acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome is more than just the occasional pimple; it typically displays unique characteristics that set it apart from typical acne. Acne can be difficult to treat, but knowing the signs and symptoms of PCOS-related acne can be a big help.

Acne caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by its unique and distressing symptoms. Persistent and often painful acne that concentrates around the jawline, chin, and lower face is the issue, not the occasional pimple. ‘Hormonal acne’ manifests as cystic, deep-seated nodules, blackheads, and whiteheads. 

Recognizing the specific symptoms of PCOS-related acne is crucial because these annoying pimples can be emotionally distressing and difficult to manage. By learning about these features, people can develop more efficient methods of dealing with this condition and reducing its impact on their lives.

Persistent and stubborn nature

Acne from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is widely recognized for its persistent nature. Consistent usage of standard acne treatments may not yield optimal results in its response.

Jawline and lower face predominance

PCOS-related acne is often characterized by a concentration of breakouts around the jaw, chin, and lower face. This pattern is a telltale sign of hormonal imbalances and is commonly called “hormonal acne.”

Cystic acne

Acne nodules or deep, painful, inflamed cysts under the skin are a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) hallmark. These are notoriously difficult to treat, and the scars they leave behind can last a lifetime.

Blackheads and whiteheads

Although cystic acne is the most noticeable form of PCOS-related acne, blackheads, and whiteheads are also common. The T-zone, which involves the region between the forehead, nose, and chin, is frequently afflicted by these occurrences.

If you have symptoms of PCOS, as mentioned above, you can get a prescription and treatment online with a qualified professional.

Examples of different types of acne associated with PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) has far-reaching effects, affecting even the nuanced realm of skin care. The prevalence of acne in women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome is notable, as it encompasses a range of distinct types, each characterized by its own symptoms.

These forms of acne are more than just unsightly scars; they may indicate the underlying hormonal imbalances in PCOS. In this investigation, we’ll learn about the various forms of acne linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), illuminating their distinctive characteristics and equipping you to recognize and deal with these difficult skin symptoms.


Tiny, red, raised bumps can be seen on the skin. The lesions in question can be discomforting upon contact and commonly serve as an early indication of the onset of an acne outbreak.


We have pustules similar to papules but with pus at the tip. Their bases are red, but the bumps themselves are white or yellow.


Nodules are sizable, profound, and frequently distressing protuberances under the skin’s surface. The occurrence of scarring is prevalent, and the duration of the healing process can be lengthy.


Acne caused by PCOS can take many forms, but cysts are the most severe. They are severe because of the depth, pus content, and potential for scarring. These cases of acne are typically the most distressing to the sufferer’s psyche.

Understanding these signs and how different forms of acne relate to polycystic ovary syndrome is critical for effective treatment and management. To ensure you’re addressing the underlying cause of your acne, we’ll discuss how to diagnose PCOS in the next section.

Please remember that PCOS is a painful condition, and symptoms like acne lead to discomfort and low self-esteem. It would be best if you discussed your condition with a qualified professional without any further delay.

Diagnosing PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is difficult to diagnose because of its many possible manifestations. A definitive diagnosis is essential to guide proper management and treatment, even if you have noticed symptoms that you suspect are related to PCOS, such as irregular periods, acne, or weight changes. 

The diagnostic procedure and the importance of seeing a doctor are outlined below.

1. Physical examination

Acne, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), and insulin resistance are some physical symptoms your doctor may look for during a physical examination to diagnose PCOS. They will look at your body mass index (BMI) and weight to see if that affects the diagnosis.

2. Blood tests

The diagnostic process would only be complete with blood tests. These tests measure androgens (including testosterone), insulin, and other hormones because of their role in PCOS. Particularly high androgen levels may be indicative of polycystic ovary syndrome.

3. Pelvic ultrasound

The ovaries are typically inspected with a pelvic ultrasound. In polycystic ovary syndrome, the ovaries can appear enlarged and contain small cysts and immature follicles. The condition is typically named after these cysts.

4. Ruling out other conditions

Your doctor will also look for other conditions that have similar symptoms to PCOS in order to rule them out. Conditions like hyperprolactinemia and thyroid disorders can share symptoms, so ruling them out is essential.

The importance of consulting a healthcare professional

Complexity and nuance are part of the PCOS diagnostic process. Self-diagnosis is not a replacement for professional evaluation, despite the information available online and from well-meaning friends.

An online doctor or other medical professional can help you confirm the diagnosis and create a treatment plan that is just right for you. In addition, they can offer helpful advice on dealing with symptoms, enhancing general health, and resolving any issues with fertility

Seeking the advice of a healthcare professional is essential on the road to managing PCOS, as early diagnosis and intervention can greatly improve your quality of life.

Treating acne caused by PCOS

There is no one best approach to treating acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome. Both the internal hormonal imbalances that cause PCOS and the visible symptoms, such as acne, need to be treated. Here, we’ll examine various therapeutic approaches and stress the importance of tailoring one’s treatment to one’s specific needs.

a. Topical treatments

When dealing with acne caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome, topical treatments are often the first line of defense. Creams, gels, and lotions are common delivery vehicles for treatments like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and topical antibiotics. These aid in soothing the skin, clearing the pores, and regulating oil production. However, they may not deal with the possible hormonal underpinnings of PCOS-related acne.

b. Oral medications

Oral medications may be prescribed for more severe cases of acne caused by PCOS. Commonly used contraceptives are birth control pills because they reduce the hormonal fluctuations that can cause acne. The effects of excess androgens can be mitigated with the help of anti-androgen drugs like spironolactone. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and hormonal profile, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate medication.

c. Lifestyle changes (e.g., Diet and Exercise)

Modifying one’s way of life can significantly impact PCOS-related acne. Improving insulin sensitivity and controlling excess weight can benefit hormonal equilibrium, so eating healthily and exercising regularly is important.

Acting immediately and getting help now can rule out the possibility of anything serious. This will help you get your personalized plan with the help of a qualified professional.

The importance of an individualized treatment plan

The signs and symptoms of PCOS and the hormonal imbalances it causes vary from person to person. Therefore, the most efficient method of treating acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome is to tailor a treatment program to the patient.

Your treatment plan may also need to evolve as your body adapts to the medication. Check-ins with your doctor at regular intervals allow them to track your recovery and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.

Treating acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a multi-pronged process that may involve oral and topical medications and dietary and behavioral modifications. If you want clearer, healthier skin and relief from the hormonal problems that often accompany PCOS, it’s best to speak with a medical professional who can evaluate your specific situation and devise a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Skincare tips for PCOS sufferers

Acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can be controlled, and healthy skin can be maintained with the help of a well-considered skincare routine. This article will discuss effective skincare routines and products for PCOS-related acne, emphasizing gentle care and a recommendation to avoid harsh products.

1. Cleansing

Initially, it is recommended to use a gentle cleanser devoid of synthetic pigments, scent, or additives. Locate a substance possessing a pH level that is neither acidic nor alkaline and is non-comedogenic. The regular practice of cleansing one’s face twice daily, once in the morning and once before bedtime, can reduce the likelihood of the accumulation of acne-causing agents such as dirt, oil, and makeup.

2. Exfoliation

Exfoliation is essential to get rid of the dead epidermal cells within the pores. Select a gentle exfoliator containing salicylic acid, which can break down oil and penetrate pores. Nevertheless, it is important to note that an overabundance of exfoliation can lead to skin irritation and should be abstained from. Exfoliating a few times per week is sufficient.

3. Moisturizing

Even for acne-prone skin, moisturizing is a must. Pick a non-comedogenic, lightweight moisturizer to avoid breakouts while keeping your skin hydrated. Maintaining your skin’s protective barrier can be aided by drinking enough water.

4. Sun protection

It is necessary to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30, even in overcast weather conditions. Many acne treatments have been associated with the common side effect of sun sensitivity. Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn and excess pigmentation by blocking UV rays.

5. Acne treatments

If your doctor recommends using acne treatments, follow their instructions. Topical treatments, antibiotics, and anti-androgen drugs are some examples. Listen intently to the advice of your service provider.

6. Makeup

Makeup that is ” non-comedogenic ” will not clog your pores. Makeup should be completely removed at night so the skin can breathe.

7. Avoid harsh products

Using aggressive skincare products can induce irritation in individuals with highly sensitive skin. It is advisable to refrain from using products that contain high alcohol levels, possess a potent fragrance, or abrasive chemicals. Opt for a more mild option that will not disrupt the natural pH balance of your skin.

8. Consult a dermatologist

If the acne condition persists or worsens despite self-care, it is advisable to seek consultation with a dermatologist. They possess the expertise to guide and offer advanced techniques and therapies, such as chemical peels and laser therapy.

Individuals who experience acne due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) would benefit from a personalized and mild skincare regimen. One can enhance the overall health of their skin, effectively eliminate acne, and promote personal well-being by adhering to a prescribed set of measures and utilizing appropriate skincare products. To observe enhancements in the condition of your skin, it is imperative to acknowledge that a considerable amount of time and diligent commitment are required.

Dietary changes

Modifying one’s diet and way of life can significantly impact PCOS and the acne it causes. Informed decision-making can restore hormonal harmony, lessen insulin resistance, and alleviate acne. 

A PCOS-friendly diet typically includes complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and ample dietary fiber. Reducing the consumption of sugary and processed food products has been shown to contribute to maintaining stable blood sugar levels. 

Engaging in regular physical activities such as brisk walking, yoga, or strength training has been shown to have potential benefits for weight management and the enhancement of insulin sensitivity. 

Collectively, these alterations to an individual’s lifestyle can contribute to preserving hormonal homeostasis, ameliorating the effects of acne, and enhancing overall health and well-being. These factors are paramount in managing polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Emotional and psychological impact

Acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is persistent and can hurt a person’s mental and emotional health. Having acne that won’t go away can be very upsetting and make it hard to function emotionally. Emotional health is essential to one’s well-being, so it’s important to identify and address any problems you may be having in this area.

When dealing with PCOS-related acne, reminding yourself that your value does not come from your skin’s appearance can be helpful. Reach out to people who care about you and who can help you cope with the emotional difficulties that may arise. 

Keep in mind that you have a lot of people rooting for you and that you can keep your chin up and your emotions in check if you employ the right coping mechanisms and get the help you need.

Lifestyle changes can help improve your standard of living and health status in general. You should also get professional support for PCOS acne to ensure better health.

When should I seek medical care?

PCOS manifests with several different symptoms that are usually very disturbing for women. It is best to seek medical care when you notice any of them so your condition can be managed quickly.

Learning about PCOS and acne is essential for effectively handling this complicated medical issue. We have explored the root causes, symptoms, and available treatments, stressing the importance of tailored treatment plans.

Acne caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) differs from acne caused by other factors, but it can still be managed effectively with education and treatment. Please consult your healthcare provider, seek second opinions, and carefully consider all of your options before settling on a course of treatment.

Acne and PCOS management is a process that can take time, but with persistence, you can get your life and skin back. You are not alone, and a future free of acne is possible.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Chuan, Sandy S., and R. Jeffrey Chang. “Polycystic ovary syndrome and acne.” Skin therapy letter 15.10 (2010): 1-4.
  • Hacivelioglu, Servet, et al. “Acne severity and the Global Acne Grading System in polycystic ovary syndrome.” International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics 123.1 (2013): 33-36.
  • Archer, Johanna S., and R. Jeffrey Chang. “Hirsutism and acne in polycystic ovary syndrome.” Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology 18.5 (2004): 737-754.
  • Ramezani Tehrani, Fahimeh, et al. “Prevalence of acne vulgaris among women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systemic review and meta-analysis.” Gynecological Endocrinology 37.5 (2021): 392-405.
  • Begum, Sayera, et al. “Polycystic ovarian syndrome in women with acne.” Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists 22.1 (2012): 24-29.
  • Sharma, Shilpi, et al. “Efficacy of metformin in the treatment of acne in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome: A newer approach to acne therapy.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology 12.5 (2019): 34.


Get started today

Talk to online doctors now and get medical advice, online prescriptions, and referrals within minutes. On-demand healthcare services at your fingertips.

talk to online doctor 24/7 free