PCOS Acne Diet Guidelines

PCOS Acne Diet Guidelines

PCOS and Acne Explained Reading PCOS Acne Diet Guidelines 15 minutes Next Got Adult Acne? Here's What to Do

Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with PCOS, or you’re just suspicious that you may have it based on a few tell-tale signs that you’ve been noticing, it’s never a bad idea to be proactive about managing this serious endocrine disorder. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is fairly common, affecting up to five million or more of us across the United States, and the symptoms of it can be admittedly frustrating at best and debilitating at worst. (1)

From unwanted excess body hair (known as “hirsutism”) to a painful rash of acne across your chin and jawline, PCOS doesn’t just affect your fertility. It can also start to impact your self-esteem, as well. Fortunately, taming some of these symptoms can be as straightforward as making a few minor adjustments to your diet. But to be clear, adjusting your diet alone will not “cure” your PCOS.

If you have PCOS (or even if you just have PCOS symptoms and you’re still waiting on an official diagnosis from your doctor), then tinkering with your diet is both a safe and effective way to help control it better. Curious to learn more? Keep reading, friends, as we’ve got the inside scoop on the PCOS acne diet and how it may benefit you!

Does PCOS Cause Acne?

If you’re wondering if those breakouts on your face could be traced back to PCOS, then you just might be onto something. The fact is, polycystic ovarian syndrome can cause acne, and it’s much more common than you might have originally thought. In fact, a staggering 76 percent of women with PCOS may also have acne as a comorbidity. (2)

But why does this happen? Well, there’s no one root cause for these breakouts, but research has pointed toward an elevation of male hormones (namely, androgens) as the culprit. Because women with PCOS also have these elevated androgen levels, this can lead to hormonal imbalances and a cascade of other issues – and acne just so happens to be one of them. (3)

You see, when you have higher-than-usual androgen levels, it can lead to excessive sebum production and hyperkeratinization at your pores. What exactly does this mean for you, though? Well, it’s a double-whammy of acne breakout triggers, that’s what. (4)

In the most basic of terms, sebum is your skin’s oil. While it does play an important role in keeping your skin soft and moist and supple, it can also lead to clogged pores. Combine that with hyperkeratinization (that is, an overproduction of skin cells), and you’re all but asking for a brand-new blemish.

If you’ve been struggling with PCOS acne breakouts, then there’s a few ways you can tackle it head-on. Following a PCOS acne diet (which we will explain more about in a second!) is one way to do it, but taking the right combo of PCOS acne supplements can also help restore that delicate estrogen-progesterone-androgen balance to help you get that clear skin you deserve.

Common Root Causes of PCOS

So, what’s causing your PCOS (and all of those side effects associated with it)? As we pointed out before, there’s a myriad of things that can be blamed for this endocrine disorder. From a hormonal imbalance to an unhealthy gut, let’s go ahead and take a closer look at the possible causes of your PCOS together, shall we?

Insulin Resistance

It can be difficult to try to pinpoint exactly what triggered your PCOS, but one likely culprit is none other than insulin resistance. If you’re vaguely familiar with diabetes, then you probably have already heard of insulin resistance before. If not, breaking down the link between the two isn’t very complicated. (5)

Insulin resistance occurs when your body isn’t able to handle glucose (sugar) like it once could. When you consume sugar, your body temporarily boosts its insulin levels to help transport the glucose to your cells for energy. However, if your blood sugar levels remain high all the time, your body will overproduce insulin in an attempt to shuttle that sugar into your cells. Over time your cells become desensitized to insulin making it more difficult for your body to react to spikes in blood sugar and leading to “insulin resistance”. (6)

In turn, both your blood glucose levels and your insulin levels can start to remain higher than usual, a condition known as “insulin resistance.” Once they start to remain at these elevated levels, it can cause your androgen levels to increase (and, over time, it can even lead to diabetes if left unchecked). And this, friends, just might be the cause of your PCOS.

(On that note, none of the information we’re offering here is meant to diagnose or treat you. While we do definitely recommend making positive lifestyle changes to help improve your overall health, none of this should be used as a replacement for a good old fashioned chat with your doctor. When in doubt, check with your GP first, okay?)

Gut Imbalances

Did you know that your gut health may be the key to unlocking the mysteries of your PCOS? Sure, it may seem like a reach, but the link between gut health and acne are already pretty well documented, which means that it’s not even a stretch to find that same connection between your GI (gastrointestinal) system and your PCOS.

Studies have shown that an unhealthy gut may actually be one such cause for polycystic ovarian syndrome. Gut dysbiosis (or, rather, an imbalance in your digestive system’s bacterial flora) has been shown to be a common variable in women who have PCOS. Treating that imbalance, however, can help put you back on track to both a healthy digestive and a healthy reproductive system. (7)

We recommend the probiotics from “Just Thrive” or “Seed” as they are spore-based and can actually survive your stomach acid on its journey downstream to your large intestine. 

Adrenal Dysfunction

Being stressed out is more than just feeling a bit frazzled when you’re overwhelmed at work or by your kids or because of that rude person who cut you off in traffic this morning. It can also be one of the triggers for your PCOS, too. Known as “adrenal PCOS,” this variant of PCOS can arise when your stress hormones are taxed to the limit.

Curiously enough, this type of PCOS may not come with insulin resistance, but it does have all of the other nasty side effects tagging along (like the excessive body hair and acne) thanks to the elevated androgen levels that it can induce. If your stress levels remain high, it can lead to extra sebum buildup on your skin and inflammation. (8)

However, paying attention to your overall stress levels – and not being afraid to take a break when your body is all but begging for one – can work wonders in stabilizing your hormones and reducing the signs of adrenal PCOS.

How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

Now that we’ve covered the various possible triggers for your PCOS, it’s time to get down to the real meat and potatoes (so to speak) as to how your diet can affect this condition. Remember how we were talking about insulin resistance earlier? As you’ve probably guessed by now, it plays a huuuge role in PCOS, which means that to manage it, you need watch what you eat.

Sadly, the Western diet is full of bad-for-you stuff (that yes, tastes oh-so-good in a very naughty way) that can exacerbate PCOS. But listen, we’re not here trying to food-shame anyone. A healthy diet has wiggle room for a little bit of fun stuff thrown in (dark chocolate, obviously), as long as you stick to a diet that’s mostly healthy and balanced.

As with all inflammatory conditions, we are huge believers in avoiding gluten whenever possible. Gluten will work against you on your health journey, as it has a myriad of negative inflammatory effects on your entire GI system.

But if your diet is largely comprised of processed foods, deep fried stuff, and excessive amounts of sugar, then you may actually be harming your health. These are all foods that have been implicated in triggering PCOS, as they can raise your body’s blood glucose and inflammation levels. Conversely, if you’re looking for how to eat for PCOS, the following frameworks can be helpful as a starting point:

  • The Low Glycemic Index Diet. Low glycemic index (GI) foods digest slower, which means that they won’t lead to a nasty spike in your body’s blood sugar levels. These are typically foods that are higher in protein and fiber, whereas ones that are high in sugar and refined carbs should best be skipped. (9)
  • The DASH Diet. Also known as the “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” this diet has actually got the seal of approval from the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Full of lean protein sources and whole grains and lots of fruits and veggies, it can be a great choice if you’re looking to manage your PCOS. (10 & 11)
  • An Anti-Inflammatory Diet. While this diet doesn’t have any hard and fast rules, what it does focus on is avoiding foods that can – as the name suggests – cause inflammation. Certain things (like sugar and fried foods) can increase inflammation and raise your blood sugar levels. For the best anti-inflammatory diet for PCOS, fill up on fresh produce, whole grains, and lean proteins. (12)

Taking good care of your health is more than just being aware of your acne breakouts, though. For instance, having insulin resistance can be taxing on your liver and even lead to a condition known as “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.” Because the link between your liver and acne is very well known, it makes sense to want to take good care of it, especially if you want to try to ward off other liver conditions in the process, too. (13)

Again, we don’t want to sound like we’re beating a dead horse here. However, at the end of the day, any and all dietary decisions should first be run through your healthcare provider before implementing them. We recommend finding a functional medicine doctor. Yes they are more expensive but these are the folks who will actually work with you in a meaningful way to holistically manage ongoing health concerns. 

Foods to Eat

Since we love a good bulleted list, we’ve gone ahead and collected some of our favorite PCOS diet friendly foods. That way, you can have them with you and can refer to them at-a-glance the next time you start to feel rumblings in your tummy. Without further ado, here are some of the best foods to eat if you have PCOS:

  • Whole, all-natural, unprocessed foods
  • Foods that are naturally high in fiber (like whole grains)
  • Lean protein sources (like turkey and chicken)
  • Omega-3 fatty acid rich fish (like salmon and sardines)
  • Dark leafy greens (such as kale, chard, and spinach)
  • Fresh fruits and berries (blueberries, cherries, and raspberries are great!)
  • Cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts)
  • Legumes (such as lentils, beans, and peanuts)
  • Healthy fats (like avocados and olive oil)
  • Dark chocolate (yes, this is on the list!)
  • Good-for-you aromatic spices (like cinnamon and turmeric)
  • Nuts and seeds (macadamias, pistachios, cashews,and walnuts are good choices). AVOID peanuts.

Foods to Avoid

We’re not the food police, so we’re not going to be peeking over your shoulder every time you take a bite of something to eat. That said, if you want to reduce your PCOS symptoms, then you’ll want to be careful about avoiding certain foods, as they can make it worse. These foods include:

  • Foods made with refined carbs (like white bread, cake, and cookies)
  • Fried and oily foods (like fast food, french fries, and the like)
  • Sugary beverages (such as sodas, juices, and sweetened coffees)
  • Processed “meats” (like lunch meat, hot dogs, and sausages)
  • Saturated and trans-fats (like shortening, lard, and margarine)
  • Overdoing it on red meat (like fatty burgers, steak, and pork chops)
  • Sugary candies and desserts. Just have a couple bites if you must.
  • Peanuts. These are a high androgen nut with inflammatory omega-6

One thing to note here is that the no-no foods list is much shorter than our yes-foods list. In other words, if you’re trying to clean up your diet to help treat your PCOS symptoms, then it’s best to focus on what you can have instead of what you feel like you can’t have. A healthy diet can be incredibly fulfilling and yummy if done right!

Other Lifestyle Factors

Of course, taking a dietary approach to managing your PCOS is only one way to go about handling it. If you really want to take a multi-pronged approach to getting rid of those pesky PCOS symptoms, then you’re going to want to take a holistic, whole-body approach to it. Other ways you can help address your PCOS is by:

  • Focusing on exercise. (Every little bit counts!)
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Try to control your stress. (Deep breaths, sunshine, yoga, stretching, journaling)
  • Connect with friends and loved ones. Invest in your relationships. 
  • Get enough sleep at night. (14)
  • Engage in a little TLC. (Self care is where it’s at!)
  • Set  meaningful daily goals for yourself and celebrate when you hit them!
  • Ask for professional help if you need it. (Everyone can benefit from a therapist)

That said, if your PCOS symptoms are getting out of hand, then it may be time to check in with your doctor. If your acne isn’t getting better even with taking a hormonal acne supplement and dietary changes, your body hair is getting worse, or you’re TTC (trying to conceive), you may need to speak with a specialist in order to get things squared away.

The Takeaway on PCOS and Diet

Trying to manage your PCOS can definitely be challenging. Between the unwanted side effects associated with it, and just trying to live your life as usual, you’ve got your work cut out for you. The good news is that by taking charge of your health and making a few subtle changes to your diet, you can start to notice significant improvements.

Remember, this is the only body you’ve got, and it’s in your best interest to take good care of it by following a healthy PCOS acne diet. If adjusting your way of eating is the best way to go about doing it, and you can start to see quantifiable results from it, then why not give it a try? And who knows – with your PCOS and acne now under control, you just may find yourself to be unstoppable when facing the word ahead of you!



Source 1: PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/pcos.html

Source 2: Prevalence of acne vulgaris among women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systemic review and meta-analysis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33355023/

Source 3: Dietary Patterns and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: a Systematic Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8643565/

Source 4: The Role of Androgen and Androgen Receptor in the Skin-Related Disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3763909/

Source 5: Association of Insulin Resistance and Elevated Androgen Levels with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): A Review of Literature https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8959968/

Source 6: StatPearls: Insulin Resistance https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507839/

Source 7: A New Approach to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: The Gut Microbiota https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31513473/

Source 8: Bilateral Adrenal Hyperplasia as a Possible Mechanism for Hyperandrogenism in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27336356/

Source 9: The effect of low glycemic index diet on the reproductive and clinical profile in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8600081/

Source 10: DASH ranked Best Diet Overall for eighth year in a row by U.S. News and World Report https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/dash-ranked-best-diet-overall-eighth-year-row-us-news-world-report

Source 11: Are Dietary Indices Associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Its Phenotypes? A Preliminary Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7911683/

Source 12: Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525389/

Source 13: Insulin resistance in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20370677/

Source 14: The Importance of Sleep Hygiene in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome from the View of Iranian Traditional Medicine and Modern Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6202781/