Polycystic Ovary Syndrome


In This Article:

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects 1 in 15 women. It can cause complicated and sometimes serious health problems, and also present some frustrating skin-care and hair-growth concerns, including acne, unwanted hair growth, balding, and skin darkening. These are just a few of the worrisome, emotional struggles facing women with PCOS.

Trying to figure out how to treat all of these skin and hair issues can be maddening. But don't give up—there are steps you can take to get things closer to normal!
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What's Happening to Me?

PCOS arises from a dramatic, ongoing, abnormal shift in a woman's hormonal balance. This shift causes the male hormones, which every woman has, to increase beyond normal amounts, thus overwhelming the chief female hormone (estrogen).

This hormone imbalance causes a cascade of negative effects, such as the growth of painful cysts on the ovaries, difficult periods, trouble getting pregnant, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues.

How Do I Know if I Have PCOS?

There is an assortment of symptoms associated with PCOS. If you are past puberty (meaning you already have periods) and you suffer from any of the symptoms below, please alert your physician so tests can be performed to confirm (or rule out) PCOS:

  • Missed periods
  • Unusually heavy periods
  • Breasts becoming smaller
  • Tone of voice deepens
  • Facial and body hair increases
  • Underarm skin becomes noticeably dark
  • Darkening of the skin in the folds of skin (e.g., under the breast)
  • Thinning of the hair on your head
  • Acne
  • Skin feels thicker and develops a rougher texture

I Think I Have PCOS ... Now What?

If you suspect you have PCOS, see your physician and discuss your symptoms openly and honestly. There are medications available to treat abnormal hormone fluctuations as well as to treat some of the other consequences of PCOS, and they can make a world of difference in your health and comfort. They also can help significantly with the appearance-related side of PCOS.

There is no question that you must seek medical treatment to address the serious health problems PCOS can cause. However, when it comes to the skin-care and hair-care problems associated with PCOS (acne, skin darkening, unwanted hair growth or hair loss), the treatments are the same whether PCOS is the cause or not.

For acne, there are over-the-counter solutions that can show an improvement practically overnight, and regular use can maintain and enhance the initial results.

For unwanted hair growth and balding, as well as for skin darkening, the products and treatments available can produce impressive results, but because they take longer to work you must remain diligent and patient—it will get better.

How to Handle Skin and Hair Problems from PCOS

  • Acne and oily skin: Acne and oily skin are primarily the result of hormonal disorders caused by androgens (male hormones). Because women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance that causes an overproduction of the male hormones, it isn't surprising that acne and oily skin are typical symptoms. To learn exactly how to eliminate breakouts and reduce oily skin, click here

  • Unwanted Hair Growth: Just like acne and oily skin, unwanted hair growth is caused by an excess of male hormones. The same hormones are responsible for hair loss, which is why those with PCOS may struggle with thinning hair as well. Women with unwanted hair on their face or body are well aware of it, embarrassed by it, and frustrated in trying to get rid of it. Shaving, waxing, depilatories, and tweezing are all options, but each has its limitations and each demands ongoing efforts.

    The most successful way to stop unwanted hair growth is laser hair removal. Although laser hair removal is expensive, it is, without question, the most effective method for stopping unwanted hair growth. To learn more about all forms of hair removal, click here.

  • Hair Loss: The type of hair loss women with PCOS experience is directly related to the excess production of male hormones caused by the disorder. Referred to as male-pattern baldness, it can be successfully treated with over-the-counter medications containing minoxidil. Rogaine is the best-known brand, but generic versions cost a lot less and work equally as well.

    Warning: Hair growth scams abound on the Internet, at salons, and in spas. Way too many companies make shockingly false claims about what their products can do. You will end up wasting a lot of money on these rip-offs if you don't know what the facts are. Be vigilant and you'll save money by not falling victim to these ploys, and you then can invest that money in products that really do work!

  • Skin Darkening: The brown skin discolorations that occur with PCOS are unique, and are called acanthosis nigricans. They appear as darkened, velvety swaths of dark brown that most often develops on the nape of your neck, armpits, inner thighs, or under your breasts. Although these discolorations are not related to sun damage, the treatment is the same: daily exfoliation, sunscreen, and use of a topical over-the-counter skin-care product with 2% hydroquinone. For stubborn cases, you may need a prescription-strength skin lightener that contains 4% hydroquinone. To learn more about brown skin discolorations, click here

Now that you know how to handle the most bothersome skin and hair problems associated with PCOS, you can take control and begin to feel confident that you will soon see improvement!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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