Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a term most women have caught wind of. It comes up in conversations when we're concerned about the cluster of painful zits along the jawline, unwanted facial hair and stubborn blackheads dotting the nose.
Most of us pin these concerns down to hormonal imbalance, and we're not too far from the truth. If you've been diagnosed with PCOS, then you might have excess androgens, the male hormone, in the body.
What is PCOS?
According to Dr Elie Al Ahmar, a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist with the Emirates Hospital in Dubai, PCOS is prevalant among 20 per cent of women in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. He tells us that diagnosis must meet two out of three criteria: irregular menstruation, excessive androgens and polycystic ovaries.
"Most of the time, PCOS is a genetic condition - it runs in families. It can also depend on the part of the world you live in, for instance, the condition is not very common in Scandinavian countries," he said. The cause is yet to be known, but what we do know is that the body usually becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone that helps blood sugar enter cells to be used for energy.
When the body resists insulin, the pancreas produces more of this hormone as a way to make up for it. "High levels of insulin, in turn, produce a lot of testosterone in the ovaries and lead to weight gain. The main treatment is lifestyle changes to decrease the insulin resistance, like working out, losing 5 to 10 per cent of your body weight and following a low-carb, low-sugar diet," said Dr Al Ahmar.
How does PCOS affect the skin?
Health professionals are adamant about making lifestyle changes, if the symptoms, including those skin-related, are to be managed. Eating healthy, exercising and meditating can help naturally balance hormones.
This is to say that topical skin products cannot be a one-stop solution for PCOS skin, which may be defined by deep cystic acne, oily skin and hyperpigmentation. What we can do, is mould our skincare routine in a way that fits this new lifestyle.
"The skin becomes oily because of androgen hormone excess. If it isn't taken care of, that is, there is no change in diet, weight gain and such, then these patients tend to get cystic acne, along with hair growth in unwanted areas (hirsutism) and hair loss or thinning on the scalp," explained Dr Shubhangi Perkar, specialist dermatologist, MD, at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, Dubai.
Other skin-related changes seen in women with PCOS include thickening of the skin in the folds, such as under the arms, on the neck, around the eyes and the corners of the mouth. Dr Perkar added: "These turn darker with obesity and insulin resistance."
Can skincare products help with PCOS skin?
Our experts say those who suffer from PCOS should be more vigilant about skincare. But, in severe cases, medication may be needed to lower the male hormones, as prescribed by your doctor. Dr Al Ahmar calls the healing process a collaborative effort between the gynaecologist and the dermatologist.
Dr Perkar recommends a basic routine that begins with a cleanser containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid. "Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic acid, can be used with low strength for dry, sensitive skin with acne, whereas, oily skin can benefit from salicylic acid," she said.
Add a lightweight moisturiser with hyaluronic acid. Yes, oily skin still needs hydration to control sebum production. The key is to avoid thick formulas devised for dry skin types: "Thick moisturisers can block pores and cause more blackheads and whiteheads, which in turn lead to cystic acne," she added.
During the day, it's a must to close your routine with a good sunscreen, to avoid any further irritation caused by the sun. At night, try to incorporate a topical retinol or tretinoin cream, but consult with your dermatologist for the green light, as the products should be suitable for your skin type.
Below, we've picked the best-rated products, accordingly, to help you strengthen your PCOS skincare routine. With Amazon's Beauty Week currently going on, you can save up to 40 per cent off on select products, and an extra 20 per cent off with the code 'BEAUTY'. Make sure to shop with a Prime membership for free, fast delivery.
1. Best Cleanser: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash
Even oily skin types could use a gentle face wash that doesn't strip off more sebum than needed. Meet La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Medicated Gel cleanser, which removes up to 47 per cent of excess oil and clears breakouts, using 2% salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid for exfoliation, and glycerin for hydration. It's specially formulated for acne-prone skin that's characterised by blackheads, whiteheads, raised pimples, clogged pores and oily skin. The gel itself is oil-, fragrance- and paraben-free. Reviewers with PCOS and hormonal acne leave five-star ratings, and mention how they use it as their daily cleanser day and night. They love how the cleanser drastically reduced the number of active cystic pimples dotting their jawline and chin.
2. Best Cleanser with Glycolic Acid: Glytone Mild Cream Cleanser
The Glytone Mild Cream cleanser is perfect for dry skin types. It has a lightweight lathering formula that exfoliates dead surface skin cells with 3.4 free acid value glycolic acid. This helps even out the skin tone and any dark patches, as well as combat damage caused by environmental factors. Mature skin users rave about the product, and say they've bought the cleanser on their dermatologist's recommendation. But they do find the pump dispenser cumbersome to use.
3. Best Cleansing Balm: Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
Dr Perkar highly recommends double cleansing, if you wear makeup. We rated Clinique's Take The Day Off cleansing balm as the best makeup remover, per expert picks. The solid balm made of safflower seed oil emulsifies with water and gently erases even the most stubborn mascara instantly. The best part is that it's suitable for all skin types, from combination and dry to oily and sensitive. This is also why the balm is non-comedogenic and free of fragrance. Remember to follow up with your regular cleanser.
4. Best Serum: Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum
If you're looking for a serum to add, opt for a niacinamide (vitamin B3) formulation. Dr Perkar says niacinamide helps with soothing the skin and improving pigmentation. Our choice is the Good Molecules' bottle that has a 10 per cent concentration of niacinamide. While it's suitable for all skin types, oily skin users will benefit the most. The key ingredient targets pores, uneven skin tone, texture and dullness. Good Molecules recommends applying the serum twice a day, before moisturising. Reviewers also notice some oil production control, and like how it disappears into the skin without leaving any sticky residue.
5. Best Moisturiser: The Ordinary Natural Moisturising Factors + HA, 100ml
The Ordinary's Natural Moisturising Factors + HA is rich in hyaluronic acid, ceramides, urea and glycerine. These are all hydrating ingredients that naturally appear in our skin, so it's going to work wonders in keeping the barrier function protected. Its lotion texture is described as non-greasy by reviewers, who add that the moisturiser absorbs quickly for a matte finish. Plus, the formula is oil-, fragrance- and alcohol-free.
6. Best Sunscreen: Eucerin Sun Oil Control Gel-Cream SPF50+, 50ml
Make sure your sunscreen is non-comedogenic and has broad spectrum protection, which includes UVA, UVB and visible light, says Dr Perkar. We've picked the Eucerin Sun Oil Control gel-cream for all of the benefits above and more. Its lightweight texture doesn't clog pores with an SPF of 50+. There are lipid-absorbing micro-pigments in the formula that mattify the skin. Five-star reviews pour in from users with oily skin, who add that it layers well over their skincare and doesn't cause pilling with makeup. It's also rated as our best sunblock for acne-prone skin.
7. Best Treatment: CeraVe Retinol Serum
Effective yet gentle vitamin A derivatives are hard to find. This retinol serum by CeraVe, however, might just be the acne treatment product you're looking for. Several users with cystic acne report excellent results after only days of use. The scent-free serum also contains liquorice root, which lightens dark spots, niacinamide for calming the skin, and the three essential ceramides unique to CeraVe products. Mix a pea-sized amount with your moisturiser at night or use the sandwich method to prevent irritation.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.