How to Heal Acne in 3 Steps

Acne is one of the most frustrating symptoms for people with and without PCOS. Studies show acne is linked to low self-esteem, poor body image, anxiety, depression, and decreased quality of life. Acne is serious business!

Acne affects around 50% of adults, 85% of teens, and 40% of people with PCOS. First things first, acne does not make you less beautiful or worthy. Those are false messages from society that we have internalized. But it can be a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance.

When my PCOS was at its worst, my acne was so debilitating and it impacted my self-esteem. Studies show that lowered self-esteem in acne-sufferers is quite common, along with increased levels of anxiety and depression.

I understand the judgment and pain associated with acne. I was prescribed Accutane (before I knew the potential harms of such medications). Now, I would highly suggest exploring other routes, like the ones I describe below.

This is how I have managed my PCOS-related acne without the use of medications for the past 10 years. I have never felt so confident in my bare skin as I have for the past few months, despite living in an incredibly stressful period (hello, pandemic & everything 2020-related = breakout central!).

1. Nutrition & Hydration

An anti-inflammatory diet is crucial. Focus on an unrestricted abundance of plant-based whole foods. This will push out the processed, refined foods which are highly associated with acne. Eat a surplus of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seeds/nuts, etc.

3 Steps to Heal Acne without Medication

Foods that are inflammatory include dairy, meat, and most processed or refined foods. So, we want to reduce these, or in my case, I leave meat and dairy out altogether (they aren’t nourishing for our gut health or hormones, anyway!).

Research shows dairy increases IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) among other hormones that increase insulin production (both by directly ingesting and downstream responses to steroid hormones in milk). Insulin increases androgen production, and androgens increase sebum production. We need to address this hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance. Also, the high saturated fat content of dairy can promote inflammation in the body (and is linked to heart disease).

Water, water, water. Adequate hydration is critical for our overall health which includes skin health (our skin is our largest organ!). When we aren’t drinking enough water, our skin’s moisture level can decrease. Of course, if the answer was as simple as drinking some water, no one would be reading this article! Water intake is only a piece of healing acne.

2. Skincare

The key with skincare is that we, A) use products designed specifically for our skin TYPE, and B) use SAFE products.

Many acne treatments, even those prescribed by dermatologists, are full of chemicals that could be making our underlying hormonal imbalances worse! I am talking about ingredients such as parabens (endocrine disruptors linked to infertility, obesity & cancer), benzoyl peroxide (linked to reproductive damage), retinol (unsafe during pregnancy and may increase the risk of skin cancer), and sulfur (can be too drying). The quest for clear skin shouldn’t come with such risks!

I have combination skin (oily T-zone, but dry in other areas) and I have found a regimen that works for me. Before this routine (which I started in April), even though my nutrition was in check, I would still get cystic acne along my chin and jaw the week before my period, along with consistent but smaller bumps on my forehead. I haven’t had those in a few months now!

Disclosure: I receive a small commission when products mentioned are purchased through my links. This allows me to provide you free articles and social media content daily. I only work with brands I adore and use myself. Thank you!

My AM & PM Cruelty-Free Skincare Routine
  1. Cleanse: Countermatch Foaming Cleanser (AM & PM)
  2. Treat: Vitamin C Serum (AM) & Overnight Resurfacing Peel (PM every other night, both helpful for acne scarring!)
  3. Protect: Countermatch Adaptive Moisturizer (PM)

Each product has lasted me 7 months (and counting!), which is great value for safe, non-toxic products that result in happy skin & hormones. If you would like a personalized regimen where we can discuss your skin needs along with your budget, shoot me an email at I would love to help you out.

Charcoal Facial Mask from Beautycounter

For mask-ne (breakouts related to wearing masks), I have been using this charcoal facial mask 1-2x a week (once all over and once just on the chin and jaw area). It has been amazing at preventing breakouts. It helps to clear out pores while also being hormone-safe, clean, vegan, and 3rd-party tested for contaminants.

The charcoal mask also doubles as a spot treatment! If I see a lesion forming below the surface of my skin, I throw a dab of this mask on and leave it on the zit overnight as I sleep. I find it shortens the lifespan of the pimple better than any spot treatment I’ve tried.

If you wear a surgical or cloth mask all day, it may also help to not wear foundation under the mask. Also, remember to wash reusable masks regularly.

3. Stress Management

Stress can push our hormones out of whack! When we are in a state of stress, cortisol levels are elevated. Increases in cortisol can increase sebum production, therefore, increasing acne.

I do my best to manage stress in a number of ways (and I admit this hasn’t been easy this year). One way is through a daily mindfulness meditation routine. Even 10 minutes a day can change your life. I enjoy using a meditation app on my phone when I wake up or go to bed.

Dr. Cutler unwinding in nature – her favorite stress-reliever.

Another is daily movement, like walking, running, stretching, strength training, sports, etc. Any way that you enjoy moving your body can reduce stress (assuming we aren’t stressed ABOUT the need to move our body or training too long and hard without adequate rest).

Finally, sleeping 7-8 hours a night is crucial for stress reduction. Here’s my article on getting a better night’s sleep tonight.

I hope these tips were helpful! Leave a comment if you learned something new!

In health,

Dr. Dylan Cutler, Ph.D.


Acne & Self-Esteem

Link Between Acne & Depression

Link Between Acne & Anxiety

Role of Insulin Resistance in Acne

Insulin, Milk, & Acne

Acne and Nutrition

Acne and Dietary Inflammation

Water and Skin Hydration

Parabens & Hormones

Benzoyl Peroxide & Reproductive Damage

Retinol & Pregnancy

Retinol & Skin Cancer

Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging

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How BPA Impacts PCOS and Infertility (And What To Do About It)

Women with PCOS have higher levels of BPA. Learn how to decrease exposure to this estrogenic chemical.

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an environmental endocrine disruptor with estrogenic activity commonly found in plastics, water bottles, canned goods, receipts, and the packaging of our personal care products.

Research shows that BPA exposure alters the functioning of our reproductive, metabolic, and neuroendocrine systems. Specifically, even low levels of exposure have been linked to increased triglycerides, cholesterol, insulin resistance, and infertility. Sperm concentrations are continually decreasing, and evidence shows BPA may be contributing.

How Does BPA Affect PCOS?

PCOS is the leading cause of female anovulatory infertility. It also puts us at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

A systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed 9 studies with a total of 493 women with PCOS and 440 women without PCOS as the control group. The researchers found that women with PCOS had increased amounts of BPA in their bodies. Eight of these studies assessed BPA in blood while one study assessed follicular fluid. These higher BPA levels were also associated with insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism (increased androgenic hormones like testosterone, body/facial hair, acne, etc).

So, what can we do about this? We can start with reducing exposure in our homes.

Disclosure: I receive a small commission when the following products mentioned are purchased through my links. This allows me to provide you free articles and social media content daily (thank you!). I only work with brands I adore and use myself.

Steps to Reducing BPA Exposure

  1. Switch to glass containers instead of plastic. Even if a plastic container says “BPA-free” there are other chemicals used instead, so glass is altogether safer.
  2. Say no to receipts. If you work with receipts often, wear gloves.
  3. Limit canned goods. Most canned goods can be found in other forms of packaging.
  4. Switch to safer personal care products that are BPA-free.
How to Reduce BPA Exposure for Infertility and PCOS

What Do Personal Care Products Have to do with BPA?

BPA-polymers are known to be used in some cosmetic products, and more readily, in cosmetic containers. BPA in plastic containers can leach into our cosmetics, especially over time and when heated, thus further exposing ourselves through our skin. Much of what we put on our skin is absorbed and enters our bloodstream.

The cosmetic industry in both Canada and the U.S. is quite unregulated. Even though ~600 chemicals are banned from cosmetics here in Canada, Health Canada does not thoroughly check that each product on the market is compliant to the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist, unless a request is made. According to the Government of Canada’s website, “Health Canada will prioritize compliance and enforcement in response to the level of risk posed by a product and any complaints/incidents received.” PS. in the U.S., only ~30 of these chemicals are banned!

What do I use to avoid BPA?

I feel confident using Beautycounter cosmetics because they are a certified B corporation and exclude over 1,800 harmful and questionable chemicals from all their cosmetics, skincare, and all packaging, too! BPA is on this ‘Never List’. They also ensure all products are tested for heavy metals and then make this data available for the public. Transparency is critical in an unregulated industry, such as cosmetics.


Email me if you would like guidance finding the right product for you.

In health,

Dr. Dylan Cutler, Ph.D.

Cosmetics and Skincare Products: Health Hazards?

We pay a lot of attention to what we put in our bodies, but what about everything that goes on our bodies?

Many commercial cosmetics and skincare products contain ingredients that can cause health problems including links to cancers. These are absorbed through our largest organ, the skin. On average, women use products containing 168 ingredients a day.

As consumers, unfortunately, the health and safety of us and our loved ones are often left in our hands. While many of us pay a lot of attention to what we put IN our bodies, not much thought goes into what we put ON our bodies.

What we put on our bodies, goes in our bodies.

Did you know that the European Union has banned or restricted the use of ~1400 ingredients from products, while in the U.S. only ~30 are banned?! Canada sits somewhere in the middle with ~600 banned/restricted ingredients.

Cosmetics and Skincare are Harmful for Our Health

This means that in North America we are on our own in protecting ourselves from these harmful products.

During my doctoral studies I was shocked to learn some scary information regarding environmental exposures and our health. I had no idea that everyday products, like shampoo, body wash, lotions, lipstick, etc., were likely impacting my hormones, periods, fertility, mood, metabolism, and increasing my risk of cancers (Journal of Environmental and Public Health 2012).

Especially as a woman with PCOS, my endocrine and reproductive systems are already in overdrive just to function. Then I was throwing in endocrine-disrupting chemicals which wreak hormonal havoc (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2011).

I actually feel angry thinking about the widespread use of these chemical-laden products, without any public education, discourse, or even warning labels.

What Can We Do?

Fortunately, this article isn’t all doom and gloom!

First, we can educate ourselves on the ingredients in our current products. To see which potentially harmful products are on your shelf, I encourage you to check your products’ safety at Environmental Working A quick search of most products in the database will pull up its safety rating, why it’s received that rating, and how it may be impacting your health. If you can’t find a product, email me and I will find out the details for you!

Next, we can invest in safer products from brands working to change the industry. I discovered Beautycounter, the leader in clean, a year ago (and my skin sure wishes I had sooner!). Their products are rigorously tested for safety (and don’t compromise quality either). They exclude over 1800 ingredients that have been shown to be harmful to humans or that we just don’t have enough scientific data yet to be sure.

They’re also active in ensuring new regulations are passed to protect consumers so one day every product on the shelf is a safe, “clean” product (as it should be!). I don’t believe it is enough for brands to just make safer products. We need systemic change to protect the most vulnerable populations who experience even higher levels of exposure, like women of color. This is why advocacy is paramount. If you want to use your voice just text BETTERBEAUTY to 52886 (USA) or 70734 (Canada) to urge policymakers to make safer personal care regulations.

As a result of falling in love with this brand’s mission, I became a Beautycounter consultant in April 2020. This means I help educate the public with evidence-based science and urge governments to increase beauty industry regulations. I also receive 20% off all products (what a steal!) and receive a commission when you use my links to purchase Beautycounter products.

Shop BeautyCounter Here

If you have any questions about choosing safer products or would like to chat about Beautycounter, feel free to email me at

In health,

Dr. Dylan Cutler, PhD

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