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!

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)
  3. Protect: Countermatch Adaptive Moisturizer (PM)

Each product has lasted me 7 months, 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 drdylancutler@gmail.com. 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.

References

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.

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.

SHOP BEAUTYCOUNTER HERE

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

In health,

Dr. Dylan Cutler, Ph.D.

Top 3 Supplements for PCOS

Find out which three supplements Dr. Cutler recommends the most frequently for her clients with PCOS, and why.

FAQ: What supplements Should I take for PCOS?

This is one of my most frequently asked questions from women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in my private practice and on social media. My answer will depend on the type of PCOS you have, your symptoms, your lifestyle, possible deficiencies, and other factors. However, there are three supplements that come out on top in terms of high-quality research, benefits, and little likelihood of harm.

It is important to state that managing PCOS is complex and therefore requires a combination of supplements and lifestyle changes. As their name implies, supplements are merely a ‘supplement’ to a healthy lifestyle grounded in sound nutrition, daily movement, adequate sleep and rest, stress management, a support network, and mindset work.

MAGNESIUM

Women with PCOS are up to 19 times more likely to be deficient in magnesium than the rest of the population. While we’re not sure why this is, it is concerning because low levels of magnesium can increase our risk of type 2 diabetes. Women with PCOS are already at increased risk of developing diabetes!

During my PhD I published a clinical study in Food Science & Nutrition which assessed dietary intake in women with and without PCOS. One of the findings was that magnesium intake was decreased in women with insulin-resistant PCOS. Also, the more magnesium that women with PCOS consumed, the lower their testosterone and inflammation were.

Supplementing can benefit in several ways. There is plenty of research on the benefits of magnesium for the general population which may also apply for PCOS. Studies have shown magnesium can help address insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, improve PMS symptoms, and lower blood pressure. These are all commonly seen and experienced by women with PCOS.

Natural Calm Magnesium Iced Tea
Photo by Dylan Cutler

I supplement with Natural Calm magnesium citrate to ensure I am consuming enough magnesium each day. The raspberry-lemon flavor makes a delicious hot or iced tea (recipe here)! The recommended daily amount of magnesium for a women over 19 is 320 mg a day.

Omega-3

Along with the brain and mood-boosting benefits that omega-3 fats are known for, like reducing anxiety and depression (previously discussed here), they also have specific implications for women with PCOS.

Supplementing with omega-3 may help regulate periods and decrease testosterone. Omega-3 can also lower reproductive hormones such as LH and the LH to FSH ratio (typically increased in PCOS). Finally, omega-3 has been shown to increase adiponectin which is an anti-inflammatory cytokine.

Photo by Tatyana Nekrasova

I recommend an algae-based omega-3 supplement instead of a fish oil supplement as fish oil can be contaminated with environmental pollutants, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). I take these plant-based sugar-free omega3 gummies (15% off code: DylanCutler15).

Vitamin D

Women with PCOS are more likely to have lower levels of vitamin D than women without PCOS. These low levels have even been linked to insulin resistance, obesity, infertility, and hirsutism associated with PCOS.

Studies show that when women with PCOS supplement with vitamin D, insulin and glucose levels seem to improve, inflammation subsides, and testosterone decreases.

While the best source of vitamin D is the sun, this option is limited if we live in the Northern hemisphere, wear sunscreen, or stay indoors. Therefore, supplementing can help.

Photo by Brian Garcia

When choosing a vitamin D supplement, look for D3 and at least 1500-2000 IU a day (recommended by The Endocrine Practice Committee). For vegans, be aware that some D3 supplements are vegan while others aren’t. I take a vitamin D plus B12 together (15% off code: DylanCutler15) as B12 is a must to supplement for vegans (and even some vegetarians and carnivores).

This article is sponsored by Natural Calm Canada.

In health, Dr. Dylan Cutler

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Top 3 Supplements for PCOS

Disclaimer: Nutritional and supplemental choices should be made in consultation with your current health care provider.