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 [email protected]. 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 I Manage Stress with Secretly Calming Iced Tea

Stress can strike at any time, even on a warm summer’s day. Learn why managing stress is important and how this iced tea can help.

We are all aware that stress can strike at any time. Yes, even on a warm midsummer’s day. Read on to learn why adding magnesium to iced tea can help cool and chill you out.

Why is managing stress important?

When we experience a stressful event, specific hormones are released to protect our bodies. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is secreted to combat stress. However, when we are exposed to stress over a long period of time, excess cortisol released can cause immunosuppression. This is why chronic stress is thought to be responsible for many health conditions. For example, highly-stressed type A personalities are often at higher risk of a heart problem, such as a stroke or heart attack. Stress can also impact people with and at risk for type 2 diabetes by further increasing blood sugar levels. Chronic stress can also lead to other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Fortunately, finding ways to manage stress can be very effective at decreasing our risk of health complications.

Manage Stress with Natural Calm Magnesium Iced Tea

The link between stress and magnesium

The connection between magnesium and stress is interesting because magnesium deficiencies affect our ability to respond to stressful situations, but also, stress depletes magnesium in our bodies! When we are in a state of stress, we excrete more magnesium in our urine. Magnesium is crucial for combating stress because it downregulates the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis reducing cortisol production. Evidence suggests that supplementing with magnesium may reduce anxiety, depression, and support stress management.

How I supplement with magnesium

We can increase our stress-fighting powers and make sipping magnesium citrate powder even more delicious by adding it to a calming tea, like lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, or chamomile. Ginseng, an adaptogenic antioxidant often found in tea, has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety through regulating the HPA axis.

Manage Stress with Natural Calm Magnesium Iced Tea
Blueberry Lemon Ginseng Iced Tea with Raspberry-Lemon Magnesium Powder

For more on mood-boosting teas and spices check out this post.

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Manage Stress with Secretly Calming Iced Tea

Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Natural Calm Canada. I do not receive affiliate commissions from Natural Calm Canada.

Coconut Mango Overnight Oats

Get a boost of serotonin with this quick and easy breakfast.

mango oats

When stressed we often reach for foods that will give us comfort (think carbs). What our bodies are really telling us is that we need to boost our serotonin levels to help stabilize our mood. How smart our bodies are! Not only will complex carbs help us make more serotonin, but they will ensure we maintain a steady supply of this feel-good neurotransmitter. A great example is oatmeal. Maybe overnight oats will become one of your stress management tools. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 mango

How to:

  1. Whisk together oats, almond milk, coconut and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Place in fridge overnight.
  3. In the morning puree mango in food processor (leave some for the topping).
  4. Get creative layering the oat mixture with fruit mixture, or simply mix everything together.

PCOS Powers:

  • cinnamon = may help balance glucose levels, lower cholesterol, and decrease triglycerides in blood
  • rolled oats = low glycemic load, high in fiber, maintains blood sugar levels, and contains tryptophan which boosts serotonin levels for better sleep and a stable mood

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