I have terrible cystic acne from polycystic ovary syndrome — here are the 7 skincare products that have helped me deal with it

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  • I have polycystic ovary syndrome, and with it has come about 10 years of uncomfortable cystic acne.
  • The most effective treatments address the root cause of PCOS and usually require a prescription from your dermatologist or OB/GYN; but there are some topical treatments I've found to help my PCOS-related acne.
  • Below you'll find answers to common questions about acne and PCOS, plus a list of products that have helped me deal with or prevent flare-ups. 
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Even though I've had polycystic ovary syndrome and its famous sidekick, cystic acne, for 10 years, I wasn't diagnosed with the hormonal syndrome or able to gain control over my cystic acne until recently. 

If you're anything like me, you've probably spent a lot of time and money trying to fix your cystic acne with over-the-counter products or DIY solutions. After nearly a decade of testing out what felt like every product on the market, from high-end to drugstore, and even DIY skincare, I've finally curated a nighttime skincare routine that kept my PCOS-inflicted acne at bay without additional medication. The products I've discovered work for me, but they may not work for everyone. Before we get to those, products, though, here's a bit of information that may help you on your search to find what works for you.

What is PCOS and why does it cause acne?

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can create too much androgen (a hormone) in the body, increasing inflammation in the skin and leading to cystic acne. According to OB/GYN Dr. Felice Gersh, women with PCOS have three things that cause acne: high levels of androgen, systemic inflammation, and a deficiency of estradiol.  

Unlike normal acne, the cystic, hormonal kind is much more severe and painful — and in my experience, takes forever to heal. 

What's the difference between cystic acne caused by PCOS and other types of cystic acne?

Cystic acne is usually hormone-related and found along the jawline, but it's not always caused by PCOS. Some cystic acne shows up when your hormones fluctuate around your period, but PCOS-related acne is more consistent. How it gets treated is really what makes all the difference. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Manjula Jegasothy explains, "With my PCOS patients, the main thing is to try to treat the PCOS with gynecology. Get that under control first, because any other acne treatments I do on you won't work unless you are curing the root cause from the inside." 

What kinds of over-the-counter products work best for cystic acne? 

To be clear, the fastest fix for any type of hormonal acne is actually medication prescribed by a doctor. "Sadly, PCOS acne is among the most difficult to treat with conventional acne topical therapies, as it is so deep and cystic," says Dr. Gersh. "Still, some natural products like tea tree oil and lavender oil can kill pathogenic bacteria and can even be dabbed on a superficial pimple."

But ever since I spotted the first painful and unpoppable zit along my jawline, I've been curating my own routine of products designed to target acne-causing bacteria and oil production to at least get some semblance of my acne under control. Six steps might sound like a lot for a nighttime routine — especially when you just want to go to bed — but each of these has a specific purpose and visibly improved my acne-ridden skin.

Below are the over-the-counter, PCOS-related acne products that have worked for me:

A cleansing balm to remove makeup and oil without causing flare-ups

This is the number one product I recommend to my friends suffering from acne because it's the most effective and fast-acting moisturizer. My sister who also has PCOS can't be bothered by having to use more than a cleanser and moisturizer in her skincare routine, so it works well for treating her acne, too.

Every skincare lover knows about the magic of jojoba oil, which is one of the most prominent ingredients in this moisturizer. It's extremely nourishing and calming, and for the first time in years, I didn't wake up with a new pimple on my skin after using it (which is precisely why I recommend this to practically anyone who will listen to me). It's not that any one ingredient in here can help treat acne, but the formula is so balanced and gentle that it hasn't inflamed mine any worse.

Yes, the price tag is hefty, but it's way less expensive than any facial I've gotten, and it also happens to be far more effective.

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