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Diet and Acne for Women with PCOS

There are a lot of rumours out there about PCOS diet, weight loss and acne but what is true??⁠

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Do you suffer from acne?

If you're like most women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, your skin tends to act up. You've probably tried every topical cream and cleanser out there, but nothing seems to clear it up for good.

Well, what if I told you that the solution to your skin problems was as simple as making changes to your diet?

Believe it or not, there are certain foods that can aggravate acne and make it worse. In this blog post, I'll share with you some tips on how to eat for clearer skin.

So whether you're dealing with occasional breakouts or stubborn pimples that just won't go away, keep reading for helpful advice on how to get your complexion under control!

I'm a PCOS Dietitian and I'm going to share with you some of the best tips for clear skin. So keep reading!

Before we get starting, if you are reading this and you are worried about your skin, you are beautiful with acne, blemishes, and skin “flaws”.

You are are not your skin and you are worthy regardless of your skin!

I am not a Dermatologist but here is a little primer on what happens in our skin during acne formation:

1.Our pores become clogged with dead skin cells & an oily waxy substance called sebum (produced by our sebaceous glands)

2. Bacteria proliferate in the blocked pore

3. The skin ruptures which forms a red pump (it’s usually inflamed & angry)

4. White blood cells are sent to get rid of the bacterial infection

5. White blood cells die & accumulate in the pore which forms the pimple or pustule

6. Eventually, white blood cells take care of the infection & it heals over time

There are many factors that can contribute to the formation of acne, including genetics, hormones, and diet. While acne is often thought of as a problem limited to the surface of the skin, it can actually be a symptom of a deeper issue, such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

For this reason, it is important to talk to a dermatologist if you are struggling with acne especially if you have treatment resistant acne over the age of 25. In addition to traditional treatments like creams and oral medications, they may also recommend changes to your diet or lifestyle.

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Healthy Eating Habits for Women with PCOS to Prevent Acne Breakouts

Dairy and PCOS Symptoms

Dairy has been blamed for a lot lately such as inflammation but the link between acne and milk consumption has been around for a while!

The proposed method of dairy aggravating acne are:

1. Increased IGF-1 (insulin growth-like factor)

  • May increase acne by raising levels of inflammatory biomarkers & sebum production

2. Increased insulin & cellular growth

  • Insulin raises levels of androgens (testosterone) & IGF-1 levels

3. Increased androgens

  • Androgens stimulate more sebum production

4. Increased insulin resistance and male hormones can worsen PCOS symptoms which will exacerbate acne

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Which Dairy Products Increase Acne Breakouts?

There is a stronger association between skim milk products & acne breakouts than whole milk products.

Research suggests that skim milk may trigger hormone fluctuations that can lead to acne breakouts.

Whole milk products, on the other hand, are less likely to cause these fluctuations.

Good news for cheese lovers, cheese products are less associated with acne than milk.

Blood Sugar Balance and PCOS Symptoms

Poor blood sugar balance means you struggle with higher blood sugar levels. One of the most common but often overlooked PCOS symptoms is insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels. When your insulin sensitivity decreases, it means that your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be.

This can lead to a number of problems, including acne, difficulty losing weight, and increased food cravings.

While there is no cure for PCOS, making dietary and lifestyle changes can help to manage the condition and improve your skin health.

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The proposed methods on how higher blood sugar balance makes PCOS symptoms worse including acne are:

1. Increased IGF-1 (insulin growth-like factor)

  • May increase acne by raising levels of inflammatory biomarkers & sebum production

2. Increased insulin levels

  • Higher insulin and insulin resistance causes hormonal imbalances such as higher levels of male hormones (testosterone) & IGF-1 levels

3. Increased androgens which stimulate more sebum production

4. Increased insulin resistance and testosterone can worsen PCOS symptoms such as acne and male pattern hair growth

What Worsens Blood Sugar Balance and Insulin Sensitivity?

Studies have shown that certain nutrition habits can contribute to acne breakouts. For example, consuming sugary foods can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to acne.

Highly refined foods are also known to trigger acne flare-ups.

So if you're looking to clear up your skin, it's important to pay attention to your diet.

Eating balanced meals and avoiding sugary snacks is a good place to start. An example of an unbalanced meal would be only eating toast & jam for breakfast which is a higher in refined carbohydrates and low in healthy fats, lean protein sources, and high fiber foods.

You should also try to get regular exercise, as this can help to balance hormone levels and reduce acne flare-ups.

Healthy Fats and PCOS Symptoms

There are also known as unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats come from fatty fish and plants such as nuts, olive oil, or avocados.

How do unsaturated fats improve skin health?

  • Lower inflammatory markers that are associated with acne severity

  • Lower IGF-1, insulin resistance, and androgens = less sebum production

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Zinc and PCOS Symptoms

Some studies show lower zinc levels are liked to severe acne and common PCOS symptoms but it is not conclusive.

The proposed methods that extra zinc can help manage PCOS are:
  • It appears that zinc is used up in the inflammatory process of acne production.

  • Zinc can also improve androgen levels in women with PCOS.

  • Anything that improves hormonal imbalances of androgens will also help manage PCOS symptoms by improving insulin resistance

Steps to Alleviate Symptoms with a PCOS Diet

1. Before you cut out dairy completely:

Try switching to whole milk products.

Since many of my clients struggling with acne are those with PCOS and infertility, I recommend my clients try the 1-2 whole milk products daily first.

Note that milk is also a great source of zinc, especially for vegetarians so dairy can be a great addition for your PCOS diet!

2. Decrease how often you have whole milk instead of cutting it out completely:

Dairy does have saturated fat and trans fat but research shows that these types of fat in dairy can healthier and can be a wonderful part of your PCOS diet.

3. Before completely cutting out sugar, try:

Adding more low glycemic index carbohydrates such as

  • Increasing fruits & vegetables

  • Switch to whole grains

  • Beans & lentils

  • Decrease added sugars and refined carbohydrates

Avoid eating sugar on an empty stomach.

Avoid eating “naked” carbs by pairing your carbs with lean proteins or healthier fats such as olive oil.

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4. Add more omega-3s:

Add 3-4 oz of fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel) twice weekly.

Add plant-based omega-3s daily (ground flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds).

Add higher quality omega-3 dietary supplements if your preferred PCOS diet does not include fish!

5. Boost your zinc levels:

Add high zinc foods such as oysters, meat, tofu, yogurt, cheese, ricotta cheese, beans, and lentils.

The absorption of zinc can be decreased when you eat high iron foods at the same time as they compete for absorption!

6. Before you buy a zinc supplement:

Results are mixed whether supplements help.

If you do get a supplement, make sure it has copper in it and speak with your doctor or pharmacist before you start.

Ideally, you want a supplement with 1 mg of copper to every 15 mg of zinc to prevent a copper deficiency.

7. Before you go on a restrictive PCOS diet for weight loss:


Weight loss does not cure Polycystic Ovary Syndrome but it can help women with PCOS improve symptoms such as acne, heart disease, hair growth, and metabolic syndrome.

Even a modest weight loss of 5-10% can improve PCOS symptoms and women with PCOS can manage symptoms without starting a restrictive PCOS diet or worsening your relationship with food.

Women with PCOS can also reduce health risks without weight loss by focusing on a healthy diet and a sustainable eating plan.

Review of a PCOS Diet to Help Women with PCOS Health Outcomes

Polycystic ovary syndrome can be a very frustrating condition to have. For many women, the first instinct is to restrict their diet in an attempt to clear up their skin

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However, this often backfires and leads to feelings of restriction and deprivation. The best way to clear your skin while following a PCOS diet is by eating nutrient-rich foods that support your relationship with food, lifestyle, values, and preferences.

Reach out for a free clarity call today if you want more information on how to follow a PCOS diet that supports your mental health, improve PCOS symptoms, and helps you feel your best.


Burris, J., Rietkerk, W., & Woolf, K. (2013). Acne: the role of medical nutrition therapy. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(3), 416–430. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2012.11.016

Kim H, Moon SY, Sohn MY, Lee WJ. Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 Increases the Expression of Inflammatory Biomarkers and Sebum Production in Cultured Sebocytes. Ann Dermatol. 2017;29(1):20-25. doi:10.5021/ad.2017.29.1.20

Krafchik B. R. (1999). Acne. Paediatrics & child health, 4(6), 385–386. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/4.6.385

Ozuguz, P., Dogruk Kacar, S., Ekiz, O., Takci, Z., Balta, I., & Kalkan, G. (2014). Evaluation of serum vitamins A and E and zinc levels according to the severity of acne vulgaris. Cutaneous and ocular toxicology, 33(2), 99–102. https://doi.org/10.3109/15569527.2013.808656

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