10 Rules to Creating an Optimal Skincare Routine If You Have PCOS

* This is a guest blog post by Sara Sumic, a skincare expert and molecular biologist. Find her on Instagram @healthyskinglows and on her website www.healthyskinglows.com *


Dealing with adult acne can be a never-ending, frustrating process of finding what works.

If you have PCOS, the bad news is that you are likely prone to acne.

The good news, however, is that you have a good idea of what is causing your skin issues, which is the first step to eliminating those acne triggers.

When we look a bit closer at why PCOS causes acne, we can also design our skincare routine accordingly.

Most of the time, when you have PCOS, you have raised androgens. You are surely aware of that.

But how exactly does it affect your skin?...

Testosterone converts into a very potent form of androgen in our skin, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This powerful hormone makes your skin oily and clogs your pores.

A clogged pore is the first stage of acne, so we want to prevent them as much as possible!

Furthermore, oily skin is more prone to acne. One reason is that a component of our sebum (the oil your skin produces) called squalene, oxidises easily and becomes very pore-clogging. Having oily skin means you have more of that potentially comedogenic substance on your skin.

Also, oily skin is more alkaline, which is a perfect environment for growth of acne bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes.

In summary, we want to balance our oil production and prevent clogged pores as much as we can.

Let's dive in!...


1. Ditch harsh, drying treatments

The biggest mistake I was doing when I was trying to control my oily skin was using too many harsh, over drying products.

Now I see how they only made my skin worse!

Sadly, many products labeled for oily acne-prone skin are too harsh. If a product (usually a cleanser or a scrub) leaves your skin tight and dry, it isn't helping you get clear skin!

Stripping the oils off your skin in such a way that your skin feels super clean and tight may feel good, but this will actually make your skin produce even more oil to compensate.

Dehydrated skin can be (and often is!) oily because the skin is trying to keep the little moisture it has with excess oils.

The skin's natural oils slow down the evaporation of water from your skin (in a process called Trans Epidermal Water Loss - TEWL), ensuring your skin doesn’t get dehydrated.

In conclusion, you want just the right amount of oil to manage the oily skin for good and have beautiful, dewy skin instead!

If you are currently using such products, gradually cut them out of your routine so that your skin doesn't freak out due to sudden change.

2. Pick a super gentle, pH-balanced cleanser (or do oil cleansing)

We have already established that we shouldn't use products that completely strip our skin of its oils.

Cleanser is the first suspect when it comes to identifying products that make your skin tight and irritated. For example, cleansers that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are too harsh regardless of your skin type.

Does your cleanser leave your skin tight? Like you have to immediately apply a moisturizer, otherwise your skin gets itchy? Does it also foam excessively?

If the answer to any of the above was yes, picking a super gentle, pH-balanced cleanser is your top priority!

Your skin should feel soft and supple after cleansing, and you shouldn’t feel a desperate need to use a moisturiser.

In my FREE online course, I give you very specific tips on how to pick the right cleanser for you.

If you are already doing oil cleansing and it's helping your skin, continue!

3. Don't wash your skin too frequently

You may be tempted to wash your skin more than 2x per day, just to remove the excess oil. For example, washing your face morning and evening, plus using a cleanser after your workout in the middle of the day.

I don't recommend washing your skin more than 2x per day because your skin won't have enough time to recover. Cleansing temporarily disrupts the skin's pH and skin barrier, which encourages the growth of acne bacteria.

Not only that, when our skin is alkaline, it ages faster and the natural exfoliation process (desquamation) slows down, which contributes to clogging of your pores.

After exercising, you don't need to cleanse with a cleanser (but always start your exercise with a clean, makeup-free face), just a splash of water will do.

4. Layer humectants and occlusives

Healthy skin needs both water and oil. Either one alone isn't enough to properly moisturise our skin.

Without enough oils, the skin becomes dry, and without enough moisture, it will become dehydrated. Dehydrated skin feels tight, and can be oily, dry or anything in between.

Ideally, you should layer humectants with lots of moisture and then lock in that moisture with occlusives.

For example, applying a hydrating toner, fresh aloe vera or hyaluronic acid serum and then your moisturiser or oil.

Humectants hold water molecules to themselves, hydrating your skin, while occlusives lock that moisture into your skin so that is doesn't evaporate.

If your skin is oily, applying just light, hydrating products can be enough because your skin's natural oils are effective occlusives, too.

5. Use products with green tea extract and/or niacinamide

There are a few amazing natural ingredients that can help regulate oil production in our skin and reduce acne: Green tea extract and niacinamide.

Green tea extract contains a substance called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a DHT blocker and a powerful antioxidant.

Studies have shown that green tea extract, when applied topically, can reduce oily skin and acne by over 50% (source, source)!

In addition, it also reduces the skin’s genetic sensitivity to androgen hormones and offers photo-protection, mitigating some of the ageing (and acne-inducing) effects of the sun exposure.

In my FREE online course, you can learn how to make a super easy, 2-ingredient skincare product that contains heaps of green tea extract to help you reduce oil skin naturally!

Niacinamide is a wonderful skincare ingredient that reduces inflammation so that acne you have don’t look as red, while also attacking the acne bacteria.

This is one of the gentlest acne clearing ingredients and can also help to heal acne scars and reduce oily skin.

6. Don't over exfoliate (or double exfoliate)

"Getting rid of dead skin cells" and other variations of this phrase have become very popular, but we mustn't forget that these dead skin cells serve a very important purpose - they make up the skin barrier.

You can think of skin barrier as a protective wall on the surface of your skin.

It is composed of layers of dead skin cells, held together by a lipid matrix.

The purpose of the skin barrier is multifold - it slows down evaporation of water from your skin, prevents entry of pathogens, toxins, irritating substances and much more.

Remember: Strong skin barrier = healthy skin.

Be careful with how often you exfoliate and what you use to exfoliate. Always be gentle with your skin. Make sure you are giving your skin enough time to recover between exfoliating sessions. How often a person should exfoliate is very individual, but for many people, exfoliating 1-2x per week is sufficient.

Equally important, avoid layering products that contain exfoliating ingredients because this is simply too much exfoliation all at once and will most likely lead to skin irritation and even more oil production.

Give that ingredient list a close look and understand exactly what the product is doing before incorporating it into your skincare routine.

Otherwise, if you just look at the front label, you may not realise that you are double exfoliating or that the product is otherwise unfit for your skin.

7. Avoid drying alcohols

Avoid products that contain drying alcohols because they disrupt the skin barrier. They are not the only ingredients that do that, but are often found in mainstream products formulated for oily acne-prone skin.

Here are some common drying alcohols to avoid:

  • Alcohol Denat

  • Ethanol (ethyl alcohol)

  • SD alcohol

  • Benzyl Alcohol

  • Isopropyl alcohol

Note that the moisturising alcohols such as Cetyl or Cetearyl Alcohol are ok to use.

8. Go easy on the spot treatments