Skin Care Routine of the Week: Living with Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome

Emma Gomez-Rivas

In February of 2017, I decided to stop taking birth control. I wanted to see what my life would be like free of artificial hormones and learn to manage my monthly bouts of anxiety without the pill. Unfortunately, not only did I completely lose my period, but my skin went crazy. I started breaking out all over my chin, my jaw line, and my chest.

Up until then, I had only really dealt with some acne on my forehead and back during puberty and had experienced mostly clear skin afterwards. The breakouts were new for me and I figured they would clear up and my period would come back in a month or so after my body adjusted to not being on the pill. But, after 8 months, I decided to go see an endocrinologist to figure out what was wrong.

It was then that I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Symptoms of PCOS include hormonal acne, irregular periods, weight gain, and excessive body hair. My PCOS diagnosis explained not only my inability to get a period without the pill, but also my increased hormonal acne. Learning to deal with PCOS has been difficult, as I’m sure anyone else with PCOS would say. Although I was reluctant to go back on the pill, I knew it was damaging to my reproductive health to continue not getting my period.

So, I started birth control again in September 2017 during my first month abroad in Copenhagen. I had hoped that the pill would take away some of my acne and make it a little bit more manageable.
At that point, I had been using the Proactive skin care system every single night with a spin brush. In the mornings, I would apply a gentle cleanser with a spin brush as well. I would follow up with medicated moisturizers, spot treatments, and use face masks several times a week. At the time, my skin care routine was the most intricate it has ever been. I spent months trying new products and finding things that would dry out my pimples and reduce the redness all over my face.

Unfortunately, the pill did not make a noticeable difference in my acne and the hard, mineralized water in Copenhagen further irritated my skin. This combined with the food I was eating and my lack of sleep led to more and more acne. While on a trip in Amsterdam I discovered that many people had luck clearing up their acne with Sudocreme, a European diaper rash cream. I found some at CVS and began covering my face in it every night before bed. The diaper rash cream is amazing. I swear by it and I still use it when I get the occasional pimple.

After my time abroad, I returned to the endocrinologist for some testing and a follow up after restarting the pill. I detailed my struggle with acne and she suggested I start Spirolactone, which is a pill intended for managing blood pressure that is often prescribed as an androgen suppressant. Androgen suppressants decrease one’s testosterone levels, which are high in people with PCOS, and reduce hormonal acne.
I was skeptical: if the pill didn’t work, why would this? I didn’t want to start yet another medication, and I hoped that coming back to the United States would help my acne anyways. But, after a few months of being home with little to no improvement in my skin, I decided to try it.

I started Spirolactone in April of 2018 and my skin has since cleared up completely. My skincare routine now consists of washing my face with normal soap every night when I take a shower and applying moisturizer before bed. Spirolactone has saved me hundreds of dollars in skincare products over the course of the past year and has really improved my confidence. I was happy before I started Spirolactone, but it’s really nice to not spend thirty minutes putting on concealer every day.