When I started having skin issues back in July, I never considered being diagnosed with PCOS would be the outcome. You see, I grew up with a sister and also my best friend having PCOS and I never exhibited any of the symptoms… or so I thought. I guess looking back, the main symptom I had was my very clear insulin resistance due to a poor diet which lead to being incredibly overweight. I never reached type 2 diabetes – but the thought of it was enough to spur me into my weight loss journey. Something that was the best thing I could do for my unknown underlying issue of PCOS!
So what is PCOS? Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is a hormonal disorder which leads to a hormone imbalance of higher than normal male hormones in the female system. With PCOS, your reproductive hormones are out of balance. This can lead to problems with your ovaries, such as not having your period on time, or missing it entirely, as well as fertility issues.
PCOS is different for many people. A lot of people are like me; with regular periods, no excess hair, no real signs of a hormonal imbalance. But a lot of people are the complete opposite. As mentioned, some of the symptoms include excess hair growth (in all of the places you don’t want it!), irregular periods, acne, weight gain, fertility issues, skin pigmentation and more.
In this blog post, I plan to discuss my skin journey as well as how I discovered I had PCOS and the three people who have been apart of this process.
It was around mid-October when I was finally at my wits end with my skin. I had been patient with my skin, but was sick of ‘waiting for it to clear up’. I felt like puberty was hitting me since my skin was so bad for the first time in my life. I had giant, deep, cystic acne on my chin and it was getting harder to try and ignore it.
I started with changing my skincare and seeing Dermal Therapist Samira Sultan-Rouse from Loft Beauty Lounge. Samira has a full body approach to skincare – both inside and out. She knows it’s not just about what you put on your skin, but also knows it’s about what goes on inside your body too. I was put onto Samira by my sister Lydia, who had an amazing skin transformation with Samira’s services and also the skincare range Samira uses, Cosmedix. Cosmedix is medical grade skincare and practitioner only – meaning you can only buy it from a registered professional. Anything else you find online (such as StrawberryNet) is not verified and potentially fake therefore potentially harmful. I saw some small improvements straight away, but I knew it would be a waiting game. I see Samira weekly for LED light therapy, and monthly for facials where I do a Cosmedix Purity Peel (the term peel is used loosely as I haven’t peeled yet – but this doesn’t mean it isn’t doing its job!). I have seen major improvements now that we are around 2 months into treatment. I no longer have any of the cysts on my chin, and we are just working on pigment and getting rid of congestion in my cheeks.
I coupled my topical skincare with a visit to see Amelia Stafford at The Herb Centre. Amelia is a naturopath, herbalist and holistic nutritionist. I met Amelia when I was in getting a tincture made for a sore throat and found out that she specialises in female hormones. Because I knew my breakouts were as a result of hormones, for me simply making them go away with just skincare wasn’t an option. I knew that the breakouts were my body telling me something else was going on and I needed to get to the bottom of it. For my first consult with Amelia, we focused on the gut and also liver function. I started with a tincture, a liver tea, pathoclear (which was taken intermittently for 4 weeks) and also got onto SB Forte, which is a probiotic targeted for skin health. I was also taking vitamin B, zinc and Renew+ (I also have a discount code on this for you guys – use ELORA at the checkout for 15% off) for their skin benefits. She gave me eating instructions such as including more cooked vegetables with dinner as well as including more cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) and asked me to come out of ketosis whilst we started healing my body. Amelia also referred me to get a full panel of blood tests so we could check out my hormones.
Having spent years going to the same family doctor I have had since I was a kid, I felt like it was time for some change. My previous doctor has always been supportive and a wonderful GP, however it was no longer practical to travel across town and I wanted to align my GP with everything else I was doing. This is where Dr Victoria Flight stepped in. Not only does she know my business partner, Sara, but she also knows Amelia and Dr Victoria holds a lot of the same beliefs as me when it comes to health and wellness. I find a lot of doctors these days just put bandages on problems instead of looking deeper. Both Amelia and myself didn’t believe I would have PCOS, but Dr Victoria wanted to rule it out via blood tests anyway. I had a full panel of bloods taken; liver function, CRP, hormone panel, 21 day progesterone and more. They came back indicating a strong chance of PCOS. I was only ‘maybe’ ovulating as my progesterone count was low, and I also had higher than normal testosterone (no where near that of a mans, Dr Victoria assured me when I’m sure she was the horror on my face hahaha). My testosterone was a 3.4 and it needs to be under 2.7 to be within the normal range. She also referred me to get a scan to check out my ovaries, however the public system declined it and whilst I could pay and go private, she didn’t feel it was necessary for me at this stage.
When I first found out that I have PCOS, I posted about it and got many comments about the ways you can be diagnosed. Usually it’s a combination of blood tests and ultrasounds of your ovaries, but I believe there are many other ways too. It can be a very serious and debilitating condition for some, and I feel lucky that I feel almost as though I have a very mild case. My major concern when I found out, was that when I got to the stage where I wanted to have children that I would find it difficult – however both Dr Victoria and Amelia didn’t seem concerned about this area, and I know many people who have conceived with PCOS which definitely put me at ease! At 24, I have no immediate intentions to get pregnant, but I know in years to come it is something I want for myself. I feel really reassured that it’s very much achievable and I also know people who have had a lot of success using herbs alongside too!
Since my lifestyle practices are already so good when it comes to nutrition and exercise, Dr Victoria didn’t really have too many extras for me. We discussed different ways we could lower my androgen level (as this is what is causing the skin to breakout), however she didn’t really want to put me on any of the PCOS medications or the OCP due to both side and long term effects. I came off the OCP back in 2015 as I hated the idea of putting hormones into my body, but you can also learn about some of the disadvantages of it here. I know people who have taken both metformin and spironolactone but have had some not so good side effects. Dr Victoria sent me some great resources on PCOS to read and study, with some tips and info. She reassured me that the way I was eating as well as regular exercise was the best thing I could do for PCOS.
I went back to Amelia for another consult, and came out with some new herbs to help my PCOS symptoms. I am now taking all of the supplements I previously was, but switched the first herbal tincture for Chaste Tree which I take every morning. You can see great articles on the benefits of that here (this one covers different categories of PCOS and how you can treat them differently) and here. I also switched the pathoclear for PCO Support by Mediherb which contains a few different herbs, such as White Peonie and Licorice. These new supplements/tinctures have a lot of herbs that mimic what metformin and spironolactone would do by hopefully lowering those androgen levels.
For me it has been so important that all three of the women I have worked with on my PCOS and skin issues have been so well aligned; functional medicine, getting to the root cause of the problem and treating it in a natural way. I have seen improvements in my skin already – as I mentioned, I no longer get horrific chin breakouts and instead my breakouts if I have any, are closer to the top of the skin and clear quickly. My only skin concerns now are the pigmentation left by scarring from the breakouts (my first tip is to STOP TRYING TO SQUEEZE!) and unfortunately I have developed some skin congestion however I feel this is on its way out too. The main aspect for me was to be really patient. I knew it wouldn’t be an overnight fix and would potentially take a lot of time. I am two months in and am reassured by the results I’ve seen so far. This has NOT been a cheap journey – it does all add up, especially with repeat prescriptions of herbs. The natural way can be more costly, but for me it was a no brainer. I was at my wits end and ready to do anything I could to treat the problem. I couldn’t be happier!
I still have plenty to learn about PCOS and this is just the beginning, but feel free to ask away and I’ll help as much as I can.