Lindsey Emery, a freelance editor in Portland, Ore., asked about her bumpy skin. We passed her question on to Julie Harper, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Paul M. Friedman, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas, Houston, and author of Beautiful Skin Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin.
Q: I've noticed small red bumps on my face, jawline, and neck. Could it be rosacea? Or is it acne?
PCOS is a hormone disorder that affects women. Although it's not fully understood, doctors believe that it’s caused by insensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Besides irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation, weight gain, and thinning hair, one of the most notable symptoms of PCOS is acne.
"Any female patient who presents to me with either persistent acne -- they had it in their teens and it's continued past the age of 25 -- or acne starting after age 25, I'll evaluate for PCOS," says Bethanee Schlosser, MD, director of the women's skin health program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
PCOS-related acne tends to flare in areas that are usually considered "hormonally sensitive," especially the lower third of the face. This includes your cheeks, jawline, chin, and upper neck.
"Patients with PCOS tend to get acne that involves more tender knots under the skin, rather than fine surface bumps, and will sometimes report that lesions in that area tend to flare before their menstrual period," Schlosser says. "They take time to go away."
So if you tend to get acne in the places Schlosser describes and have noticed irregular periods, it's a good idea to ask your dermatologist to refer you for PCOS testing.
Many women with PCOS also have diabetes, which isn't surprising, given that both conditions appear to be related to how the body reacts to insulin. Could that mean that diabetes causes acne, or that your acne might be a symptom of diabetes?
If you look online, you may see a lot of speculation about diabetes causing acne. But Hormone Center of New York founder Geoffrey Redmond, MD, says that's false.
"Acne is not a symptom of diabetes,” he says. “Obviously, people with diabetes can develop acne, but the presence of acne by itself does not indicate a need to test for diabetes."