If you have acne-prone skin, it’s normal to worry about potential side effects when beginning any new medication. Today I’m going to be talking about the prescription drug Metformin and do my best to answer the following question: does metformin cause acne?
Used to help control blood sugar levels, Metformin is prescribed to many patients who suffer from Type 2 diabetes. But as diabetes concerns the blood’s sugar levels (and by now we all know about the link between insulin and acne), it’s normal to wonder whether or not taking Metformin is going to upset your skin and cause a breakout.
So, does Metformin cause acne? Let’s find out.
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What Is Metformin?
Metformin is an oral prescription drug typically used to treat patients with Type 2 diabetes. Metformin works by helping stabilize high blood sugar levels in the body, preventing long-term damage to the organs that can be sustained by prolonged levels of high blood sugar and glucose in the body.
Metformin also reduces the amount of sugar produced by the liver, as well as the amount of sugar that the stomach absorbs. Metformin also makes the body more sensitive to insulin and reduces insulin levels.
Metformin Side Effects
While typically considered a safe drug when prescribed by a qualified medical professional, Metformin can nonetheless produce various side effects. These side effects can include:
- Nausea, sickness and diarrhea (Common)
- Metallic taste in the mouth (Common)
- Sleepiness (Common)
- Difficulty urinating (Common)
- Loss of appetite (Common)
- Pain in the sides (Common)
- Cramps (Common)
- Anxiety (Less Common)
- Depression (Less Common)
- Increased appetite (Less Common)
- Difficulties in concentration (Rare)
- Loss of strength (Rare)
If you develop any of these side effects after taking Metformin for the first time (including those side-effects categorized as ‘Common’), you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible.
So, Does Metformin Cause Acne?
As we can see from the side-effects listed above, there’s no negative knock-on effect on your skin if you take Metformin.
That being said, if you develop some of the described side effects (such as an increased appetite, nausea, anxiety or depression) this may result in indirect acne inflammation. We all know the relationship between food and acne (especially carbs), so any disruption to your diet can have a knock-on effect on your skin. Stress can also play a role in acne production – if you develop anxiety or stress-related symptoms following
However, some studies have actually found that taking Metformin can have a positive impact on acne in women who suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.)
PCOS: Metformin Acne Benefits
PCOS is known to cause acne in women. Acne caused by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is due to the elevated levels of testosterone in the female body, which can lead to excess unwanted hair, irregular periods and of course, nasty breakouts. We’d categorize this type of acne as hormonal, rather than cystic – even if the acne appears quite severe and therefore ‘cystic’ in nature.
Those with PCOS have typically struggled to overcome their acne; hormonal acne caused by PCOS can be stubborn and resistant to typical acne treatments such as Benzoyl peroxide and other topical treatments. As a last resort, PCOS patients are often put on Accutane treatment in order to resolve their problem.
However, Metformin has been recently touted as a potential game-changer for those with PCOS-induced hormonal acne.
In an analysis comprised of 51 studies (and over 2400 patients suffering from PCOS), the research found that when used as a supplementary therapy, Metformin resulted in a much greater improvement of acne in comparison to those whose therapies did not include the drug. The presence of visible acne was reduced significantly following metformin use, leading researchers to consider metformin as a new form of therapy for PCOS patients suffering with acne.
How Does Metformin Affect The Skin In Those With PCOS?
Put simply, by stabilizing the body’s blood sugar, the body’s insulin levels return to normal and the body becomes more sensitive to insulin. Metformin also decreases the production of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), testosterone, and luteinising hormone (LH), all of which contribute to hormonal acne.
In turn, the chances of breaking out following an uncontrolled insulin spike decrease for those with PCOS. With insulin spikes under control, the body will also stop producing oil and sebum at an excessive rate, resulting in fewer clogged pores and nasty breakouts.
Can I Take Metformin For Acne?
While Metformin might help acne in those suffering from PCOS, you can’t take the drug unless you’ve been prescribed by a licensed medical professional. Doctors will typically only prescribe metformin for those with Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, so if you don’t suffer from either of these conditions, you won’t be eligible for the drug.
That being said, having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is known to be a precursor for developing Type 2 Diabetes, especially if your PCOS is left untreated. If you’re female and have the following symptoms, you might want to speak with your doctor or gynecologist about PCOS:
- Recurring acne that is resistant to topical treatments (typically on the jawline and chin area and present throughout the full month and not just in the pre-menstrual period)
- Irregular periods (missed periods, long periods, periods that start and stop)
- Unwanted hair (facial hair, excess body hair)
How To Stabilize Blood Sugar Naturally
The success of Metformin in reducing acne in PCOS patients demonstrates what we all already knew: increased blood sugar (or increased insulin in the body) is directly linked to the production of sebum and the development of acne.
If you’re suffering from acne but you’re not diagnosed with PCOS, pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, there are still ways you can avoid spiking your blood sugar and stop inadvertently causing breakouts.
As I explain in my eBook, Unmasking Acne, having an acne-friendly diet is one of the easiest ways to clear up your skin long-term. Having an acne-friendly diet means avoiding inflammatories such as soda, caffeine and dairy, and prioritizing fresh, antioxidant-rich foods.
As I always maintain, it’s best to begin with diet before going the prescription route.