Does Metformin Cause Acne

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.

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. 

Originally Published: May 05, 2022

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood
Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook!

I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health.

I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on.

This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it.

As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”.

After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts.

In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy.

Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself.

After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅

While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently.

To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision. Read more of Sam's articles.

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