Severe, persistent acne can make you feel frustrated and ashamed, but it is important to remember you are not alone.
While over-the-counter acne remedies are available, they may not work for everyone. Physicians now prescribe hormonal birth control pills to help treat hormonal acne.
This article will discuss all you need to know about birth control for acne.
It will discuss what birth control means, how it works, its benefits, and also explore how taking birth control pills can affect acne.
What Is Birth Control?
When it comes to birth control, there are many options to choose from.
Among all the options, the birth control pill is the most popular method of contraception in the United States today.
The CDC has estimated that 9 million Americans prefer to take oral contraceptives over any other method.
How it works
Oral contraceptive pills mimic the hormones progestin and estrogen.
These are naturally occurring hormones that play important roles in female sexual and reproductive health.
A combination of progestin and estrogen will stop sperm cells from fertilizing an egg by preventing ovulation.
In addition to this, the hormones in the birth control pill thicken the mucus in the cervix, making it more difficult for sperm cells to reach the egg.
Side effects of birth control
Birth control pills, like all medications, have some common side effects.
Changing your dose or the type of birth control pill you take may help if side effects occur.
Sometimes, it may require some trial and error before finding the right birth control pill for you.
Here are some of the most common side effects of birth control pills that people with vaginas experience:
- Lighter periods
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Swollen or sore breasts
- Some spotting in between periods
- Decrease in libido
If you experience any of the following side effects, you should contact your doctor:
- Abdominal pain, which could be a sign of liver or gallbladder disease
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, severe headaches, aching, redness, blurred vision, or swollen legs, which could indicate heart disease in the form of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, or blood clot
It is important to talk to a healthcare professional as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms.
When choosing a birth control pill, it is important to discuss the benefits as well as potential risks before deciding to use them to treat your acne.
While these side effects may seem severe, birth control pills are relatively safe, especially compared to alternative prescribed acne medications.
Benefits of Taking the Birth Control Pill
The birth control pill is most commonly used to prevent pregnancy; however, it has other benefits.
These benefits often include protection against pelvic inflammatory disease, regulation of your period, lightened bleeding, and easing of menstrual cramps.
In addition to these benefits, the birth control pill can help reduce and prevent the growth of acne.
Acne has been mentioned a lot of times in this article already. But what exactly is acne, and how do you use birth control to treat acne?
What is Acne?
Acne is a skin condition that can come in many different forms, from mild to severe.
It can come in the form of small red pimples, large cyst-like bumps, and anything in between. Having acne can be worrisome for those who can not find the proper solution.
Acne develops on your skin when your pores become clogged with excess oil.
Acne blemishes often appear on the face, chest, forehead, shoulders, and upper back. Extreme cases of acne can often lead to social isolation, anxiety, and permanent skin scarring.
All acne blemishes get started with a clogged pore.
Pores are small openings in our skin that are classified as either an oil pore or a sweat pore.
Oil pores are the openings at the top of a hair follicle that contain sebaceous glands.
These types of pores allow hair to grow out of the follicle. They also allow dead skin cells and the sebum oil our bodies make to come towards the surface.
These processes are important for moisture that protects the skin.
Sweat pores allow sweat to escape from the body.
They are smaller than oil pores and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sweat pores are not the kind responsible for acne flare-ups.
Hormones and acne
We learn in our teenage years that there is a very clear relationship between hormonal changes and acne, and that is true.
You may notice that sometimes you experience acne flare-ups when your period is about to begin, and your hormonal levels begin to change.
For others, acne remains an issue consistently throughout the month. Acne is triggered if an excess of sebum is produced in the body.
What is sebum?
Sebum is an oil that is produced by skin glands. Sebum can clog pores, thus promoting the growth of acne-inducing bacteria.
The hormones that stimulate sebum production are called androgens, and testosterone is the predominant androgen in all genders.
Taking Birth Control for Acne
Birth control pills have become a common solution that many dermatologists prescribe to treat acne.
For people who have vaginas, the ovaries and adrenal glands typically produce low levels of androgens.
Higher production of androgens can cause the body to produce excess sebum.
Birth control pills containing progesterone and estrogen can help lower the androgens in your body.
A lower amount of androgens will result in less sebum and thus help get rid of unwanted acne.
Most times, patients opt for the birth control pill after testing out other acne treatments, such as antibiotics and topical creams, that have failed to help clear their skin.
The following information will help you better understand the risks and benefits of taking birth control pills to cure acne.
Hopefully, this will assist you in making an informed decision about what next steps might be right for you.
Many clinical trials have detected that taking combination birth control pills can lead to:
- Fewer pimples
- Lessened inflammation
- Less severe acne
- Decreased acne flare-ups
Choosing the Right Birth Control for Acne
When choosing which birth control pill might be the best for you, it is important to be informed.
The best birth control pills approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating acne include:
Yaz is a medication that uses estrogen and a man-made form of progestin called drospirenone.
The FDA has concluded that birth control pills containing drospirenone may contribute to an increased risk of blood clots.
This is in comparison to pills containing other progestins. Drospirenone is also used in brands such as Loryna, Gianvi, Yasmin, Zarah, Beyaz, Ocella, Safyral, and Syeda.
Ortho-Tri-Cyclen is a medication that uses estrogen in combination with a progestin called norgestimate. Progestins are synthetic forms of progesterone. This pill is often available with different doses of progestin.
Estrostep is a medication that includes estrogen combined with a progestin that is called norethindrone. This medication is commonly available with differing doses of estrogen.
Who should use it?
Doctors prescribe birth control pills for a range of acne cases, from very mild to exceedingly severe.
Birth control pills have passed approval for treating acne in people with vaginas that have:
- Already begun menstruating
- Require contraception
- Are at least of the age of 14 or 15 (this differs from brand to brand)
Other Acne Treatments
How you want to treat your acne will often be determined by the severity of the treatment as well as how your skin reacts to differing methods. Patients commonly begin treatment with over-the-counter (OTC) options.
These types of treatments are typically medicines, cleansers, creams, and other topical remedies. Examples include:
- Antibiotics: Typically work by killing excess bacteria on the skin, reducing inflammation and redness. They are usually combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the chances of developing antibiotic resistance.
- Salicylic acid: Physicians often recommend salicylic acid because it helps prevent clogging of the hair follicles. However, they must be taken with care as they may cause skin redness or irritation. Salicylic acid is available both as leave-on and wash-off products.
- Retinoids: Retinoids are primarily available as topical creams and lotions; examples include tretinoin (Retin-A) and adapalene (Differin). Your dermatologist will give you the direction of usage for any product you will be using.
If topical OTC treatments are not right for you, you might look into prescription treatments for your acne.
A prescription-based treatment can come in the form of both pill-based and topical medications.
Prescription-based treatments can also come in the form of antibiotics and retinoids.
When to See a Doctor
You may want to see a doctor about your acne if:
- Over-the-counter/at-home treatment does not work for you
- At-home treatment makes your symptoms worse
- Your pimples grow larger and are filled with fluid or are hard (commonly referred to as cystic acne)
- You avoid going out in public to avoid being seen with your acne
- You begin to feel embarrassed, depressed, or hopeless because of your acne
- If anyone in your immediate family has had severe acne and scarring
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Examining the use of oral contraceptives in the management of acne (2010).
Safety and Efficacy Of Drospirenone and Ethinyl Estradiol vs Placebo in the Treatment of Truncal Acne. (2013).
Which birth control pills can help reduce acne? (2019).