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Birth Control Pills for Acne Treatment: A Myth or Reality?

Many women experience acne at some point in their lives. A lot of people are aware of the idea of using birth control pills for acne. But do they really help or is it just a commonly held misconception? Let’s figure it out together!
birth control pills

Does birth control help with acne? 

Yes! Some of birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives, can help improve acne in women. If your acne doesn’t respond to other treatments, including oral antibiotics and topical creams, your doctor might prescribe birth control pills for acne.

Acne is the result of excessive production of oil, or sebum, by the sebaceous glands in your skin. Excess sebum clogs your pores, along with dead skin cells and dirt, and contributes to the growth of acne-causing bacteria.

As already mentioned, androgens stimulate the production of sebum by the sebaceous glands. Levels of androgens disbalance during your teenage years and a higher level of androgens can result in excessive sebum production. 

Acne can manifest in various forms including whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, pimples, small red and tender bumps, and cystic lesions. 

Women can get acne from the following:

  • Hormonal changes that occur during puberty and adulthood (also known as hormonal acne)
  • Medications
  • The wrong makeup for your skin type

Taking birth control pills that contain both progestin and estrogen may reduce the androgen levels in your body. This can result in the reduced production of sebum, reducing the severity of acne. 

Woman chooses the best birth control for acne

Best birth control for acne  

Which birth control is best for acne? In the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of birth control pills available on the market. So far, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only four types of birth control pills for acne. All four are combination pills in which both progestin and estrogen are present. In fact, birth control pills that only contain progesterone may actually make your acne worse. 

All of the birth control pills approved for acne treatment have the same form of estrogen, but the form of progesterone can vary. 

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The FDA has approved these four birth control pills for acne to treat moderate acne in females who:

  • are at least 14 or 15 years of age
  • require contraception
  • have started menstruating

If you try one of these pills, it may take a couple of months before your acne starts to improve. You might also have an initial flare-up when you start taking birth control pills for acne.  

If you suffer from severe acne and have other associated symptoms such as excessive facial hair, obesity, or irregular periods, your doctor might check for polycystic ovary syndrome or any other hormonal issues. 

Advantages and risks of birth control pills for acne 

Do birth control pills help with acne? According to research, taking combination contraceptive pills can result in:

  • reduced flare-ups
  • less inflammation
  • fewer pimples
  • less severe acne

Today’s oral contraceptives contain lower amounts of progestin and estrogen hormones than they used to. This has reduced their medical risks significantly. However, women who take birth control pills may still develop side effects.

Some side effects of taking birth control pills are:

  • nausea
  • stomach cramps
  • vomiting
  • bloating
  • weight loss/gain
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • breast tenderness
  • menstrual irregularities

More severe possible side effects of taking birth control pills include stroke, blood clots in your legs or lungs, and heart attack. If you are a smoker, older than 35, or have a history of hypertension, deep vein thrombosis, or heart disease, then your risks of developing the serious side effects are much higher. 

Other acne treatments 

The right acne treatment depends on the severity of your condition and how you react to different therapies. The first thing to try is over-the-counter products such as lotions, creams, and cleansers. If these don’t help clear your acne after several weeks, then your doctor may prescribe stronger medications. 

Topical medications

Common topical prescription medicines for acne include:

  • Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs: Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A and include tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene. They are available as lotions, gels, and creams. They work by preventing hair follicles from becoming clogged.
  • Antibiotics: These work by killing the excess acne-causing bacteria and decreasing redness. Some examples are clindamycin and erythromycin.
  • Azelaic acid: This acid occurs naturally in whole-grain cereals and has antibacterial properties. Azelaic acid can be prescribed for pregnant and breastfeeding women. 

Oral medications

  • Antibiotics: Oral antibiotics are given to reduce moderate-to-severe acne. The first choice is tetracycline, including doxycycline or minocycline. 
  • Anti-androgen agents: The drug Spironolactone may be given to adolescent girls and women if their acne isn’t responding to oral antibiotics. It blocks the effect of androgens on the sebaceous glands. 
  • Isotretinoin: This is a strong drug used to treat severe acne. It may cause serious side effects, so its use should be closely monitored by the doctor prescribing it. 

Therapies: Your doctor may use certain therapies to treat acne either alone or in combination with medication. Such therapies include chemical peels, laser therapy, extraction of blackheads and whiteheads, and steroid injections. 

Most women experience acne at some point in their lifetime. It may occur due to hormonal changes during puberty or adulthood (some women get acne before their period). Does birth control help acne? Yes. Oral contraceptives may help improve acne in women. They do so by reducing the levels of androgens in the body.

Which birth control helps acne? Birth control pills that contain both progesterone and estrogen help acne. Though taking birth control pill for acne has many benefits, it can have side effects. You should talk to your doctor to find the best birth control pill for acne.   

https://www.healthline.com/health/best-birth-control-for-acne#acne-101

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/birth-control-for-acne-treatment#1

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/birth-control-for-acne-treatment#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/expert-answers/birth-control-pills-for-acne/faq-20057892

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20368048

https://www.healthline.com/health/best-birth-control-for-acne#pills-approved-for-acne

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