If you’ve seen a dermatologist and you’re a female, there’s a good chance that you’ve been told that going on birth control will get rid of your acne. The idea is that because the pill usually contains both progestin and estrogen, it will stabilize your hormonal fluctuations and also lessen the amount of the sebum (oil) producing hormone, androgen. The less oil you have in your skin, the fewer clogged pores you have – and the clearer your skin.
There are a lot of reasons that just popping a pill to clear your skin is problematic, starting with the fact that although hormones can certainly trigger flare-ups, they’re not the root cause of acne.
The root cause, as we’ve discussed before on this blog, is genetic.
Treating just one contributing factor doesn’t cut it over time. Getting rid of your acne and keeping your skin clear for the long term takes a balanced approach that includes keeping a consistent diet and skincare routine.
So when I hear a client say her dermatologist prescribed contraceptives alone to fight acne – especially if it’s she’s a teenager – I cringe.
And then I always ask, “Did your doctor test your hormones to see if you have an imbalance? And are you sexually active?”
Most of my teenage clients aren’t sexually active, which to me is the main reason to take oral contraceptives. I’m personally a firm believer in not adding extra hormones in your body, particularly as a teen. At that age, you’re supposed to get a surge of hormones, which is what makes you grow and develop. It’s all normal and natural, and there are less aggressive and equally effective ways to treat and clear acne.
If you do, however, feel like including birth control pills in your arsenal to help control your acne (particularly if you’re using them as contraceptives, too) there are a few very important things to know:
Some birth control pills actually cause acne.
Not all pills handle hormones the same way; in general, any birth control pill that has the potential for higher androgenic symptoms (i.e. those that contain progestin) should be avoided if you’re prone to acne. The ones to most being on the lookout to avoid are progesterone-only birth control pills (often known as the “mini-pill”).
To give you an idea of pills to avoid, here some of the most commonly prescribed pills for acne that may well actually cause breakouts:
- Estrostep Fe
- Mirena or Skyla IUD
- Ortho Tricyclen Lo
- Paragard/Copper IUD*
The best pillsto use for acne have more estrogen/less androgen (i.e. testosterone).
If you are using an oral contraceptive to help manage breakouts, be sure the pill your doctor has prescribed includes a higher dose of Ethinyl Estradiol (at least 35 mcg) and a progestin with a low androgenic effect. Some commonly prescribed pills include:
- Ortho Tricyclen
Birth control pills have side effects.
This is something you probably know – and the cons may well outweigh the pros. The following are typical side effects you may experience while on oral contraceptives:
- Weight gain
- Vomiting and nausea
- Bloating and cramping
- Changes in your menstrual cycle
- Breast soreness
- Vision loss
- Feeling faint
- Increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and tumors
And if you’re over 35, smoke and/or have high blood pressure, birth control pills should be avoided altogether.
Birth control on its own doesn’t clear your acne.
You probably realize by now that there’s not a magic pill that you can take that will make your acne go away for good. Even if your doctor and you decide that the pill is helpful to helping control your breakouts, it will take regular treatments customized for your acne type and a solid, daily in-home regime with the right products to keep your pores free of clogs and skin clear.
If you have questions about how you can get your acne under control without going on the pill, or have questions about how safe or effective the birth control pill you’re on for acne really is, give us a shout.