Acne Treatments - Birth Control Pills

Using oral contraceptives as an acne treatment |

Birth control pills (BCP) are often prescribed to regulate hormonal acne. Generally, acne that occurs around the jaw line is hormonal. However, the best way to figure out whether or not hormones are responsible for your acne is to keep a diary of your breakouts.

Track them for a good 3 to 4 months. If you start noticing a pattern, such as breaking out during ovulation (14 days or so after you get your period), before you get your period, or after you get your period, then your acne is probably hormonal. You can also get your hormone levels checked to make sure they are within normal ranges. However, keep in mind that slight hormonal sensitivities may not be prominent enough to show up as an imbalance on a medical test.

In my opinion, if you are going on birth control pills for acne, it is probably best to try topical products and lifestyle/diet changes first. Like oral antibiotics, birth control pills can mess with your system, so I always recommend exhausting all other alternatives before turning to oral medications. Before going on the pill, make sure you are also aware of each individual pill's side effects.

Most birth control pills will have the hormones estrogen and progesterone in them. Estrogen is anti-androgenic, while progesterone has varying levels of androgenicity. A rule of thumb is, if the estrogen content is high enough to counter the androgens, you will see some improvement in your acne. If the estrogen isn't strong enough to offset the androgenic activity, then your acne might actually worsen. Every woman responds differently to birth control pills, so it's a very individual thing. On a side note, if you notice a red flush on your neck after going on the pill, it could be a sign that the pill is not agreeing with your system.

If one type of birth control pill isn't working for your skin, you can always switch to another one to see if it works any better. Different brands of the pill have different dosages of hormones. You just want to make sure you use the pill for at least 2-3 months to give your body time to adjust to the hormones. If birth control pills are going to help with your acne, most people see good skin results after six months on the pill.

To reiterate, whether birth control pills will improve your acne or cause you to break out even more is largely individual. It depends on how your body responds to each formulation of the oral contraceptive. However, below is a chart of birth control pills that can help you figure out which one will be better to help clear your skin. Keep in mind that this is just a general guideline:

Types of Birth Control Pills
More likely to improve acne

(higher estrogen, lower androgenic activity)
More likely to worsen acne

(lower estrogen, higher androgenicity)
  • Yasmin
  • Demulen 1/50
  • Othro-Tri Cyclen
  • Ortho-Cyclen
  • Brevicon
  • Modicon
  • Necon
  • Ortho Evra
  • Mircette
  • Loestrin 1.5/30
  • Leostrin 1/20 Fe
  • Estrostep
  • Levlen
  • Ovral
  • Norlestrin 1/50

Check here for more information about what kinds of birth control pills are available.

Many people worry about their skin freaking out once they go off the pill. If you went on birth control pills to control acne and the birth control pills kept your acne in check, you will most likely break out once you stop using them. It won't happen the very next day, but the acne flares might progress anywhere from one month to 6 to 8 weeks later. People who don't take the pill for acne can also breakout after going off the pill because their hormones need time to readjust. Generally the longer you've been on the pill, the more likely you will breakout after you go off of it. However, some people do just fine and don't breakout at all.

My traditional Chinese medicine doctor says that in order to readjust your hormones, you should go to sleep at 10 pm every night (because that's when your bodily organs start tiring and need to rest up) and wake up at 6 or 7 in the morning. He also says to get 20 minutes of exercise to improve circulation in your system. Fish oil and omega-3s help with hormonal acne as well. These are just things to keep in mind aside from using birth control pills to treat acne.

To sum things up, birth control pills can help with acne, but how much they help really depends on how you and your body reacts to the pill.

Last updated: October 8, 2012

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