Using Birth Control as Acne Treatment

woman holding pills

If you’re suffering from persistent acne, there’s a chance you may be prescribed birth control pills in an attempt to combat the problem. However, is birth control an effective solution to acne? While some women find that it works wonders, others have discovered that birth control actually causes acne instead of solving it. So, how do hormonal birth control pills work and how do they affect acne? 

How Does Hormonal Birth Control Affect Acne?

Often, acne occurs due to hormonal imbalances. The male sex hormones, androgens, have a vital role to play in your body whether you’re male or female. Testosterone, among other androgens, boost the growth of skin cells, stimulating oil production. As a result, pores can get blocked and cause acne. Most hormones are opposed by counterregulatory hormones which limit their negative effects. Estrogen is testosterone’s counterregulatory hormone and this is often found in birth control pills. This explains why birth control is believed to be an effective treatment for acne since estrogen counterracts testosterone’s ability to increase oil production in the skin.

Which Birth Control Options Can Be Used To Control Acne?

Not all birth control options are effective in eliminating acne. Some methods only contain progestin while others contain both estrogen and progestin. There are also several delivery methods to choose from including:

  • Pills
  • Patches
  • Implants
  • Shots
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Vaginal rings

In terms of acne treatment, the delivery method has no relevance. Instead, the only thing which is important is the amount and type of hormone which the birth control method delivers.

It’s important to note that progestin-only delivery methods such as the IUD, the implant, the mini-pill and the Depo-shot are unlikely to work to control acne since they have no estrogen in them. Actually, progestin-only delivery options may actually aggravate acne.

Are There Downsides To Using Birth Control To Treat Acne?

Although estrogen-containing birth control methods can counteract acne, they won’t suit everyone. Standard birth control pills can result in problems such as weight gain, headaches, hair loss and depression among other side effects. There is a solution, however, in the form of low-dose pills which have been proven to be effective in controlling acne. Standard pills have around 35mcg of estrogen in them, but there are pills available today with as low an amount of 20mcg of estrogen. This helps to counteract any unwanted side effects. Also, of course, if you accidentally use a progestin-only birth control method you could find that your acne problem becomes much worse.

Can I Stop Using The Pill?

The majority of women don’t use birth control pills forever. Some stop for a whole so they can have a family while others just want to take a break from taking those synthetic hormones. Birth control methods don’t cure acne – they only treat it temporarily. So long as you carry on taking your pill, your acne will usually improve but once you stop taking it, you’re likely to see your acne returning. This can be worse than it was before you started taking the pill. Although you can stop using birth control pills at any time, remember your hormones take time to get back to normal. This could take several months and your skin will be more likely to suffer from breakouts during this time.

Should I Consider Using Birth Control To Treat My Acne?

If you’re already looking for a contraception method, using birth control as a way of treating your acne at the same time is a good idea. If you don’t need to use birth control, however, you may want to consider one of the other options out there for acne treatment. Although serious medical problems are unlikely to occur, hormonal contraceptives have been associated with certain health risks including:

  • An increased chance of certain cancers
  • Hypertension
  • Migraine
  • Low bone density
  • Yeast infections
  • Blood clotting
  • Benign liver tumors

If you are a smoker and are aged over 35 years, you shouldn’t use birth control pills at all since the chance of blood clots in your lungs or legs becomes much higher.

Where Can I Get Birth Control To Treat My Acne?

At present, the FDA have approved three types of birth control pill to treat acne – Estrostep, Yaz and Ortho Tri-Cyclen. Although your dermatologist can prescribe you birth control to treat your acne, patients are usually referred to their gynecologist or doctor since pap smears and check-ups are necessary before beginning to take birth control.

Is Birth Control A Good Choice For Acne Treatment?

For many women, a progestin/estrogen birth control method is a good way to treat their problematic acne as long as they were looking for an effective contraceptive too. For those women who have no need of contraception or who are smokers over 35 years old, there are other options out there for treating acne which are a better choice.

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