If you're struggling to keep a clear complexion, you may find yourself wondering if a birth control that helps acne is the right choice for you. While birth control pills can't guarantee clear skin, they may be helpful for some women.
Using Birth Control to Help with Acne
Results from using birth control pills to treat acne vary, but most studies indicate that women can expect a 50 percent reduction in the number of blemishes they have. Birth control pills work best on controlling acne that is caused by an excess of androgens. Although androgens are often thought of as "male" hormones, all women have some androgens in their body. The problem occurs when too many androgens cause the sebaceous glands to produce an excess of oil, thus clogging pores and causing bacteria to grow. This leads to the redness, swelling, and pus-like fluid that makes blemishes so bothersome to women.
You may have this type of acne if the following conditions describe you:
- You have adult acne.
- You have irregular menstrual cycles.
- Your acne seems to be worse before you get your period.
- You also suffer from excessive hair growth.
Taking birth control pills can be helpful because you can use this medication in combination with skin care products that contain salicylic acid or benzyl peroxide.
All Pills Aren't Created Equal
When looking for birth control that helps acne, keep in mind that all birth control pills aren't created equally. Although they are all effective at helping to prevent pregnancy, the composition of each pill is slightly different. The relationship between birth control and acne can be very complex.
Currently, there are three brands of birth control pills approved to treat acne:
Ethinyl Estradiol and Norgestimate
The FDA has approved Ortho Tri-Cyclen and generic norgestimate/ethinyl estradiol for acne treatment. The FDA believes these low-dosage birth control pills are an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne. In clinical studies, nearly 90 percent of women taking Ortho Tri-Cyclen noticed an improvement in their skin.
Ethinyl Estradiol and Norethindrone
The Estrostep Fe brand of birth control pill has also been approved by the FDA for the treatment of moderate acne in women age 15 and older. This pill is prescribed for women who have not gotten results with topical acne medications.
Ethinyl Estradiol and Drospirenone
Yaz has been approved in the treatment of moderate acne as well in women older than 14 years of age. However, this form of birth control has a higher risk of blood clots, so remember to discuss this issue with your doctor if you decide upon this medication.
Do Other Pills Help Acne?
Other birth control pills that are thought to improve acne in most women include Desogen, Demulen, Brevicon, Nelova 1/35, Ovcon 35, and Ortho Novum 7/7/7. However, there is some evidence to suggest these pills are more effective in younger women who have fluctuating hormone levels that are the primary cause of their acne. The pills Yasmin and Alesse have also been shown in clinical trials to improve acne but these medications have not been approved by the FDA.
Older brands of birth control pills that contain estrogen and progestin hormones with higher androgen levels may make your acne worse. This includes birth control pills such as Loestrin1.5/30, Loestrin1/20 Fe, Levlen, Alesse, Ovral, and Norlestrin1/50. Progestin-only birth control pills (the mini-pill) -- like Micronor or Nor-QD -- may also worsen your acne.
If you are interested in using birth control pills to help treat acne, talk to your dermatologist or healthcare provider about your plans. Based on your medical history, she can recommend which brand of birth control pill is most likely to be effective in helping your acne.
Starting Birth Control Pills
When taking birth control pills to help treat acne, patience is key. You may not see results for two or three months. Birth control pills, like other acne treatment products, work to help prevent new blemishes from forming. Your existing blemishes must be allowed to heal on their own.
Side Effects to Keep in Mind
Also, if you are switching from a different type of pill or trying birth control for the first time, you may notice some side effects. Most side effects are relatively mild and disappear as your body adjusts to the medication, but reactions can vary. When deciding whether birth control pills should be part of your acne treatment, keep the following side effects in mind:
- Breast tenderness
- Change in menstrual flow
- Decreased sex drive
- Slight weight gain
Birth control pills may not be the right type of acne treatment for certain women, who can be at risk of serious complications. Birth control pills also slightly increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high potassium levels, and blood clots. Combination estrogen-progestin pills are not recommended for women who smoke, women who are over age 35, or women with a history of cardiovascular disease.
A Word of Caution
When using birth control pills to treat your acne, keep in mind that the pill does not protect against STDs such as genital warts, herpes, hepatitis, and syphilis. If you're having sex and you're not in a monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested, you need to be using condoms to protect yourself.
Another important factor to consider is that taking antibiotics will lower the effectiveness of birth control pills. If you are taking antibiotics to control your acne in addition to the birth control pill, you will definitely need to have a back up method of contraception like condoms in order to prevent pregnancy.
Talk to Your Physician
Birth control pills may solve two issues at once for some women - birth control and acne relief. Your physician can tell you if you are a good candidate for this use -- depending on your health history and physical status. He or she can prescribe the correct strength and brand for you and continue your follow up care.