While there are many different types of acne with various causes, hormonal acne frequently affects adult females. For some, taking birth control pills can help.
Females with hormonal acne may find that conventional acne treatments are ineffective. In these cases, correcting the hormonal imbalance may clear the breakouts. Birth control pills are among the drugs that can help do that, and doctors often prescribe them to treat hormonal acne.
In this article, we provide answers to some of the most common questions about taking the birth control pill for acne, including how birth control works to control acne, its effectiveness, and who can use it.
In a word, yes. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have specifically approved some forms of the birth control pill for treating acne.
The birth control pill is most appropriate when traditional and over-the-counter options have proven unsuccessful in managing acne. These options include cleansers, creams, and spot treatments.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggest that females with stubborn acne along the lower face, jawline, neck, chest, and back may be particularly good candidates for hormonal treatment, particularly if other treatments, such as topicals or antibiotics, have not been successful.
Acne occurs as a result of several factors relating to a hormonal imbalance, including the overproduction of a natural oil called sebum on the skin and the accumulation of dead skin cells in the hair follicle or pores.
In addition, some females have abnormally high levels of androgens, such as testosterone. High androgen levels can stimulate the production of sebum and increase the growth of skin cells in both the skin and hair follicles.
Hormonal medication, including the birth control pill, can help regulate these hormones and minimize acne.
The birth control pill works best when a person takes it at the same time every day and as the prescription specifies. Sometimes, the birth control pill is more effective alongside other medications.
Different birth control pills contain different forms and concentrations of hormones, so it can be difficult to know which type of pill will be most effective in treating acne.
Large scale research from the Cochrane Collaboration offers some answers. This collaboration is an extensive network of thousands of doctors, researchers, and specialists who review the available research to answer specific medical or clinical questions.
In 2012, they reviewed the research on birth control pills as a treatment for acne. The team looked at a total of 31 studies that included 12,579 people.
The authors concluded that combined oral contraceptives that contain chlormadinone acetate (CMA) or cyproterone acetate (CPA) seem to improve acne more significantly than those that contain levonorgestrel (LNG). In addition, they advised that birth control pills containing drospirenone (DRSP) may be more effective than those with norgestimate (NGM) or nomegestrol acetate (NOMAC/E2).
However, they noted that there is limited evidence to confirm these results and that further research is necessary.
The following brands contain these hormones:
- Belara, Lutéran, and Prostal contain CMA
- Androcur Depot contains CPA
- Plan B contains LNG
- Yasmin and Yaz contain DRSP
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Previfem contain NGM
- Lutenyl, Naemis, and Zoely contain NOMAC/E2
Birth control pills are generally safe. However, side effects are common, and they can range from mild to severe.
Common side effects of the pill include:
- spotting or bleeding between periods
- breast tenderness
- mood swings
- breast growth
- weight changes
The side effects should lessen or go away entirely after a few months of taking the pill. If they do not, and they are especially bothersome, it is important to speak with a doctor. The doctor may recommend switching to a different pill.
Certain groups of people are more likely to experience side effects, so the pill may not be appropriate for everyone. For example, experts have linked taking the pill with serious health conditions for people with a history of migraine with aura. These conditions include blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and liver tumors.
Anyone who experiences any of the following should head to the nearest emergency room or contact a doctor immediately:
- sudden back or jaw pain
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- sudden onset of a terrible headache
- headaches that are worsening or increasingly frequent
- visual changes, such as seeing zigzag lines or flashing
- yellowing of the skin, called jaundice
- pain or swelling in the leg
- severe abdominal pain
These signs and symptoms could be serious side effects from the pill that require immediate medical attention. It is always best to check with a doctor about any concerns or changes in health after beginning to take the pill.
Stubborn acne can be frustrating, especially when medications have not proven successful. Some females may find the birth control pill to be effective in treating acne that occurs due to hormonal factors.
Although many people tolerate the pill well, it may not be appropriate for everyone. It is important to report any unusual side effects and to continue to follow the provided instructions.