Birth control pills are medications that help prevent pregnancy. They contain synthetic hormones — estrogen and progestin or just progestin.

Several types of birth control pills are available. Everyone has different health profiles and requirements, so speak with a healthcare professional about which approach may be best.

Birth control pills typically contain progestin, estrogen, or a combination of both.

Keep reading to learn about the different birth control pill options and their advantages and disadvantages.

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Each person who is interested in birth control should discuss the best option for them with a healthcare professional.

Combined birth control pills contain both progestin and estrogen. Different pills can help a person avoid pregnancy by preventing ovulation, thickening the cervical mucus, and thinning the lining of the uterus, which is called the endometrium.

For example, progestin-only pills prevent pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus. They also thin the endometrium. About 40% of females who use progestin-only pills continue to ovulate.

Based on the hormones they contain, birth control pills carry varying risks and side effects. Discuss any underlying health issues and concerns with a medical professional before deciding on a birth control option. This may be especially important for people who smoke.

Some factors to consider when picking a birth control pill include:

  • The types of hormones: Estrogen is not safe for everyone, as it may increase the risk of blood clots. Likewise, some forms of progestin may increase the risk of blood clots and worsen acne.
  • Underlying health conditions: People health issues, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, should speak with a doctor about the safest option for them.
  • Insurance coverage: Though most plans have to cover birth control pills, they may only over certain options. “Religious exempt” plans do not need to cover birth control methods at all.

Because everyone reacts differently to medication, a person may try several different birth control methods before finding the one that works best for them. A healthcare professional can help direct a person toward the most suitable form.

Most commercially available oral birth control pills contain a combination of estrogen and progestin.

Each birth control pill brand may contain different dosages of estrogen and different types of progestin. A doctor can help a person decide which one is best for them.

According to 2015 research, the majority of combination birth control pills contain ethinyl estradiol, an estrogen component, although the dosages between brands varied from 20–35 micrograms (mcg).

Types of progestin in combination pills

Combination birth control pills contain different types of progestin, and manufacturers express the dosage in milligrams (mg) or mcg.

Some progestins can cause increased water and salt retention, which leads to bloating.

And some progestins act as androgens, a group of hormones that play a role in sexual health. High levels of androgens can play a role in acne and excess hair growth.This may be concerning for someone who wants to use a birth control pill to help reduce acne, excess hair growth, or both.

Different types of progestin vary in how androgenic they are. Currently, however, no data indicates that any pill is more effective than another at addressing acne or excess hair.

Desogestrel

Some people may prefer to use a birth control pill that contains the progestin desogestrel. According limited evidence from 2015, it may help reduce excess hair growth and acne somewhat better than other options.

Combination birth control pills that contain desogestrel include:

Some birth control pills contain the same drugs in the same dosages but have different names. For example, a doctor may prescribe Azurette and Kariva, or Reclipsen and Apri interchangeably because they have the same contents.

The recommended medication, in this case, may depend on insurance coverage or the availability of a specific brand.

Drospirenone

Some people prefer birth control pills that contain the progestin drospirenone because it has diuretic properties, which help prevent bloating.

However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), drospirenone may increase the risk of blood clots. This risk is low, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states.

A 2012 study found that drospirenone can also help treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe type of premenstrual syndrome.

Birth control brands that contain drospirenone include:

As with other combination pills, a doctor may prescribe some brands interchangeably when they contain the same hormones in the same dosages, such as Loryna and Yaz.

Levonorgestrel

Birth control pills that contain levonorgestrel appear to have lower risks of side effects, such as blood clots, compared with pills containing other types of progestin.

Doctors consider pills containing levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol to be a first-line treatment, and they are effective if a person takes them correctly.

Pills that contain levonorgestrel include:

A doctor may prescribe these brands interchangeably, providing they contain the same ingredients and dosages, as in the case of Aviane, Lessina, and Sronyx.

Norethindrone

Norethindrone is a progestin that derives from testosterone.

People who take birth control pills containing norethindrone may experience androgenic side effects, such as excess hair growth and acne. If this occurs, a doctor may recommend a birth control pill with less androgenic activity.

Birth control pills that contain norethindrone include:

Norgestimate and norgestrel

People who use birth control pills containing norgestimate or norgestrel may also experience androgenic side effects, such as excess hair growth and acne.

Some brands containing these hormones include:

Each packet of these pills, such as Seasonique, contains 12 weeks’ worth of combined hormonal birth control. It also contains 1 week of placebo or low dose ethinyl estradiol.

Some people prefer this approach because it means that they only get a menstrual period every 3 months. Anyone wishing to delay their period longer using this method can do so safely for up to 12 months.

Each packet of triphasic birth control contains 21 days of pills containing different dosages of estrogen and progestin each week.

An example of a triphasic pill is Ortho Tri Cyclen. Each pill contains 35 mcg of ethinyl estradiol, but the dosage of norgestimate increases each week.

The aim of triphasic birth control is to reduce side effects by mimicking the natural fluctuation of hormones throughout the menstrual cycle.

However, healthcare professionals are tending not to prescribe triphasic types of birth control. According to a 2011 study, they do not appear to be more effective than standard birth control pills, which doctors call “monophasic.”

Monophasic pills provide the same amounts of hormones for 21 days, followed by 1 week of placebo.

A person can learn more about monophasic birth control here.

Anyone who cannot tolerate estrogen or prefers to avoid associated side effects may find progestin-only pills more suitable.

Micronor, which contains norethindrone, and Slynd, which contains drospirenone, are two brand-name examples.

Doctors may prescribe pills with lower dosages of ethinyl estradiol to prevent associated side effects.

As the Office of Women’s Health (OWH) reports, these are possible side effects of hormonal birth control pills:

Taking a pill that contains a form of estrogen can increase the risk of developing blood clots, though this risk is typically low. The OWH reports that smoking can increase this risk, however.

Doctors recommend that people who are at least 35 years old and smoke avoid birth control pills due to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Another risk concerns pregnancy. It can be easy to forget to take the pill every day, which can increase the chances of pregnancy. If this happens, speak with a doctor or pharmacist.

Birth control pills cannot prevent the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Barrier methods, such as a condom or dental dam, can prevent these infections.

Learn more about the side effects of birth control pills here.

The table below compares some of the most common types of birth control pills:

Medication NameTypeDose and hormonesGeneric name
Apri
Combination150 mcg desogestrel, 30 mcg ethinyl estradioldesogestrel and ethinyl estradiol tablets
Yaz
Combination3 mg drospirenone, 20 mcg ethinyl estradioldrospirenone/ethinyl estradiol tablets
AvianeCombination100 mcg levonorgestrel, 20 mcg ethinyl estradiollevonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol tablets
Junel 1/20Combination1 mg norethindrone, 20 mcg ethinyl estradiolnorethindrone and ethinyl estradiol tablets
SprintecCombination250 mcg norgestimate, 35 mcg ethinyl estradiolnorgestimate and ethinyl estradiol tablets
SeasoniqueExtended cycle84 light blue tablets containing 0.15 mg levonorgestrel and 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol, plus 7 yellow tablets containing 0.01 mg ethinyl estradiol
levonorgestrel/ethinyl estradiol tablets and ethinyl estradiol tablets
MicronorProgestin only0.35 mg norethindronenorethindrone

A person may want to avoid taking a pill every day, or they may wish to avoid negative effects of estrogen or progestin.

Here are some birth control options that do not involve taking pills:

Some people prefer a combination of contraceptives.

Below are answers to some common questions about birth control pills.

What is the most common birth control pill?

The most common type of pill is the combination pill.

What is the cheapest birth control pill brand?

Birth control pill prices can vary based on a variety of factors. The Affordable Care Act requires all insurance and Medicaid plans to cover the full cost of birth control methods, such as the pill. However, some plans can opt out of this coverage due to religious reasons.

A person who does not have insurance may be able to acquire free or reduced-cost pills from local clinics.

Where can I get birth control pills?

First, a person needs a prescription from a doctor. Then, they can get the pills:

  • Online: Several retailers offer birth control pills online with a valid prescription, and some companies have doctors on staff who provide consultations and prescriptions.
  • At pharmacies: Most have some of the more common types of birth control pills already in stock.
  • Clinics: Several low- or no-cost clinics offer birth control pills to people without insurance or with insufficient coverage.

Do I need to see a doctor?

A person needs a prescription for birth control pills. Anyone with generally good or stable health might consider an online consultation coordinated by a birth control retailer.

People with medical conditions, allergies to medications, and other concerns should speak with a doctor about the various birth control options.

Also, let a doctor know about any side effects. They can recommend better alternatives.

There are many types of birth control pill. The most common contains a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin.

Birth control pills can cause side effects and increase some health risks. Anyone who experiences any side effect should consult a healthcare professional, who can recommend a better option.

Some people prefer contraceptives that do not contain hormones, such as a copper IUD. A healthcare professional can discuss the benefits and downsides of the many alternatives to the pill.