Ask Dr. Sally: Will Birth Control Get Rid of My Acne?

Blemishes! Breakouts! Acne! Pimples! Zits!

Whatever you want to call them, there’s one thing all those words have in common… we don’t want them! Personally, I didn’t experience acne throughout my teen years. However, once I hit my twenties, (and the rollercoaster of the real world began) life became stressful and my hormones decided to act up. This led to adult acne (No thanks!). When I saw a question about using birth control pills to treat acne asked on our site, I knew I had to answer it due to my personal experience.

Ask Dr Sally Birth Control for Acne

First up: Does birth control get rid of acne?

I’ll give you a quick answer to diminish your anxiety while reading this article. YES! YES, it can get rid of acne!

How does birth control treat acne?

There’s a crystal clear connection between hormones and acne. Acne is stimulated by an excess formation of oil, known as sebum, by the glands in your skin. This eventually has the talent of clogging pores and allowing bacteria to build up. Which hormone causes the production of sebum? Androgens. An example of an androgen would be testosterone. (Side note: Women typically produce lower levels of androgens compared to men.) In women, higher levels of androgen can lead to excess sebum. Therefore, taking a BC that contains estrogen (a hormone) and progesterone (another hormone) can lower the amount of androgens in your body. Voila! Acne can go away now! However, patience is definitely key. This does not happen overnight. It takes about two to three months before the skin clears up.) Why is that? Your body needs time to adapt. Plus, BC helps stop new blemishes but your current ones need to heal on their own.

Before starting birth control, it is important to discuss all options with your health care provider. Other options include antibiotics, sometimes killing the bacteria in your skin pores is all you need (but, resistance can occur!). There are both topical and oral options. You have a vast amount of options when treating your acne!

Which birth control works best?

There are tons of different birth control medications to choose from. Only four of them are FDA-approved to treat acne. These three oral birth control products contain both estrogen and progestin (a synthetic form of the natural progesterone hormone). You DO NOT want to use a BC that only has progestin – those pills can actually make your acne worse. Just because a birth control pill isn’t approved for acne, doesn’t mean it won’t work. But there are some formulations that are better than others. Ask us if you have a specific question.

The FDA approved BC products are:

  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen: This pill is approved to treat moderate acne in females ages 15 and above.
  • Estrostep: This pill is approved to treat moderate acne in females ages 15 and above.
  • Yaz and Beyaz: These pills are approved to treat moderate acne for females ages 14 and above.

Are there side effects to worry about?

There are always side effects when taking any medication. The degree of each side effect varies person to person, but some common side effects of taking birth control are nausea, vomiting, headaches, breast tenderness, mood changes, decreased sex drive, weight gain, and change in menstrual flow. Serious risks are rare and include heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. Some people shouldn’t take any birth control pills if they have a history of heart disease, hypertension, blood clots/blood clotting disorders, or smokers over the age of 35. (Side note: If you’re a smoker, let’s help you in trying to quit!)

Birth control pills should not be used to treat acne by girls who have not had their period yet.

How can I get the maximum benefit of taking birth control pills when trying to get rid of my acne?

  • Ask your doctor for topical medications that you can use while also on BC.
  • Tell your pharmacist or physician about any other medications that you are taking (there can be drug interactions!).


BiancaAbout the Author:

Bianca S. Faridian is a third-year pharmacy student at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Blog picture from Jade via Flickr.

4 thoughts on “Ask Dr. Sally: Will Birth Control Get Rid of My Acne?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Useful, thanks! I noticed a change when I started the pill, and didn’t notice one when I stopped (phew!).

  2. Anonymous says:

    it’s been about 10 months since I stopped taking the pill, and now I regularly get large cyst-like blemishes (and not just on my face). What’s happening?

  3. Choose Control says:

    Sounds like your acne has returned after the hormones left your system. Some birth control pills work really well to treat acne and there are other options too. You should talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist about what you are experiencing.

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