Birth Control Pill as An Acne Treatment

Women who are already taking birth control pills may notice a side effect that they enjoy — clear, smooth skin. “Oral contraceptive pills work well for mitigating acne,” says Amy Derick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Barrington, Ill.

While the connection between birth control pills and acne may not be obvious, changes in hormone levels in women can often trigger acne outbreaks. These changes — during puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause — affect oil glands in the skin. When these glands produce excess oil, called sebum, it can clog the pores and lead to unsightly pimples and blemishes. “Hormonal acne usually manifests as deeper bumps around the mouth and jaw line,” explains Dr. Derick.

The birth control pill contains hormones, which, in addition to preventing pregnancy, work to slow excess sebum production by the skin's glands. With less oil to clog the pores, skin becomes clearer and acne can improve.

However, oral contraceptives are rarely prescribed as a sole acne treatment — they often works best when used in conjunction with topical acne treatments like retinoids and benzoyl peroxide, or an oral antibiotic. A dermatologist typically won't prescribe an oral contraceptive to manage acne until these topical treatments have been tried and failed.

Which Birth Control Pills Work Best to Prevent Acne?

What You Need To Know About Taking Birth Control Pills

Women who take an oral contraceptive as acne treatment must meet the FDA's requirements; there are some women who shouldn't take an oral contraceptive because of an increased risk of side effects. These include women who:

  • Smoke
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Are older than 35
  • Have migraine headaches

Oral contraceptives can produce minor side effects, like:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Bloating or abdominal cramping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Soreness or swelling of the breasts

More serious side effects of oral contraceptives may include:

  • Feeling weak or numb in a limb
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vision loss or double vision
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash
  • Increased risk of blood clots, heart attack, stroke, or breast or liver tumors

Only you and your doctor can determine if oral contraceptives are the right choice to help control your acne.

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