How to Use Birth Control for Acne Treatment

If you've ever experienced acne, you know how frustrating it can be to find the right treatment. Acne is a common condition that occurs when the hair follicles in the skin become clogged with oil or dead skin cells.

Acne affects almost everyone at some point, and it usually resolves by the time people reach their 30s. Acne often occurs on the face, chest, back, and shoulders. Adolescents are at the highest risk of experiencing acne.  

Some birth control pills (oral contraceptives) have been approved to treat acne in women. Because acne is affected by hormones in the body, stabilizing those hormone levels with oral contraceptives may be beneficial.

This article will describe how birth control pills may reduce acne and which ones to try.

Woman holding contraceptive pills at pharmacy store - stock photo

Virojt Changyencham

How Birth Control Pills Work

Birth control pills are oral medications that prevent pregnancy. These medications contain the hormones progestin and sometimes estrogen. The pill works by stopping or reducing ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary) in order to prevent pregnancy. These medications do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Birth control pills are commonly used in the United States. From 2015 to 2017, it’s estimated that 12.6% of women aged 15–49 used oral contraception.

In addition to preventing pregnancy and helping with acne, oral contraceptives can be effective in treating:

All birth control methods have both benefits and risks. Never change the method you are using without first talking with your healthcare provider. 

Hormones and Acne

The hormones in our bodies can greatly affect our skin. Hormone-related acne can occur when hormonal changes increase the amount of oil that is produced in your skin. Acne occurs when the pores become clogged, and an excess amount of oil quickly clogs the pores. 

For women, hormone levels naturally change over time. Your hormones change throughout menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and anytime you take or stop taking birth control pills. 

Pills Approved for Acne

There are four brands of oral contraceptives that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of acne. All of these pills are combination drugs that contain both progestin and estrogen. The progestin-only pill (the minipill) has not been proven effective against acne. 

FDA-approved birth control pills for acne include:

  • Yaz (drospirenone and Ethinyl estradiol)
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen (Ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate)
  • Beyaz (drospirenone, Ethinyl estradiol, and levomefolate)
  • Estrostep FE (Ethinyl estradiol, norethindrone acetate, and ferrous fumarate)

Side Effects

Oral contraceptives have possible side effects and complications that must be considered before beginning a new routine. Common side effects include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Spotting between periods
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Irritability 

More serious complications can include:

When to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

If you are curious if birth control pills could be a good fit for you and your skin, speak with your healthcare provider. They will be able to make specific recommendations and discuss your risk for side effects or complications. 

Once you begin a regular birth control pill regimen, stay in contact with your healthcare provider. Tell them if you are experiencing any side effects. It’s helpful to remember that it can take about two to three months to start seeing an improvement in your acne.

Summary 

Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people at some point in their lifetimes. Birth control pills are oral medications that prevent pregnancy using hormones. Because hormones play a part in the development of acne, combination birth control pills that have both progestin and estrogen have been found to be effective at treating acne. 

A Word From Verywell

If you have been struggling with acne for a few weeks or a few years, you are most likely eager to get rid of it as soon as possible. This common skin condition can affect your self-image and quality of life, so don’t put off talking with your healthcare provider. Ask if an oral contraceptive may be helpful and what types of side effects to expect. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long will it take for birth control to clear acne?

    Birth control pills usually take about two to three months to start clearing acne and improving the look of your skin. 

  • Can other birth control options treat acne?

    At this time, only combination oral contraceptives (containing both progestin and estrogen) have been approved for the treatment of acne. 

  • How effective are birth control pills?

    Birth control pills have been found to be effective at improving blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and acne nodules. 

  • What are some home remedies for acne?

    There are several steps you can take at home to treat or even prevent acne, including:

    • Wash your face twice daily.
    • Use a gentle cleanser that does not irritate your skin.
    • Never scrub or rub your skin too harshly.
    • Avoid touching your face as much as possible .
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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Disorders. What is acne?

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current contraceptive status among women aged 15-49.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Birth control pill: Contraception, the pill, effectiveness, types.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Hormonal acne: What is it, treatment, causes & prevention.

  5. Arowojolu AO, Gallo MF, Lopez LM, Grimes DA. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 11;(7):CD004425. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004425.pub6

  6. Lawrie TA, Helmerhorst FM, Maitra NK, Kulier R, Bloemenkamp K, Gülmezoglu AM. Types of progestogens in combined oral contraception: effectiveness and side-effects. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 May 11;(5):CD004861. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004861.pub2

  7. American Dermatology Association. Stubborn acne? Hormonal therapy may help

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 9 Things To Try If Your Acne Won't Clear.

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Tips for managing.

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