Why Some Women Use Birth Control Pills for Acne

Oral contraceptives, more commonly known as birth control pills, can effectively treat acne in some women. For years, doctors have used oral contraceptives off-label as acne treatments. Today, only a handful of oral contraceptives are also approved by the Food and Drug Administration as acne treatments. They include Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Beyaz, Estrostep, and YAZ.

Oral contraceptives are not used as the first line of defense against acne. They are often prescribed after other treatment options have been exhausted, or if a woman needs a form of birth control anyway. For best results, oral contraceptives are used in conjunction with other acne treatments, such as topical retinoids, or benzoyl peroxide.

Birth control pills
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How Birth Control Works Against Acne

Most oral contraceptive pills are made up of a combination of progestin and estrogen. They alter the natural female reproductive cycle and hormonal patterns. The majority of birth control pills use ethinyl estradiol as the estrogen ingredient. Since birth control pills reduce the amount of testosterone within the body, they often improve hormonal-based acne breakouts. When testosterone production is suppressed, the amount of oil produced by the sebaceous glands is reduced. The chance of pore blockages is also reduced.

For women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), oral contraceptives can be particularly helpful in clearing acne brought about by this condition. Certain birth control pills, such as Yaz and Yasmin, contain a progesterone that can help limit the number of androgen hormones within the body, thereby reducing breakout activity. The pill can also help with other symptoms of PCOS, such as excessive hair growth.

Depending on the formulation, some oral contraceptives may raise testosterone levels in the body. This, in turn, could actually worsen acne. If you are looking for a birth control pill that will help reduce acne breakouts, let your doctor know. He or she can prescribe a brand that will work with the goal of improving acne as well.

Common Usage Instructions

Oral contraceptive pills are taken daily, preferably at the same time each day. Three weeks of "active" pills are taken, followed by one week of placebo "reminder" pills, during which time menstruation will occur.

It can take three months or longer to notice any changes in acne after you begin taking oral contraceptives. It is not uncommon for acne to worsen before it improves.

It's also worth remembering that certain antibiotics such as tetracycline and minocycline, which may be used to treat acne are believed to reduce the contraceptive effect of birth control pills. A patient taking the pill for birth control will want to use a backup method while taking these antibiotics.

Possible Side Effects of Oral Contraceptives

As with all systemic medications, side effects may occur while taking oral contraceptives. Most women have no side effects, but when they occur, common ones include nausea, weight gain, breast tenderness, menstrual spotting, and mood swings. Less commonly, more serious side effects may occur. These include blood clots, stroke, headaches, gallstones, increase in blood pressure, and depression.

Oral contraceptives can be used as a long-term acne therapy for women who also need a form of birth control. They can effectively control mild to moderate acne breakouts, especially acne that tends to worsen during ovulation and menstruation. For women with more severe acne, birth control pills can be used in conjunction with other acne treatment medications.

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