Does hormonal birth control cause acne?

Finding the best birth control for acne sufferers


Anyone who has suffered – or is still suffering – with acne breakouts is well aware of how painful and embarrassing the ordeal can be. It is sad to say that acne can affect anyone, at any point in life – it is not a problem exclusive to teenagers. What’s more, the condition may be particularly stubborn in some people, while in others, it can worsen with age.

In women, adult acne can be especially problematic due to hormonal fluctuations and menopause. Luckily, there are safe and effective options to combat persistent breakouts, helping to achieve clearer skin and boosted confidence.

However, when selecting the right birth control to treat your acne, it is important to note that not all pills are created equal. While some medication may successfully banish blemishes, others can wreak havoc on your skin – it’s all about choosing the best one for you.

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What causes acne?

Before selecting an appropriate treatment, it is worth learning what causes acne breakouts in the first place. While there are several reasons for the flare-up, such as diet, medication, and family history, the main culprit is fluctuating hormone levels.

Androgen, the male hormone, is found in both men and women. Those who have sensitive androgen receptors, or excessive levels are more prone to acne breakouts in adulthood. An increase in the hormone levels can trigger many unwanted changes including an increase in the sebaceous glands, subsequently producing more oil causing clogged pores and trapped dirt, resulting in the formation of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads and painful sores.

How do birth control pills work for acne?

While there are a whole range of birth control pills available on the market, different pills contain different ingredients. The majority of medication contains the synthetic female hormones estrogen and progestin. These two hormones act together to balance the effects of excess androgens, thereby reducing the severity of current breakouts, while working to prevent any further eruptions. There are several combination birth control methods including the pill, patch and ring.

On the other hand, pills that only contain progestin hormones are likely to worsen acne as they can produce an androgenic effect on the body – women who suffer from breakouts should steer well clear of them.  Progestin-only methods include the implant, hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), or the shot.

If this was not tricky enough to deal with, there is also the fact that not all progestin is the same. Some variations of the hormone can possess more androgenic properties, thereby aggravating the skin condition, as well as causing other issues such as balding and unwanted hair growth; whereas other types are anti-androgenic. For this reason, it is crucial that you select the option that is the most appropriate for you.

The most effective birth control to treat acne

Combination pills

As it stands, the FDA has approved three particular types of combined oral contraceptives for treating acne:

  1. Estrostep
  2. Ortho Tri-cyclin
  3. Yaz

31 separate studies all concluded that combination pills are effective in treating acne. It is important to note that there is no quick-fix when it comes to healing your breakouts. It could take several months before you notice any significant improvement in your skin condition; additionally, some users may even notice a slight increase in the problem after starting the birth control. However, there is no reason to panic; this is only because it takes time for the body to adjust to the new hormones. All in all, it’s safe to say, achieving clear skin requires a good dose of patience and perseverance.

The patch and ring

There is little research into how hormonal contraceptive methods such as the patch (Xulane) and the ring (Nuvaring) affect acne formation. However, some studies have proven that the patch improved acne in 33% of users, worsened in 17%, and remained unchanged in 50%, after 7 months of use. Furthermore, three different studies found that people using the ring for 3 to 13 months reported less acne than those using the pill.

Birth control that makes acne worse

Progestin-only contraceptives such as the implant (Nexplanon), hormonal IUD (Mirena/Kyleena) and the shot (Depo-Provera) have all been linked to an increase in acne flare-ups due to their high androgenic content. The ingredients to watch out for are etonogestrel and levonorgestrel; these two culprits will likely anger your acne. In addition to the worsening of skin conditions, users of such methods also reported other unwarranted effects, including loss of hair from the scalp, and excessive facial and body hair.

Choosing the right method for you

Thankfully, for women suffering from acne well past their teenage years, there exist several relief methods, each one to suit their varying needs and lifestyles.  Of course, birth control is not the only route to take in your quest for clear skin; there are viable alternatives, which you may feel are better suited to your needs. Remember, finding the best solution may take some time, so do not become disheartened if you don’t find it straight away.

Before deciding on how to treat your acne, it is best to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine the most effective method that is in harmony with your individual response. Sharing your concerns and medical history, as well as any questions you may have, is a good place to start.

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