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Understanding All About the Best Birth Control Pills for Acne

by Christine GlasgowApril 14, 2017

Acne – of any kind – is more than a nuisance in the minds of most people who suffer from it. It is, in fact, for some people truly devastating. Not only do they feel it’s impossible to really look good because of the acne leading to some real self esteem issues certain forms of acne, those that tend to scar the skin, can damage it for good.

So it’s more than understandable that many people are willing to try almost anything to solve the problem, including take medications that at first seem totally unrelated to at all. Medications like the hormonal birth control pill.

However, if you are dealing with acne problems birth control may indeed help treat it. This is because the hormones that are a part of some birth control pills help decrease the amount of sebum secreted from glands in the skin, leading to a decrease in the number, and severity of breakouts and it can also be especially helpful to take birth control if you suffer from the often very hard to treat adult hormonal acne.

Modern Birth Control 101

As you’ll know if you are a reader of women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour, where such things are actually advertised quite heavily, there are a number of different types, and brands, or birth control available to women these days and within that lots of different brands of ‘the pill’.

Around since the Sixties the birth control pill contains specific hormones that make some – or all – the following changes in the body to prevent pregnancy:

  • Prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg
  • Alter the chemical make up of the uterine lining to prevent the implantation of an egg.
  • Change the PH of the cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to reach an egg in first place.

The hormones that pills contain vary.  A ‘combination pill’, which is the most commonly prescribed, contains both estrogen and progestin although some pills have them in higher quantities than others. The newer mini pill contains progestin only and is often suited to those who suffered side effects on the combination pill (more about those in a moment.)

Most birth control pill brands contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. This type of pill is known as the combination pill. The ratio of estrogen and progestin differ in each type of combination pill. Other birth control pills contain only progestin and are sometimes referred to as minipills.

The Benefits of the Birth Control Pill

The most obvious reason to take the birth control pill is to prevent unwanted pregnancy, that’s what it was created for. However, over the years it’s been found to be helpful in other ways too. These include

  • Lighter periods
  • More regular periods
  • Fewer menstrual cramps
  • Less severe menstrual cramps
  • A probable reduced risk of developing certain cancers, especially ovarian, cervical and colon cancers.
  • An improvement in the severity and frequency of acne breakouts.

Acne and ‘The Pill’

It is the combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin that is believed to improve acne. These are what are known as circulating androgens and as such can reduce the production of sebum by the skin glands. As sebum over-production is a major cause of some forms of acne it can be a real help.

As you may have gathered that does mean that only those taking a combination pill may see an improvement in their acne. Those who have been advised to take the mini pill instead will be unlikely to notice a change at all, at least not one that can be attributed to the pill.

It is also very important to note that excess sebum production is only one possible cause of acne, there are a number of others. These include

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal imbalances not corrected by the pill, especially during puberty
  • Overdry, dull skin that is often full of dead skin cells that also clog pores
  • Reactions to certain medications
  • Illness
  • Stress
  • Poor diet

None of the causes mentioned above will be helped in any way if you start taking birth control pills. And as most cases of acne do occur as a result of the combination of several causes then it is important to understand that this is not a magic cure for acne. You may see an improvement but it may take months and the side effects may affect your life more the acne did.

Are Some Pill Brands More Effective Acne Fighters Than Others?

There are now, as we mentioned earlier, lots of different brands of combination contraceptive pill available. Many women make a choice between them based on a combination of their doctor’s and/or pharmacist’s recommendation and what their health insurance is willing to pay for. If you are going to be taking the pill in the hope that it will improve your acne though is there a specific brand you should try to get?

The generally accepted answer is no, as most clinical trials and studies have found that all combination birth control pills have around the same efficacy. A handful of recent studies hinted – though did not conclude – that a pill containing drospirenone rather than norgestimate or nomegestrol may be slightly more effective but the difference in results was slight. Additional examinations of the research suggested that these findings were not significant enough to influence anyone to choose one brand over another.

Birth Control Pill Side Effects

If you keep up with health news then you probably know that the birth control pill is falling out of favor in a number of circles. This is because now that it has been around for over 50 years for general use some of its more serious side effects are better understood and at the same time more concerning for the medical health professionals being asked to prescribe birth control.

Some of the most common side effects of any birth control are mild and relatively harmless. These include:

  • Weight gain
  • Bloating
  • Menstrual cramping
  • Spotting
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Vertigo
  • Fainting spells
  • Headaches

These side effects are often mild though and may go away altogether once the body becomes used to the pill. There however, much more serious side effects that can strike at any time, whether you have been taking the pill for two weeks, two months or two years. These include:

  • DVT – Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • An increased risk of cardiovascular disease

These risks are small, but they are much greater in women over the age of 35 or who smoke.

Because all of these risks are potentially fatal there has been a move over recent years to encourage women to take pills that contain lowered doses of hormones, pills like the mini pill, and these may be less effective in combating acne. There has also been a move back to even older birth control methods like the contraceptive coil, which acts without hormones. And as it is now standard advice that a condom be used at all times to prevent STDs many women choose to skip any other form of birth control altogether to avoid these risks and side effects.

Should You Take Birth Control for Acne?

In all honesty, this is a conversation that you should only have with your doctor. As we have touched on, not all cases of acne will be helped by it. And the potential side effects are a definite reason to give the matter some serious thought in general. If you are interested in the idea discuss the matter with your doctor and understand – as they will tell you – that you will more than likely still have to use other products and methodologies  to fight and treat acne as well.

Now we’d like to hear from you. Have you taken birth control to help cure your acne? Was it helpful? Would you consider doing so if you haven’t before or would you prefer to stick with more conservative measures? Let us know, we’d love to hear your take on the issue.

Christine Glasgow
Canadian girl addicted to beauty and fashion. I'm a Blogger, Entrepreneur and web influencer 👑 I mostly talk about anything related to skin care and beauty. I created this site to share science-based information on skin conditions, treatments and skin care.

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