How Birth Control Affects Acne

hormonal birth control

Since the inception of birth control, women have found haven from pregnancy, hormone issues, and a plethora of other health conditions. Many women understand that different kinds of birth control will prevent pregnancy through different means, but all women understand the frustration of choosing a birth control that works with their body chemistry.  Unfortunately, all forms of hormonal birth control—including daily oral contraceptives, vaginal rings, hormone patches, IUD’s, and arm implants—come with a set of unique side effects.  One of the biggest issues regarding birth control has to do with its relation to acne.  There’s speculation around birth control causing acne, but the fact remains that what may cause an outbreak of acne in one woman may clear the skin of another.  Below is a quick guide to help you understand how birth control affects acne, and what steps you can take to prevent it.

Where Does Acne Come From?

Before we address how hormonal birth control affects acne, it’s important to understand why breakouts happen.  Acne is a result of an excess of sebum produced in the oil glands of your skin.  When too much sebum is produced, the oily substance can clog pores by promoting the growth of bacteria and trapping dead skin cells.

Acne is directly attributed to androgens, which is a group of male-attributed hormones.  Androgens contain many hormones, and this includes testosterone.  One of the purposes of androgen is to stimulate skin to produce more sebum.  Sebum is integral to keeping skin hydrated and refreshed, but hormonal imbalance can make sebum production go awry.

Even though androgens are considered male hormones, they are still produced in small amounts within a woman’s ovaries and adrenal glands.  If a woman’s hormones become imbalanced, higher levels of androgens can lead to excess sebum, and therefore cause moderate to severe forms of acne.  Birth control can help keep hormones balanced to keep acne in check.

hormonal birth control

Treating Acne with Birth Control

Hormonal birth control has been a long-standing alternative to treating acne when no other solution appears to work.  In fact, if you are a woman and your skin is not reacting to dermatological treatments, it is likely that birth control taken in conjunction with topical treatments may work just as well.  Despite this, you may have still heard the horror stories about cystic or persistent acne breakouts.  A woman with previously blemish-free skin may suddenly breakout when she first goes on the pill.  You may be among the many women who switch from one birth control to another, in a continuous search for a suitable solution that will not ruin your skin.

This is common in today’s medicine because of the explosion of hormonal birth control that has come onto the market in the past two decades.  Twenty or more years ago, birth control options were more limited, and so the effects seemed more or less direct.  However, as birth control options have diversified, so have the seemingly unpredictable effects on the body and skin.

Birth Control And Acne Treatment Combined

If you want to treat your acne and also take a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy, keep note that there are actually only three birth control pills that are approved by the FDA for acne prevention. When it comes to acne, not just any one birth control will do.  The three types that are: YAZ, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, and Estrostep.  All prescribed oral contraceptives only work on one factor of acne, and that is the excess sebum produced by androgens.  In most severe acne cases, birth control alone won’t be enough to treat your breakouts. As you shop around for an acne treatment regimen, be sure to do your research. Not all products are effective on the varied skin types, and some can cause worsened symptoms. Take salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, for example; those with sensitive skin often find that benzoyl peroxide causes redness and irritation. However, those with painful pimples may require the extra exfoliation that benzoyl peroxide can provide. Speak with your dermatologist about the potential side effects and always be sure that your acne treatment is suitable to take or use alongside birth control.

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