Should You Use Birth Control Pills to Treat Acne?

should-you-use-birth-control-pills-to-treat-acne

By: Isabelle Yang

It’s commonly believed that birth control pills can be used for more than just preventing pregnancy. Currently, women are using the oral contraceptive in hopes of solving a problem that affects many people: acne. The question is, can birth control actually help clear acne? Is this a myth? The answer is actually more complex than a straightforward yes or no.

Before we reveal whether or not you should use a contraceptive to clear your acne, it is important that you know exactly what hormones like estrogen can do to your skin.

How Hormones in Birth Control Affects Your Skin

There are cells in your skin that contain receptors, and these receptors house hormones that activate the cell to produce changes. Estrogen is known to decrease oil production in your skin.

However, androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone, causes the skin to produce MORE oil. The estrogen found in the pill works to suppress the production of androgens in your ovaries and increase a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) which gathers androgens found in the blood in a way that prevents them from entering the cells in your skin.

The Downside

You may be thinking, wow, this all sounds pretty great. If the pill prevents oil production in your skin, then what can possibly be wrong with using it to clear your acne?

Yes, birth control can help SOME women improve their acne. However, even though it is considered to be a relatively harmless form of oral contraception, there have been instances where the pills have revealed negative side effects in women. 

These side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Increased risk of blood clots

What’s important to note isnot all hormonal birth control is the same. The most commonly known categories of birth control are combined vs. progestin-only birth control. However, the specific type of progestin is actually different in varying methods and can change the side effects to your skin. 

FDA-Approved Birth Control Pills for Acne

The best birth control pills for acne are those that feature a combination of estrogen and progestin. The FDA approved four specific birth control pills for the treatment of acne: Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep Fe, Beyaz, and Yaz.

ortho-tri-cyclen-birth-control

ORTHO TRI-CYCLEN® Birth Control ...ourstory.jnj.com

According to the findings in a study in theJournal of Drugs in Dermatology, the type of progestin the pill contains can also control how effective a birth control pill is. Specifically, the study found that per drospirenone (the progestin found in Yaz) was the most effective in improving acne, while levonorgestrel and norethindrone (the progestins found in Levora and Lo Minastrin Fe, respectively) were the least helpful.

It is important to note that there are actually pills that can promote breakouts in your skin. This includes Lo Loestrin, which lists acne as one of its side effects. 

In short, birth control can improve acne in certain women. It all depends on the type of birth control you use as well as your age and health history. Our best advice is to reach out to your doctor to see if your age or health history have any effect on birth control use to clear acne. You should also do research on different types of birth control pills to see which ones promote or improve acne. Mayo Clinic advises women to refrain from taking birth control pills for acne if they:

  • Are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
  • Haven't reached puberty
  • Are over age 35 and smoke
  • Have a history of migraines
  • Have high blood pressure and vascular disease
  • Have a history of heart disease
  • Have a history of breast cancer, undiagnosed abnormal uterine bleeding or liver disease
  • Have a history of blood clots

Final Verdict


It is crucially important that you do your research on birth control so that if you do choose to use it as a means of acne treatment, you are aware of what you are putting into your body as well as its consequences. Alternatively, you can follow more holistic and more natural approaches which we will cover in an upcoming blog post.  Holistic and natural approaches may show the same, if not better, results!


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