Acne Hormone Therapy
Although most people think of acne as a teenage problem, the common skin condition can affect people of any age, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, or AAD. Women in particular are at risk for pimples because of their normal hormonal fluctuations, and they often experience acne breakouts around the time of their periods. Oral contraceptives can help clear up hormone-driven acne in women.
It's not clear why some women suffer from acne while some do not. Hormones called androgens, which are considered "male" hormones, stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce sebum. According to MayoClinic.com, acne results when the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, or skin oil, which then combines with dead skin cells to clog the skin's pores and irritate hair follicles, leading to pimples, bacterial overgrowth and inflammation.
Oral contraceptives contain forms of estrogen, a female hormone, that serve to counter the male-type androgen hormones. Therefore, women taking oral contraceptives tend to see less oil production from their sebaceous glands, which eventually will lead to fewer pimples, explains MayoClinic.com. However, because oral contraceptives target only sebum production, dermatologists generally recommend that women treating acne with hormone therapy also use topical medications such as benzoyl peroxide that can help clean out pores and fight infection in the skin.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved three oral contraceptives specifically for acne treatment: Estrostep, Yaz and Ortho Tri-Cyclen. However, dermatologists often prescribe other oral contraceptives to treat acne and have found many that are effective. Acne hormone therapy generally takes several months before skin begins to clear, and women taking acne hormone therapy may find that their skin worsens before it gets better.
Medical studies back the use of oral contraceptives in treating acne. A 2008 study in the medical journal "Cutis," for example, looked at 534 women with moderate acne who were randomly assigned to take an oral contraceptive or a placebo. Both study participants and the researchers reported more skin improvement in the group taking the oral contraceptive, and the study concluded that oral contraceptives potentially can provide both contraception and acne treatment in women who want both.
Some women should not take oral contraceptives either for birth control or for acne treatment, MayoClinic.com notes. Women older than age 35 or who smoke, or who have a history of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer or blood clots should avoid acne hormone therapy. However, other women who suffer from acne may be good candidates for acne hormone therapy and should consult their dermatologists to determine whether it's right for them.
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