Acne Treatment With the Birth Control Pill
Birth control pills are among the many treatments physicians use to treat acne in women. The American Academy of Dermatology says oral contraceptives may yield long-term effectiveness when other medications fail. However, birth control pills are prescribed to female patients only after they are carefully vetted by a health care practitioner to ensure they're good candidates for this type of acne therapy.
Hormones & Acne
Acne lesions form due to excess oil and dead skin cells shed within the hair follicles, which form a plug that clog the pores of the skin. Factor in the bacteria that live on the skin's surface, and inflammation can occur as bacteria multiply and infection settles in. Male sex hormones called androgens trigger excess sebum production, the AAD says. High levels of androgens are common to girls and boys as they experience physical changes during puberty. But long after adolescence ends, women continue to experience hormonal ebbs and surges due to menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
Do All Birth Control Pills Work?
Although there are a variety of birth control pills, the AAD indicates that only a certain number are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat acne in women. Birth control pills contain estrogen, which reduces the production of testosterone and other androgens as well as a type of progestin. The AAD warns that some progestins can have the same effect of testosterone, stimulating sebum production and exacerbating acne. Safe progestin types include norgestimate, desogestrel or drospirenone, none of which have this effect.
Hormonal Acne in Adult Women
Women exiting their teen years may continue to experience hormonal acne in their 20s and 30s, sometimes longer. Sometimes acne can even worsen, with numerous, inflamed lesions appearing on the jaw line, chin and upper neck. For women who've developed resistance to oral antibiotics and other types of acne treatments, therapy that curbs hormonal fluctuations is one option, the AAD says. An androgen inhibitor, such as spironolactone, may also be used concomitantly with birth control pills when appropriate.
Not for Everyone
Oral contraceptives aren't the right choice for certain groups of women. Birth control pills can have poor side effects. Before hormonal therapy is considered, a doctor takes a detailed personal history to ensure that she hasn't had breast cancer, experienced a heart attack or stroke, or doesn't currently suffer from high blood pressure, migraines and other health disorders, according to the AAD. Women older than 35, especially those who smoke, may be poor candidates for hormonal therapy.
Will Birth Control Work for You?
Unless currently used as a form of contraception, birth control pills are usually not the first method of treatment doctors employ to target unwanted breakouts. First, other treatment options are exhausted. Topical medications, such as benzoyl peroxide and topical retinoids, may be prescribed. If acne is severe, an oral antibiotic may also be included as a part of the patient's regimen. When acne is extremely severe--when painful cysts and nodules develop under the skin--a round of oral isotretinoin may be suggested.
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