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Birth Control & Acne

Birth Control & Acne Birth Control & Acne Birth Control & Acne


According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are an effective acne treatment for some women. They work by restraining overactive sebaceous glands. An excess production of hormones known as androgens can send these glands into overdrive. Sebaceous glands emit natural oil, known as sebum, to moisturize your skin and hair. However, an overabundance of sebum can block pores and lead to acne. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two oral contraceptives to help clear acne in women.


Oral contraceptives, which generally contain a combination of progestin and estrogen, are usually prescribed to treat acne when conventional acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and topical retinoids have failed. The Mayo Clinic says you may have to stay on a birth control for a number of months before you notice any improvement in your acne.


Treatment-resistant acne may be hormonal in nature. Signs of elevated androgen levels include breakouts in the days leading up to your period, unpredictable menstrual cycles and blemishes suddenly popping up for the first time in adulthood. The estrogen contained in oral contraceptives works to hold back the androgens produced by the ovaries.


The FDA has approved the oral contraceptives Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Estrostep for the treatment of acne. Your doctor can help you determine which one is best for you. The Mayo Clinic says a combination of norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol (Ortho-Cyclen, Ortho Tri-Cyclen) can work very well in the fight against blemishes, blackheads and whiteheads.

Side Effects

Oral contraceptives are generally considered safe and effective. However, they can cause a number of side effects. These include headaches, depression, breast tenderness, nausea, vomiting and a decreased sex drive. In rare cases, high blood pressure, blood clots and heart disease are possible.


The ADA says birth control pills can be an effective long-term treatment for acne. However, women over age 35, those who smoke or have chronic migraine headaches may not be good candidates for oral contraceptives.

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