Oral contraceptive pills, also known as birth control pills, can be used to control acne breakouts in many women. Although some brands have even received approval by the Food and Drug Administration for treating acne in women, many birth control pills can be used to effectively control breakouts. By affecting the internal hormone balance, birth control pills work at the level of the sebaceous (oil producing) gland to reduce the production of the oily substance called sebum. When sebum production becomes excessive, a pore can become clogged and develop into a pimple (see Understanding Acne).
The optimal effects of oral contraceptive pills in clearing a woman’s complexion are not immediate. It usually takes several months for results to be seen. Sometimes, a woman may experience worsening of acne breakouts during the initial treatment period. With continued and consistent use, however, the acne flares usually decrease and clearing occurs after several months of use. It is important to remember that taking additional medications such as certain antibiotics together with oral contraceptives may decrease the effectiveness of the birth control pill in preventing pregnancy. Therefore, two forms of birth control should be used during such combination treatment.
There are three oral contraceptive pills that have received approval by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of acne in women. All three of these pills contain low doses of estrogen, however each has a different type of progestin. Estrostep® which contains norethindrone, Ortho-Tri-Cyclen® which contains norgestimate and Yaz® which contains drospirenone are all used in the treatment of moderate acne vulgaris. Estrostep and Ortho-Tri-Cyclen are both indicated for females of at least 15 years of age while Yaz may be used in those as young as 14 years old. For all three, treatment should not begin until the onset of menarche. Other oral contraceptive pills such as Yasmin® and Alesse® have been shown to exhibit improvement in acne breakouts. However it is likely that many others would be beneficial in acne treatment.
Birth Control Pills for Acne
Although oral contraceptives can be effective treatments for controlling acne breakouts, some women should not take them. Because some medications may interact with birth control pills, women should inform their doctor of all medications that they are currently taking. Also, women over 35 years of age or those who smoke should not be given prescriptions for birth control pills due to the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Also, women who have high blood pressure are also at risk of severe side effects from birth control pills. If a woman is predisposed to migraine headaches, this may be worsened by a birth control regimen. Other potential side effects can also occur and these as well as all other considerations should be reviewed with your gynecologist before treatment is begun. Finally, any woman taking birth control pills should be carefully monitored and receive routine examinations by a gynecologist.