Treating Acne With Birth Control Pills

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Pink pills

The birth control pill, commonly called “the pill,” is a medication women take to prevent pregnancy. The pill has another benefit: It helps clear up some women’s skin, improving acne. But taking the pill for acne is not that simple. Consider all the facts before you decide.

How Does the Pill Improve Acne?

The pill contains man-made forms of the female sex hormones estrogen and progestin, which prevent your body from releasing an egg (ovulating). This is one way the pill protects against pregnancy. The hormone estrogen also slows down sebum production in some women. Sebum is the substance produced by your skin’s oil glands that causes acne.

Do All Birth Control Pills Improve Acne?

There are two main types of birth control pills, the combination pill and the mini pill. The combination pill contains both estrogen and progestin. It is more likely to clear up your skin because it has estrogen in it. The mini pill contains only progestin, and won't help your skin.

Birth control pills that may improve acne include:

  • Brevicon

  • Loestrin

  • Mircette

  • Ortho Tri Cyclen

How Long Does It Take to See Results?

It may take up to three months of treatment before you see an improvement in your skin. That’s the time it takes for your body to adjust to the new hormones and for the medication to affect your skin’s sebum production. If one brand of birth control pill doesn't work for you, ask your healthcare provider if you can try another one. Women respond differently to different birth control pills.

It’s possible that birth control medication alone will be sufficient to improve your acne. But if you have severe acne, you may need to use skin creams or prescribed topical treatments, along with the pill, to see an improvement in your skin.

Birth Control and Acne: Points to Consider

You’ll want to think about the following issues before using birth control pills to treat your acne:

  • Convenience: The pill is available only by prescription and you should take it at the same time each day.

  • Cost: The pill can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 per month.

  • Side effects: The hormones in the birth control pill can have serious side effects, especially for women who smoke and are older than 35 years of age. Side effects include blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Less serious side effects of the pill may include mood swings, weight gain, breast tenderness, nausea, and irregular periods.

  • Your age and health conditions: Your age and other health conditions may prevent you from being able to take the pill. For example, if you have high blood pressure, if you are older than 35 and smoke, or if you take certain antiseizure medications, birth control pills may not be right for you.

The pill may be a good solution for troublesome breakouts, regardless of your need for birth control. But the pill is not right for everyone. There are other acne treatments that may be more appropriate for you. Talk to your healthcare provider and together you can decide the best acne treatment for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  4. Birth Control Pills. Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill

  5. Acne Fact Sheet. Womenshealth.gov. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/acne.html