How To Decide If You Should Try Birth Control for Acne Treatment

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

If you’re exploring your treatment options, birth control medicine has probably been on your radar already. So does birth control help with acne? There’s no miracle cure, but oral contraceptive pills for acne are most effective in both women and men if hormone fluctuations are the primary cause, especially sex hormones in women.

In deciding if birth control is the right choice for treating your acne is determining if your acne is hormonal or not.

Clearer skin is an off-label effect of using birth control pills, meaning their ability to improve acne was an unplanned side effect. To determine if birth control pills are a good treatment option for you, here are five key steps to consider ✔️.

Five Steps If You’re Considering Taking Birth Control Pills For Treatment

  1. Find out if hormones play a role in your acne.
  2. Do research on how birth control pills can help 🔬.
  3. Take into consideration the side effects of the medication 💊.
  4. Discuss this option with your general practitioner, dermatologist, and/or gynecologist 👩‍⚕️.
  5. Weigh the benefits, risks, and likelihood of your skin’s improvement with birth control pills and decide what’s best for you.

Deciding whether or not to try birth control for pimples can be daunting, but we’ve simplified the process to 5 steps.

Step 1: Find Out If Hormones Play a Role In Your Acne

This is an important step because if hormones are not the problem, taking contraceptives will not do anything for your skin.

How To Tell If You Have Hormonal Acne

Asking your doctor for blood tests is a possibility but the easiest way to tell if hormones are to blame is to note when your acne flares up most. Look out for these signs:

  • Women: breakouts a week before menstruation 🩸
  • Breakouts after eating sugary or refined carbohydrates 🍩
  • Women may have hormonal acne related to a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), but this can only be diagnosed by a doctor 👨‍⚕️
  • Puberty is associated with hormonal shifts and often, acne
  • Random breakouts without any of the above may also indicate that acne is hormone-related

When Testosterone Increases

Our bodies produce the hormones testosterone and estrogen and when their levels are in a person’s unique “normal” range, they don’t cause acne. However, when there’s an increase in testosterone especially in women, either literally or relatively, acne is a common result.

What does “testosterone increasing literally or relatively” mean?

Sometimes your body will literally produce extra testosterone, which can lead to pimples. Other times you may produce less estrogen, and this can also cause issues because estrogen typically balances out testosterone.

Puberty, PCOS, and other causes of hormonal acne can lead to hormone fluctuations that increase testosterone both literally and relatively.

Why Does Extra Testosterone Cause Acne?

Testosterone can lead to increased oil production, one of the three main contributing factors to pimples. The other two are inflammation and bacteria, and the latter can also be affected by excess oil.

Excess oil can back up in our pores, effectively clogging them. This can lead to whiteheads, if the pore is closed, or blackheads if the pore is open.

More oil in the skin can also provide extra nourishment for acne-causing bacteria, also known as p. acnes. These bacteria, called commensals, always live on the surface of our skin, and in small numbers, they don’t cause any problems. However, their main food source is the oil our skin produces, so when more oil is produced, the bacteria 🦠 start to multiply till their numbers are very high. At this point, the bugs easily make their way into our pores, where they start a minor infection which leads to a pimple.

Because of this increase in oil production associated with hormonal shifts, exfoliating agents like salicylic acid or skin cell regulators like retinoids can often help to treat acne, but if you want to prevent hormones from triggering excess oil production in the first place, birth control pills 💊 may be able to help.

Step 2: Do Research On How Birth Control Pills Can Help.

How exactly do birth control pills help with acne? It comes back to those “relative” increases in testosterone. If your estrogen levels are low, taking these pills will only help if they actually contain extra estrogen that can balance the higher testosterone 📈.

So what types of birth control can you take for pimples?

There are many types of birth control, but only combined oral contraceptives can help reduce acne.

Combination Birth Control Pills

You may hear that “the pill” can help reduce pimples, but which one?

There are many types of birth control, but only combined oral contraceptives can help reduce acne.

Combination pills are so named because they combine estrogen and progestin. (Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone.) Other pills contain only progestin, as that is sufficient to prevent pregnancy 🤰 in most cases, but it won’t work as an acne treatment.

Other Forms Of Contraceptives for Acne

The patch is a viable acne treatment, but very little medically reviewed information for this is available, which is why we hesitate to recommend it. Like combined oral contraceptives, the patch releases extra estrogen and progestin into your system, but it does so directly through the skin rather than through the digestive system.

There are many other forms of birth control, but none of them can be used to treat acne. Condoms, diaphragms, spermicides, and copper IUDs don’t affect the body’s hormones, and hormonal IUDs release only progestin.

Step 3: Consider the Effects Of Taking a Birth Control Pill

Like any medication, the birth control pill comes with potential side effects. In many cases, these fade after a few months, once your body has adjusted to the new influx of hormones, but this is not always the case.

Additionally, it could have unwanted effects on men or, obviously, any pregnant woman 🤰 or one who’s trying to fall pregnant. For those, the birth control pill for acne will be counterproductive.

Combination birth control pills are associated with the following side effects.

  • significant weight gain;
  • heightened anxiety and mood swings;
  • blood pressure fluctuations;
  • breakthrough bleeding (bleeding throughout your cycle, not just during menstruation);
  • headaches, and
  • decreased libido.

Be Aware Of Serious Side Effects

Many women only experience a few of these effects or none at all. However, if you have a condition that could be exacerbated by these side effects, like migraines, high blood pressure, heart disease, or an anxiety disorder, you should talk with your neurologist, psychiatrist, or another medical specialist first 👨‍⚕️.

Can Birth Control Pills Containing Estrogen Affect Men Negatively?

In a word — yes, because increased estrogen can cause feminizing features, such as enlarged breasts or a loss of facial hair. This is not a universal effect, however. Some men do not notice a significant change in appearance, so it’s still a viable option to treat acne if men are willing to take a chance and see how it affects them.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, taking birth control pills can have serious side effects, such as an increased risk of blood clots 🩸. Blood clots are associated with thrombosis, which can be deadly. That’s why it’s important to take the birth control pill only under medical supervision.

Step 4: Discuss This Option With Your General Practitioner, Dermatologist, And/Or Gynecologist.

To get a prescription 📝, you can see a general practitioner, a dermatologist, or a gynecologist. If you have any questions about this form of medical therapy specifically, we recommend seeing a dermatologist or gynecologist, and for more info on the effects of contraceptives on your reproductive system, we recommend seeing a gynecologist 👩‍⚕️.

If you are considering taking contraceptive pills for acne treatment, make anIf you are considering taking contraceptives for acne treatment, make an appointment to speak with your doctor.

Step 5: Make a Decision

The final step in deciding whether or not to try contraceptives for acne is just that: deciding. Once you’ve considered the causes of your acne, the potential side effects, and talked with your doctor, you should have all the information you need to make an educated decision.

Wait! Don’t Rely Only On the Birth Control Pill…

Combination birth control pills shouldn’t be used alone as an acne treatment. If you choose to take them, make sure it is along with a gentle, consistent skin care routine. At Exposed Skin Care🏆, we offer BasicExpanded, and Ultimate Kits that use a delicate balance of soothing and acne-fighting ingredients. Gentle Exposed products can keep your skin healthy and nourished as part of a comprehensive acne treatment approach.

Exposed Kit products
The Exposed Expanded Kit contains everything you need to apply that little bit extra to fight a last-minute breakout.