Most people develop acne -- the most common skin condition -- to some degree, but it primarily affects teenagers undergoing hormonal changes.
Acne may be mild (few, occasional pimples), moderate (inflammatory papules), or severe (nodules and cysts). Treatment depends on the severity of the condition.
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In general, birth control to treat acne is often advised for healthy women who also need contraception. It is typically started after other acne treatments, such as topical creams, have failed to clear up the skin.Here is information about the risks and benefits of taking birth control pills for acne. It can help you talk with your doctor so you can make an informed decision about what's right for you.
How Does Birth Control Treat Acne?
As every teenager knows, there's a clear relationship between hormones and acne. Some women experience premenstrual flare-ups of acne as their hormone levels shift during their cycle. And for some, acne simply persists through the years, even after menopause.
Acne is triggered by an excess production of sebum. Sebum is an oil made by glands in your skin. Along with skin cells, sebum can clog pores and promote the growth of bacteria that contribute to acne. Androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone, stimulate your skin to produce sebum.
A woman's ovaries and adrenal glands normally produce a low level of androgens. Higher levels of androgens can lead to excess sebum. Taking birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone lowers the amount of androgens in your body. This results in less sebum and less severe acne.
Types of Birth Control to Treat Acne in Women
The last decade has seen an explosion in new types of birth control. But so far, only three types of birth control pills have been approved by the FDA for treating acne. All three are "combination" oral contraceptives that contain both estrogen and progesterone. In fact, birth control pills that contain only progesterone can actually make acne worse.
Each type of birth control pill used for acne contains a low dose of the same form of estrogen. But each one uses a different form of progesterone.
The FDA has approved the following types of birth control for acne:
Ortho Tri-Cyclen uses estrogen combined with a progestin called norgestimate. A progestin is a synthetic, or man-made, form of progesterone. The pill is available with different doses of progestin.
Estrostep uses estrogen combined with a progestin called norethindrone. The pill is available with different doses of estrogen.
YAZ uses estrogen combined with a man-made form of progestin called drospirenone. The FDA has concluded that birth control pills containing drospirenone may have increased risk for blood clots compared to pills containing other progestins. Other brands containing drospirenone include Beyaz, Gianvi, Loryna, Ocella, Safyral, Syeda, Yasmin, and Zarah.
Studies have not shown a major difference among these three pills in terms of how well they treat acne.