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Birth Control for Acne

For women, acne, especially severe acne, can lead to embarrassment, anxiety, social isolation, and permanent skin scarring. Severe acne can even lower the chances of employment in some industries.

Dermatologists have been using birth control pills to treat acne in women for decades. However, only three pills have actually been approved by the FDA for treating acne.

Recommended Related to Acne

Adult Acne: Why You Get It, How to Fight It

Acne isn’t just for teens. Many people have it as adults. Temi Zeitenberg got acne in college, just as most people her age were outgrowing it. Because of her acne, "there were times I would not leave the house," says Zeitenberg, an attorney in Boca Raton, Fla. It doesn't have to be that way. There are steps you can take to turn your skin around at any age.

Read the Adult Acne: Why You Get It, How to Fight It article > >

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 and oral antibiotics, 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 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.

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