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 manmade, form of progesterone. The pill is available with different doses of progestin.
- Estrostepuses estrogen combined with a progestin called norethindrone. The pill is available with different doses of estrogen.
- YAZ uses estrogen combined with a manmade 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.
Treating Mild to Severe Acne
These three oral contraceptives have been approved for treating moderate acne in women who:
- Are at least age 14 or 15 (depending on the brand)
- Have already started menstruating
- Need contraception
In actual practice, doctors prescribe birth control for the full spectrum of acne, from mild to severe.
In addition, doctors may prescribe additional birth control products for acne. For example, the oral contraceptives Yasmin and Alesse have both been clinically shown to improve acne. But neither one has been approved by the FDA yet for this use.
If you're already taking an oral contraceptive that's working well in treating acne, there's no need to switch brands. But if you are taking birth control pills for acne for the first time, it's best to use one of the three types now approved for acne treatment.
You may need to take an oral contraceptive for a few months before your skin starts to clear. And an initial flare-up of acne is common when a woman first starts taking birth control pills.
Birth control pills work on only one acne-related factor -- excess sebum. Doctors often prescribe other forms of acne treatment -- topical medications or antibiotics -- to be used alongside them for best results in clearing the skin.
If you have severe acne along with irregular periods, excess facial hair, or obesity, your doctor may do further testing for a medical condition called polycystic ovary syndrome or other hormonal condition.