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Birth Control for Acne

Treating Mild to Severe Acne

These three oral contraceptives have been approved for treating moderate acne in women who:

  • Are at least 14 or 15 years old, 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 such as polycystic ovary syndrome or other hormonal condition.

Benefits of Birth Control for Acne

Several clinical trials have shown that taking combination birth control pills can result in:

  • Decreased acne flare-ups
  • Fewer pimples
  • Less inflammation
  • Less severe acne

Many women with severe acne take oral contraceptives with other acne treatments. For women who also want contraception, taking birth control pills for acne also offers one of the most reliable forms of contraception, as long as the pills are taken on schedule as prescribed.

Risks of Oral Contraceptives

Today's birth control pills contain lower doses of estrogen and progesterone than in the past. This has significantly lowered their medical risks. Still, women taking oral contraceptives do have a higher risk of side effects, including heart attack, stroke, and dangerous blood clots in the legs or lungs.

Other risks include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) and other cardiovascular problems
  • Liver and gallbladder disease
  • Migraine headaches
  • Depression and mood changes

Who Should Avoid Birth Control Pills

A decision to take birth control pills needs to take into account your medical history. Certain medical conditions could become worse if you use an oral contraceptive. Birth control pills are usually not advised if you have any of the following conditions:

  • History of heart disease, hypertension, blood clots in your legs or lungs
  • Blood clotting disorder such as factor V Leiden deficiency
  • History of cancer, especially breast, uterine, or liver cancer
  • Liver disease, diabetes, or migraine headaches

You also shouldn't take oral contraceptives if:

  • You're a smoker over age 35
  • You're currently pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You're severely obese or physically immobilized

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