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Acne Health Center

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Can the Pill Clear Up Acne?

Women fed up with bad skin are betting that it can.
WebMD Feature

It's a common belief that only teenagers suffer from acne, and that once a teen becomes a twenty-something, the embarrassing spots will fade away and leave a clear complexion in their wake.

That's not how it worked for Carmen Specter. At the age of 26, both Specter's life and skin remain marred by acne.

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By Beth Janes Looking younger may hinge less on a lineless complexion and more on a clear one: Research shows that uneven skin tone can add about a decade to your perceived age. So while you've been heaping attention — and night creams — on wrinkles to turn back the clock, other factors like age spots, redness, enlarged pores, and adult acne might be putting those years back on. The bright side: Uneven skin tone is easier to correct (or at least conceal) than wrinkles, and it's often treated with...

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She's tried almost every drug on the market, from Retin-A to Cleocin T to tetracycline, not to mention all the drugstore lotions and potions she's lathered her skin with. But nothing can take back the feelings of unattractiveness and self-doubt, the devastating days when merely leaving the house was difficult.

Like Specter, many women are battling acne into their adult years -- and feeling frustrated about it. And increasingly, many of them are trying a new approach, one that goes beyond the traditional treatments such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxides, and antibiotics: They are using the birth control pill to control acne.

For Specter, hormone manipulation (which is how the pill works) became an option several years ago, when she got involved in a serious relationship and wanted both birth control and a new acne treatment. After talking with her doctor, she decided to start taking Ortho Tri-Cyclen, a birth control pill that's shown some success in treating adult acne. Ortho Tri-Cyclen reduces androgens (male hormones) and regulates a woman's hormones so their swings aren't as severe and don't throw a woman's body -- and complexion -- into flux. While all women have some level of androgens, an excessive amount can lead to acne.

Women and Acne: The Painful Truth

The number of women (and men) who struggle with acne well into their 20s and 30s is huge. In fact, a study published in the October 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatologyfound that of 749 adults between the ages of 25 and 58, 54% of women and 40% of men suffered from some form of acne. What's more, the prevalence of adult acne in both sexes did not decrease substantially until after the age of 44.

That acne is a teenager's disease is just one of the misconceptions associated with the condition. Another is that dirt and oil on the skin cause acne.

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