Can the Pill Clear Up Acne?
Women fed up with bad skin are betting that it can.
Studying the Pill
That's another reason some scientists believe the birth control pill and
other hormone-controlling drugs can treat acne. The only birth control pill
studied for this purpose is Ortho Tri-Cyclen, but according to Jaliman, any
formulation that contains a low amount of androgen can be used to treat
In a study published in the November 1997 issue of the Journal of the
American Academy of Dermatology, researchers looked at the effectiveness of
Ortho Tri-Cyclen in treating acne. Evaluating 247 women, scientists found that
93.7% of the Pill-taking group showed an improvement, while only 65.4% of the
placebo group had such skin-clearing results.
Still, those results, while they sound promising, can be deceiving, says
Jaliman. "Improvement does not mean total clearing. To a patient, if
they're improved but not clear, they're still not happy," says Jaliman,
who, in her practice, has seen mixed results with the Pill.
For Specter, the Pill did help, but not permanently. In her first year of
taking Ortho Tri-Cyclen, she saw the most dramatic improvement. (She was also
using two topical medications: Retin-A and Cleocin T.) She didn't become
totally blemish-free, but there was noticeably less acne overall. After that
initial year, however, her acne worsened, and she didn't like some of the side
effects she experienced while on the Pill, especially the weight gain. (Other
potentially serious side effects of the Pill include blood clots, heart attack,
stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. These risks are higher in women who smoke
and increase as women age.)
So when she broke up with her boyfriend, Specter decided to stop taking
Ortho Tri-Cyclen. Now she's using doxycycline, an oral antibiotic, and Avita, a
retinoid, and is pleased with how her skin looks. "I've struggled for a
long time with my acne," says Specter. "When it comes to my
self-esteem, I just feel so much prettier with a clear face. I mean, who