Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Acne Health Center

Font Size

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 acne.

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 doesn't?"


Today on WebMD

Girl with acne
See if you know how to control your acne.
happy woman with clear skin
Triggers and treatments for blackheads, whiteheads, and cystic acne.
Bride with acne
Dos and don’ts for hiding breakouts.
close-up of a young man soaping his face
Why adults get acne and how to treat it.
Boy cleaning acne face
HPV Vaccine Future
beauty cream
Bride with acne
Woman applying mineral makeup
Arrows pointing on teen girl blemish

WebMD Special Sections