How Birth Control Pills Treat Acne

Acne is one of the most common skin disorders. According to stats approximately 50 million people in US alone suffer from acne. In most cases the acne breakouts last for a few years (generally during teenage) and subside on their own but there is a good percentage which suffer from acne even while they are in their 30s and 40s.

Women are more concerned about acne because its directly effects their facial beauty. In many cases serious acne breakouts leads to state of depression and low self esteem in girls. There are several treatments available for acne and use of birth control pills is one of them. Use of birth control pills for acne is generally advised once other methods such as creams, etc. are not successful.

You might be surprised but use of birth control pills for acne has been around for a long time. This is a great method if the patient is also looking for contraception too.

How birth control pills treat acne

The key reason of acne is excess production of sebum which is an oil made by glands of our skin. This oil is very useful for skin's health. But when produced in excess it mixes up with skin cells and block skin pores, bacterial growth takes place and pimples etc. occur. The release of sebum by glands is controlled by a group of hormones – Androgens.

Androgens also include well known hormone testosterone. Androgens in females is produced by ovaries and adrenal glands and thus when the level of these hormones increase, an effective of controlling it is using birth control pills which control androgens by estrogen and progesterone contained in them. Further, these pills increase the level of sex hormone-binding globulins which stops the conversion of free testosterone into dihydrotestosterone. The free testosterone produced by ovaries and adrenal gland is also reduced.

birth control pills for acne

To be eligible for taking acne treatment using birth control pills one should be above 15 years of age, menstruating and need contraception.

Today, there is no dearth of birth control pills available in the market, but FDA approved pills are just a few. So be careful while taking them. The three types approved by FDA are:

  • Estrostep (norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol)
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen (norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol), this is found particularly effective in case of acne acne vulgaris
  • YAZ (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol), this is found to be effective in moderate acne

Benefits of using birth control pills for acne

First of all, it has been proved through various research trials that birth control pills are effective in treating acne. They are an effective and economical method to control acne outbreak. Further, this is a great combination of females who are already looking for birth control options as these pills then serve double purpose. Some key benefits of using these are:

  • Intensity of acne outbreak decreases – the number of pimples and the accompanying irritation and inflammation decreases
  • The frequency of flare ups also decrease and when they do occur, they are less severe

This is exactly what is needed!

Limitations and risks while using birth control pills for acne

The key limitation of this treatment is that it can only control the amount of sebum produced but can do nothing for outbreak. Thus a patient has to anyways take topical creams, lotions, etc. to fully get the benefit. Thus, it is not a standalone solution. It often works best when used in conjunction with retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or an oral antibiotic.

As far as risks are concerned, all the risks associated with taking birth control pills exists. Some key ones are:

  • Heart related issues such as high blood pressure, etc.
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Liver problems
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Problems related to blood clots in lungs, legs, etc.

Precautions while taking birth control pills for acne


It is very important that one starts taking these pills after consulting a doctor. Doctor will take in account your medical history. Birth control pills (for acne or otherwise) are not advised in the following cases:


  • Heart related issues such as blood pressure, clotting etc.
  • Cancer history – especially related to breast, liver, etc.
  • History of diabetes, liver disorders

Apart from the above these pills are not advised above 35 years of age or if you smoke. They are also not recommended if you are lactating.


To make sure you get fill benefit of using these pills follow these:

  • Consult a doctor before starting and disclose your medical history. Also mention other medications you are currently taking which might interfere with the effectiveness of these pills.
  • For complete and effective solution you need to target acne from various means, including topical creams, etc. Only using birth control pills will not take care of the issue fully
  • Follow the schedule of the pills (this is anyways requirement of a contraceptive pill, nothing new here
  • Be aware of the side effects of the pills. In certain cases they can be severe. Consult your doctor immediately in that case