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Acne is a common condition. For women, acne flares tend to coincide with menstruation as a result of changing hormone levels in the body. Research has shown that certain birth control pills may be effective in the treatment of acne.
How It Works
Acne develops because sebum, an oily substance that lubricates hair and skin, builds up in hair follicles along with dead skin. Bacteria can set in, contributing to further inflammation and infection of the glands. Birth control pills can help control acne by specifically targeting excess sebum, thus slowing down overactive oil glands. Since birth control pills only address the sebum, additional acne treatment methods are often used in combination with the pills.
Birth control pills are sometimes used along with a medication known as spironolactone to treat acne in women. Spironolactone can be helpful in treating acne associated with hormonal fluctuations. The drug works to reduce the amount of androgen hormone in the body, and androgen is what stimulates the oil glands in the skin. By changing hormone levels in the body, birth control pills acne treatment can be an effective method for treating problem acne in some women.
Side Effects of Birth Control Pills
Even though birth control pills are considered to be generally safe and effective, there are common side effects that women may experience when taking the pills. These possible side effects include changes in menstrual flow, whether lighter or heavier, breast tenderness, water retention, weight gain, nausea, headache and fatigue. More serious side effects include a slightly increased risk of developing high blood pressure, blood clots or heart disease.
When making the decision whether or not to use birth control pills in general and to treat acne, there are certain risk factors to consider. Birth control pills are contraindicated when the following conditions are present:
• History of heart disease, high blood pressure or blood clots in the legs or lungs
• History of breast, uterine, liver or other cancers
• Diabetes, Liver disease or migraines
• Smokers over age 35
• Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
• Severe obesity
It may be necessary to take birth control pills for a period of several months before a positive change can be seen in terms of acne control. Sometimes it is necessary to switch to a different brand of birth control pills to find the right one, as different birth control pills contain different amounts of hormones. Most women are advised to continue with other topical acne medications that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to target acne while taking the birth control pills.
Birth control pills may improve acne in women. They are a likely consideration when acne does not respond to typical over-the-counter or prescription treatments, and generally should be considered only a temporary acne treatment. Sometimes acne gets worse before it gets better as the hormones are adjusting with birth control pills. It is important to talk with the doctor about any medical history and associated risks for taking birth control before using the treatment.