Birth Control For Acne: Side Effects & Effectiveness

January 02, 2020 5 min read 0 Comments

Birth Control Side Effects

What exactly is birth control and how is it connected with acne or used for treating or acne? How does taking birth control pills affect the skin? Is it really effective for improving one’s acne?


 Birth control, otherwise known as contraception, is defined as a method used to prevent pregnancy or relieve menstrual symptoms and this includes different methods or processes such as condoms, IUDs, birth control pills, rhythm method, vasectomy and tubal ligation. Birth control depends on several factors including health, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners and desire to have children in the future.  In this article, we'll focus on birth control methods that involve hormones.  

The Birth control pill is one of the standard treatment options for patients with hormonal acne. It is also possible that birth control pills can worsen your acne before it even gets better once you start taking birth control pills. 


Acne, as we know, is a skin condition triggered by excess oil production or sebum made by our hormonal glands. Along with our skin cells, our sebum clogs the pores, promoting bacterial growth which then contribute to acne. The sebum production is caused by a group of male sex hormones (testosterone) or androgens which stimulate the skin to produce such.

Clearly, there’s a relationship between our hormones and acne. Pregnant women are prone to experience acne flare-ups during their pre-menstrual cycle brought about by the shift in hormonal levels. The amount of androgen hormones is lowered by taking birth control pills which contain both estrogen and progesterone, resulting in less sebum production as well as less severe acne.

Birth control pills are not just there for preventing pregnancy. They can also help ease painful period cramps, manage conditions like endometriosis, and clear up your skin. 

Birth control pills do treat acne from a hormonal perspective. They do so by reducing the amount of androgens produced by our body, keeping our sebum production low and reduce our risk of dealing with a blocked pore. These pills fall under the category of hormonal therapy (i.e any medication that acts on the hormones)

When it comes to acne, dermatologists have been using these birth control pills as means to treat acne in women – with only three pills being approved by the FDA for treating such skin conditions. Birth control pills are being used for treating acne and this method has been suggested for healthy women who also need contraception.

These three FDA approved birth control pills are:

  1. Ortho Tri-Cyclen – contains or uses estrogen combined with progestin known as norgestimate
  2. Estrostep – uses estrogen and progestin called norethindrone.
  3. YAZ – uses estrogen combined with man-made form of progestin called drospirenone. (Note: FDA concluded that birth control pills containing drospirenone may increase risk of blood clots compared to birth control pills containing other progestins). Brands of this birth control pill are Beyaz, Gianvi, Loryna, Ocella, Safyral, Syeda, Yasmin and Zarah.

What’s more, birth controls are typically started when other topical treatments for acne such as topical creams and antibiotics fail to clear up one’s skin.


Acne often occurs as a result of several factors leading to hormonal imbalance, which includes overproduction of our natural oil (sebum) and accumulation of dead skin cells in the hair follicle or pores.

Some or most women have abnormally high androgen levels (e.g. testosterone) , stimulating sebum production and increase in growth of skin and hair follicle cells. Acne can be minimized with the help of birth control pills.

Birth control pills offer a variety of benefits such as:

  • lighter, regular periods
  • fewer menstrual cramps
  • reduced risk of cancers like ovarian, uterine and colon cancers
  • improved acne.

The three FDA approved birth control pills (Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep and YAZ) treat moderate acne in women who are at least 14 or 15 years of age, already started their period and in need of contraception. These pills are prescribed by doctors to treat a full spectrum of acne ranging from mild to severe.


The benefits of birth control pills for acne (especially combination birth control pills) include decreased acne flare-ups, fewer pimples, less inflammation and less severe acne, as shown by several clinical trials.

The hormones in combination birth control pills are said to help in reducing one’s acne by decreasing the circulation of androgens as well as sebum or oil production. The birth control pill should contain both estrogen and progestin for it to be effective in treating acne.

Most or many women who suffer from severe cases of acne take contraceptive or birth control pills with other acne treatments.


While taking birth control pills to treat acne may be beneficial, there are also risks or disadvantages in using this method.

Women taking birth control pills or contraceptives to treat acne are said to be at a higher risk of its side effects such as heart attack, stroke and dangerous blood clots in both their legs or lungs.

It is recommended to be aware of these possible effects when taking birth control pills for acne:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • bloating
  • weight gain/loss
  • changes in period
  • headaches
  • breast tenderness
  • dizziness/fainting
  • hypertension and other cardiovascular problems
  • liver and gallbladder disease
  • migraine headaches
  • depression and mood changes
  • blurred vision


Whether you should or should not be taking birth control pills in treating acne depends on your medical history as there certain medical conditions that may worsen when using an oral contraceptive.

One should not be taking birth control pills or contraceptives in treating acne if they have any of these following conditions: history of heart disease, hypertension, blood clots in the legs or lungs, blood clotting disorder (e.g factor V Leiden deficiency), history of cancer – breast, uterine or liver and liver disease, diabetes or migraine headaches.

Birth control pills are usually considered as a common treatment option, especially among young women. However, it’s best to seek a dermatologist or an OB-GYN first before starting to take birth control pills in treating acne and ask for any recommendations or even inform them of any previous medical issues you may have. Birth control pills are generally safe and affordable compared to other prescription medications used for treating acne.  However, if you are coming off the birth control pills, you could experience an increase in acne again.  Here's how you can go off birth control without breaking out

Have you been prescribed birth control pills to help reduce your acne? Let us know your experience and if it's worked for you in the comments!

Also in The Acne Battle Book

How To Tell If You Have Fungal Acne
How To Tell If You Have Fungal Acne

February 22, 2021 7 min read 0 Comments

How to tell if you're Purging or Breaking Out
How to tell if you're Purging or Breaking Out

February 18, 2021 7 min read 0 Comments

skincare for men
Skincare For Men : All In One Guide

February 12, 2021 4 min read 0 Comments