The Contraceptive Pill and Acne

The effects of the pill on acne
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Key takeaways

  • The combined contraceptive pill can often improve acne caused by hormonal changes as it keeps hormone levels regular

  • Taking the mini-pill, or progestogen-only pill, has actually been proven in some cases to make skin conditions such as acne worse

  • The combined pill is not affected by most antibiotics or topical treatments for acne and can be used in combination with most acne treatments

Contents of this article

Does the pill help treat acne?

Acne can be caused by a lot of different factors and is not limited to teenagers going through puberty. The most common cause of acne in both teenagers and adults is hormonal fluctuation.

The combined contraceptive pill can often be effective in the treatment of acne caused by hormonal changes as it keeps hormone levels regular. This does not mean the pill will be effective for all acne sufferers, or that it will make acne disappear completely. 

How does taking the pill help acne sufferers?

The hormones which cause acne to develop are known as androgens. Androgens increase the production of sebum, an oil made in your glands. When too much sebum is made, it can clog your pores and make it easier for hair follicles to get infected. This can lead to acne spots. The combined pill regulates the androgen levels in your body, so that the production of sebum is not excessive. This helps keep the pores clearer and reduce the symptoms of acne.

How long will it take for the pill to improve acne symptoms?

It normally takes several months for the pill to have an effect on acne. You may even have a flare-up when you begin taking the combined pill, but your hormone levels should become more regulated over time. You should begin to see improvement after a couple of months. If your acne doesn't improve in that time or it seems to be getting worse, you should return to your doctor. He or she will be able to help you work out why, or prescribe a more appropriate pill.

Are all contraceptive pills good for acne?

No. Only certain combined contraceptive pills containing both oestrogen and progestogen are recommended for the treatment of acne, such as Yaz.

Taking the mini-pill, or progestogen-only pill, has actually been proven in some cases to make skin conditions such as acne worse. Side effects of the mini pill often include irritated skin, rashes and spots because higher levels of synthetic progesterone hormones in the body can cause the skin's lining to swell and the pores to close. When combined with oestrogen, this does not happen.

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When is the pill prescribed to treat acne?

The pill is not prescribed solely for acne. The combined pill is prescribed when a sexually active woman requires contraception or menstrual cycle regulation, but also happens to suffer from acne.

Can other forms of acne treatment be used at the same time as the pill?

The combined pill is not affected by most antibiotics or topical treatments for acne and can be used in combination with most acne treatments. You should discuss any and all acne treatments you plan to use alongside the combined pill with your doctor, just in case.

Can other forms of contraception be causing acne?

Yes. There is some evidence to indicate that certain types of contraception, such as the injection, may actually contribute to acne. You should always discuss the potential side effects of any contraceptive with your doctor before you begin taking it. If you think a form of hormonal contraception you are using is causing acne, your doctor may be able to offer you an alternative type of contraception.

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