The best birth control types for treating acne
Birth controlhelps control the hormones that cause excess oil in your skin.
- The FDA has approved 3 types of birth control for treating acne: Yaz, Estrostep, and Orth-Tri-Cyclen.
- In some cases, it's possible that birth control can make your acne worse.
"Physicians have been prescribing birth control as a treatment for hormonal acne for many years," says Lavanya Krishnan, MD, FAAD, of Arya Derm in San Francisco. "It is one of the standard treatment options for patients who have hormonal acne."
How birth control helps treat acne
A common cause of acne, especially for teens, is an imbalance of androgens. Androgens are types of hormones that both men and women have, but some people may produce in high amounts. A side effect of this is an increase in sebum, a type of oil that your skin produces.
Excess sebum can clog your pores, leading to acne. That's where birth control can help. Hormonal birth control regulates hormones in a way that reduces androgen production, thereby reducing sebum production, and hopefully, acne.
However, not all birth control pills are created equal when it comes to fighting acne. Although other pills may help, the FDA has only approved three types for treating acne: Yaz, Estrostep, and Orth-Tri-Cyclen. These three are prescribed for the types of hormones they contain:
- Yaz: Krishnan says that of the three FDA-approved birth controls this is "most effective." It contains drospirenone, which is a synthetic version of the sex hormone progesterone. It helps treat acne by blocking the effects of testosterone — a type of androgen.
- Orth-Tri-Cyclen: This birth control contains another type of synthetic form of progesterone called norgestimate, which Krishnan says is the second most effective of the three. Moreover, a 2018 study published in Menopause Review found that drospirenone (found in Yaz, Nikki, Gianvi, and their generics) was more effective in treating acne than norgestimate. However, individual effects vary.
- Estrostep: This birth control contains norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol, which also lower testosterone levels. However, Krishnan says that, in her practice, Yaz and Orth-Tri-Cyclen are more effective at treating acne.
While these three types of birth control are most commonly prescribed for acne, doctors can prescribe other types that can also work for some patients.
"Most birth control pills have both an estrogen and a progesterone component, and the types of estrogen and especially progesterone can vary greatly based on the pill," Krishnan says. "Every patient is very different and responds to the various birth control options in different ways."
Who should try taking birth control for acne
Taking birth control isn't without risks, and various factors should be considered. After your doctor decides you're a good candidate for birth control, you'll have to decide if the possibility of clear skin is worth the potential side effects and risks.
"Patients who do not have a personal or family history of clotting disorders or blood clots, fall within a healthy BMI, do not smoke and are under the age of 35 are the best candidates," says Krishnan. "If side effects such as weight gain and mood changes are a concern, choosing an option that contains slightly less of the estrogen component makes sense."
Additionally, birth control isn't a surefire way to get rid of acne. It's possible that birth control can make your acne worse. And sometimes, your skin will get worse before it gets better when you start the pill.
The FDA has only approved three types of birth control for treating acne: Yaz, Estrostep, and Orth-Tri-Cyclen. But doctors may prescribe other types.
Unfortunately, it may take some work to find the right pill that makes your acne better with little to no side effects. There's no way to predict what will or won't work for you.
You should discuss your options with your dermatologist and gynecologist.
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