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Can birth control pills help treat acne?

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health
A recent Cochrane review, a review of all the scientific studies, showed that birth control pills reduce acne. Although a few brands actually have FDA approval be labelled as reducing acne, the Cochrane review found all types of birth control pills to be equally effective.

The way birth control pills reduce acne is two fold. They decrease the amount of testosterone produced by the ovaries. They also increase production a substance called Sex Hormone Binding Globuin (SHBG) from the liver. The net result is a decrease in free or biologically active testosterone by about 50%. This reduces acne but the effect is somewhat subtle. Most women notice improvement after several months of using birth control pills.

For many women birth control pills can help improve acne symptoms. The pills work by helping to control the amount of oil produced by the glands in the skin. When there is less oil there is less of a chance that that pores in the skin will get clogged with oil. Birth control pills can be used with other acne treatments such as topical creams and gels.

For women who break out mainly around their menstrual cycle, some birth control pills can help. Research shows that these pills can clear acne by slowing down overactive oil glands in the skin. Sometimes, birth control pills are used along with a drug called spironolactone to treat acne in adult females. This medication lowers levels of the hormone androgen in the body. Androgen stimulates the skin's oil glands. Side effects of this drug include irregular menstruation, breast tenderness, headache and fatigue. Spironolactone is not appropriate therapy for all patients.

This answer is based on the source infromation from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.