The Truth About Oral Contraceptives and Acne
Yes, it’s true. An oral
contraceptive, what many people call “the Pill,” can effectively
clear acne in women. If you are using — or considering — an oral
contraceptive to treat acne, here are a few other truths about oral
contraceptives and acne that you should know:
Several Brands Effective
Several brands of oral contraceptives can effectively control acne.
A few brands have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) for treating acne in women.
Best Results: Use with Other Acne Treatment
Oral contraceptives are effective because they target one of the
four key causes of acne — excess sebum. Sebum, a natural oil that
protects the skin against moisture loss, can clog pores when the
body produces too much.
Since an oral contraceptive targets only one cause, it is generally
not the only treatment used to clear acne. Here’s another key fact.
Dermatologists generally do not prescribe an oral contraceptive
until other acne medications have proven ineffective. Acne treatment
usually begins with benzoyl peroxide and topical retinoids.
Depending on the type and severity of the acne, an oral antibiotic
also may be part of the treatment plan. If a woman’s acne does not
respond to these treatments, an oral contraceptive may be
Other Medication? Tell Your Dermatologist
If an oral contraceptive is a potential treatment option, be sure to
tell your dermatologist about other medication that you are taking.
Medications can interact with each other — in some case producing
undesirable side effects. Sometimes one medication can reduce the
effectiveness of another medication. The anti-epilepsy drug,
lamotrigine, can reduce the effectiveness of an oral contraceptive.
A second form of birth control may be necessary to prevent
Not for Every Woman
While oral contraceptives can safely and effectively treat acne long
term, this medication is not appropriate for every woman. Due to
potential side effects, oral contraceptives are usually prescribed
to women who:
• Are 35 years of age or younger
• Do not smoke
• Do not have a history of migraines
• Have normal blood pressure
Dermatologists recommend that their patients who take oral
contraceptives examine their breasts regularly and see a
gynecologist for regular examinations.
Clearing Takes Time
The truth is clearing takes time. Patients can expect to see results
about three months after beginning to take an oral contraceptive.
Before then, some women’s acne worsens. If acne flares, continue to
take the oral contraceptive as prescribed. Repeatedly missing doses
decreases the medication’s effectiveness.
While taking an oral contraceptive for acne treatment, it is
important to follow your dermatologist’s entire acne treatment plan.
An oral contraceptive targets only one cause of acne — excess sebum.
Now that you know the truth about oral contraceptives and acne, you
may wonder if this treatment may be right for you. A dermatologist
can help a woman decide if this is an appropriate treatment option.
Harper, JC et al. “Acne.”
Presented at the ACADEMY ’05 Meeting of the American Academy of
Dermatology: Concurrent Session 306. July 2005: Chicago.
Wachter, K. “Resistant Acne May Respond to Hormone Therapy.” Skin &
Allergy News. 2004 April;35(4):46.
Wendling, P. “OCs Are Best Used as an Adjunct Acne Therapy.” Skin &
Allergy News. 2005 May;36(5):15.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology