If you’re a teenager or a woman in perimenopause, you’re likely dealing with a host of symptoms related to fluctuating hormones. You might have sought help from your doctor or been prescribed birth control to improve acne, PMS symptoms, and other health concerns. Or maybe you’ve used birth control for years to prevent pregnancy.
But not all birth control is created equal, meaning one type might reduce breakouts while another could trigger them.
The topic of birth control and skin is a complicated one. Some women have success using oral contraceptives to clear up acne. Others notice their pimples get worse or experience hair loss and weight gain.
Birth control side effects, benefits vary
A lot of skin problems caused by birth control come down to the type of birth control you’re using. The side effects – and benefits – can vary depending on your preferred method of contraceptive.
Birth control pills were approved for use in 1960 and have given millions of women the option to prevent or delay pregnancy. Oral contraceptives are also prescribed to help regulate hormones and clear up acne-prone skin.
Many women opt for oral contraceptives because of price, effectiveness, and ease of use. But hormonal birth control comes in many forms, including progestin-only pills, low-dose estrogen pills, injections/shots, implants, IUDs, patches, and rings.
They all work differently, releasing different types and levels of hormones. You should do your homework on the best option for your body, especially if you start on birth control to help manage excessive acne.
Some of the most common side effects related to hormonal contraceptives include:
- Rashes or acne
- Discolored skin (melasma/chloasma)
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Blood clots
- Liver malfunction (jaundice)
- Loss of libido
- Mood changes, including depression
- Nausea or vomiting
- Water retention and weight gain
- Varicose veins
Types of birth control
Although it is widely used today, it still comes with some side effects. It can take some trial and error to find the best method, as one type of birth control may affect you differently than your best friend, sister, or mom.
Birth control methods include synthetic hormones designed to mimic your natural hormones but prevent or disrupt ovulation or implantation. Hormonal fluctuations during your natural menstrual cycle can affect your skin and hair. That’s why some teenagers struggle with acne and women in menopause worry about hair loss or excessive facial hair.
Combined hormonal contraceptives contain two hormones (estrogen and progestin) and include the pill, patch, or ring. Another type, known as progestin-only contraceptives, contain a form of progestin hormone. The implant, hormonal IUD, shot, or mini-pill are examples of progestin-only control.
- Estrogen can improve acne, but certain progestins (the synthetic version of progesterone) may make it worse.
- Androgens, which are a group of hormones that includes testosterone, can cause unwanted hair growth and oily skin.
- You need to know the type of progestin in your contraceptive because some have a more androgenic effect than others.
Skin conditions treated by birth control
Different forms of birth control may improve or worsen your skin or hair. Combined birth control pills are prescribed to treat hormonal acne, hirsutism, and sometimes hair loss. Hirsutism is also related to hormonal imbalances that can cause dark, coarse hair to grow on your face, abdomen, arms, and thighs.
- Hormones help regulate complex bodily processes, which is why it’s so important to keep them in balance.
- Estrogen impacts the skin by decreasing oil production and keeps hair in its growth phase longer. In general, it improves acne.
- Androgens, on the other hand, can cause oily skin and cause hair growth that is coarse and dark. Conversely, they can cause some women to experience thinning or excessive hair loss.
- One of the most important factors is how sensitive you are to these man-made or synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormones. That will exacerbate side effects like acne.
Doctors sometimes prescribe the pill, with both estrogen and progestin, to help stabilize hormones and suppress the ovaries’ production of androgens. In turn, this can increase production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which binds to androgens found in the blood and keeps them from entering the cells in the skin and hair follicles.
If you’re interested in birth control pills to control acne, talk to your doctor about the best formulations to prevent hormonal acne – there are many. You’ll probably want one with higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of progestin that are also anti-androgenic. You may have to test out a few brands to find a good long-term fit.
Skin conditions caused by birth control
If you’re on a progestin-only method such as the implant, hormonal IUD, or shot, it may worsen acne, hirsutism, or hair loss. There are different types of progestin, and it varies between methods, which can cause changes to hair and skin.
- Some progestins are more androgenic, meaning they are likely to activate androgen receptors and cause oily skin or excessive hair growth.
- Other progestins are anti-androgenic and block the androgen receptors, resulting in dry skin or hair loss.
You may want to research the type of progestin in your birth control and watch out for unwanted side effects or changes to hair and skin. The dosage and way it’s administered also can impact how it works with your body.
If you’re considering the implant or IUD, you want to do as much research in advance. These methods are designed to be long-term and harder to undo once you’ve had them placed.
Choosing a method, monitoring symptoms
It’s hard to know the best treatment method if you’re dealing with unwanted breakouts, dry or thinning hair, or unattractive hair growth. Birth control may be a good option or it may not. You should talk to your doctor or dermatologist to determine the safest and most effective choice for you.
As with any medication, there are potential benefits as well as serious side effects associated with using hormonal birth control. Most women do just fine and report no problems. Others may experience blood clots, weight gain, unexplained pain, hair loss, mood changes, and ongoing acne or skin problems.
It may help to track the condition of your skin and hair when you first begin birth control and record any changes – or unrelated symptoms – for a few months. Can you link it to the medication or something else like excessive stress? If you notice side effects getting worse, be sure to speak up and advocate for yourself.
Choosing a birth control method is a personal decision. It may take several tries to find one that works with your body’s composition and chemistry. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about skin conditions caused by birth control or other associated concerns.
Contact APDerm if you’re worried about hormonal acne or skin conditions caused by birth control or schedule an appointment today. Be sure to monitor any changes to your skin and report persistent problems to your dermatologist. We may be able to offer other solutions!