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What are the best and worst birth control pills for acne?

What are the best and worst birth control pills for acne?

Living with acne can be a frustrating and mentally draining experience. But there are a number of treatment options available. And for some looking into birth control for acne can be an option. Certain birth control pills can help alleviate the symptoms of acne, and birth control pills for acne can also be prescribed solely for that intention.

On this page, we’ll discuss which pills may be beneficial for your skin and acne symptoms, which aren’t and what to do if you take a pill that makes your skin worse

Daniel Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical lead
Table of contents
Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical lead
on August 02, 2022.
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Can the birth control pill be used for acne?

There are certain pills that can help with acne. This can be beneficial for women who struggle with skin issues like acne, which can lead to feelings of insecurity, embarrassment and low self-esteem.

Generally, birth control for acne is often provided to healthy women who also need contraception. It’ll also usually be prescribed after you’ve tried things like antibiotics or dermatological treatments for acne without success, such as topical solutions and creams.

But do pills work for acne?

The evidence shows that, yes, some contraceptive pills are beneficial for acne. Benefits of taking birth control for acne include protection from an unwanted pregnancy, as most pills are prescribed as contraceptives with the secondary intention of helping alleviate the symptoms of acne.

What effect does hormonal birth control have on acne?

The skin changes in response to hormonal changes. Examples of naturally occurring female hormones include estrogen and progesterone. Lots of different things can impact your skin, including your age, environment and your menstrual cycle.

Your skin is affected by small glands called sebaceous glands. These glands produce an oily substance known as sebum. When you experience puberty, sebaceous glands increase in size and start to secrete more sebum.

Sebaceous glands are affected by your hormones, mostly by particular hormones known as androgens. The more androgens which bind to sebaceous glands, the more you’ll notice oily skin. The more you experience oily skin, the greater your chances of developing acne.

It is thought that the menstrual cycle impacts sebum secretion, particularly levels of progesterone and estrogen as they rise and fall throughout the month. In fact, up to 85% of women report experiencing an increase in the severity of their acne symptoms leading up to their period. Though not fully understood, it is thought that as estrogen and progesterone levels drop, this can trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum and this can lead to more oily skin.

There may be a number of ways to help hormonal acne, including practicing good lifestyle habits like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. However, making sure you stay as healthy as possible won’t always clear up your skin.

What are the best birth control pills for acne?

There are certain contraceptive pills that help with acne, or at least more unlikely to give you skin problems. If you’re thinking about contraception and you also want to prevent hormonal acne, there is likely a pill for you that serves both functions.

Contraceptive pills have gone through a number of incarnations over the years. First generation pills were introduced to Canada in the late 1960s. However, they contained higher levels of progesterone and oestrogen than is now typically used, and caused some health scares. First generation pills are now no longer approved for use in Canada.

Second generation pills followed first generation contraceptives, and contained lower levels of hormones. Later came third and fourth generation pills which were created to lower the risk of certain side effects associated with second generation pills.

The best generational birth control to prevent acne are most likely to be 4th generation pills. These combined-hormone pills include brands such as Yasmin, Apri and Loestrin. In fact, when Yasmin was introduced to the US market it was said to be one of the best contraceptive pills for acne.

Yasmin, Yaz and acne

Yasmin and Yaz both contain the same synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone - ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone respectively. They are all 4th generation pills, and so may be beneficial for skin problems including acne.

The Yasmin pill may help acne according to one study on the active progestogens found in combined contraceptive pills. You can talk to your doctor about Yasmin and acne if it’s a benefit you would want from a contraceptive pill.

The Yaz pill may also be beneficial for skin and acne problems. Many women have reported online about acne side effects caused by certain contraceptive pills they’ve taken. However, some women find that they have a better relationship with Yaz and their acne symptoms. Often, women have to try different contraceptives before they find the one that works best for them.

Cyclen and acne

Cyclen is a norgestimate-based combined pill, making it a 3rd generation pill. So it may not be as good for skin problems as certain 4th generation pills, but it may also help. Cyclen may help with the symptoms of acne and other androgen related skin disorder. People respond to contraceptive pills in different ways, and it’s important to keep in mind what doesn’t work for someone else might work for you.

Cyclen also contains the same active ingredients as Tricera Lo and Tri-Jordyna.

Evra Patch and acne

The Evra patch is another 3rd generation contraceptive, but it isn't a pill that you swallow. Evra is a contraceptive patch you apply to the skin, containing hormones that are absorbed into the bloodstream over the course of seven days. 

You apply it to your skin (like a plaster) and it slowly releases hormones into your bloodstream over the course of a week. As well as being easy to use, it has proven benefits for acne.

In a study of adolescents using Evra, 93% of women said they would recommend it to a friend or relative, while 33% who started the process with acne or skin problems reported their symptoms had reduced.

Apri, Marvelon and acne

Apri and Marvelon are also third generation pills. They contain desogestrel, a synthetic progestogen. Desogestrel and ethinyl estradiol for acne might be a good combination because they reduce the risk of acne symptoms, but also reduce the chances of developing a series of other estrogenic side effects also.

NuvaRing and acne

NuvaRing is the brand of contraceptive ring used in Canada and the US. It’s a small ring that is placed inside the vagina which releases hormones over 21 days.

The type of progestin found in NuvaRing, called etonogestrel, may help some women with skin problems like acne. According to Clue, an app that tracks your menstruation cycle, "An analysis of three studies, people using the birth control ring for three to 13 months report less acne than people using the pill."

However, in the NuvaRing patient information - acne is listed as a potential side effect. Again, what works for some women might not work for others.

How long will it take for my acne to improve with birth control?

Oral contraceptive pills affect people in different ways. If you take hormonal birth control to help improve acne, as well as to protect you against unintended pregnancy, it might be two to three months before you start to notice an improvement in your symptoms – though this might not be the case for everyone.

For acne, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed before contraception to help treat your symptoms. One study found that antibiotics helped acne at around three months, whereas hormonal contraception took up to six months to reduce acne lesions. They state that oral contraceptive pills may be a better first-line method to antibiotics because they can be used long-term to help women manage their symptoms.

Which contraceptive pills aren’t as helpful for acne?

Generally speaking, first and second generation pills will be less helpful for acne when compared with third and fourth generation pills.

  • Examples of 1st generation pills include:
  • Ones which contained norethynodrel, norethindrone, lynestrenol and ethynodiol diacetate.

Examples of 2nd generation pills include:

  • Ones which contain levonorgestrel and norethindrone

However, this isn’t to say that second generation pills might not help skin problems like oily skin and acne. What works for you can depend on a number of intricate factors happening inside your body, like how your body absorbs, uses and responds to particular synthetic hormones.

Loestrin and acne

Loestrin is a first generation pill that contains ethinyl estradiol and an early version of progesterone, norethindrone. Loestrin may help with acne and it carries a relatively low risk of progestogenic side effects.

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Are mini pills like Jencycla or Movisse good for acne?

Jencycla and Movisse are likely not beneficial for skin problems like acne. This is because they are mini pills, or progestin-only pills (POP), and so don’t contain any estrogen. Though they’re just as effective as combined pills, they’re less effective at combating acne symptoms.

If you notice acne when using Jencycla, Movisse, or another other desogestrel mini pill then it’s worth speaking to your doctor or pharmacist about switching to a different method of contraception – providing there isn’t a reason that precludes you from using combined contraceptive methods.

Can Alesse be used for acne?

There are some birth control pills approved for acne treatment in Canada; one of which is Alesse. It can also be used for excessive hair growth.

Alesse is a combined contraceptive that contains levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. While taking Alesse, acne symptoms may improve and you’ll also be protected from unintended pregnancy. And if Alesse doesn’t help, ask your healthcare provider about alternatives, such as Tricira Lo.

Acne is caused when certain glands produce an oily substance called sebum, which can lead to acne and other skin problems. Tricira Lo can impact sebum secretion and reduce it.

Can the birth control pill cause acne?

The hormones found in contraceptives can help to reduce acne because they reduce the circulation of androgens, which decreases sebum production. However, this will very much depend on the type of contraceptive you use, the types of hormones it contains and amounts.

Can the pill cause acne? Yes, birth control acne is listed as a side effect on most contraceptive patient information leaflets, but in some cases you may see an improvement to acne. If you want to know how to treat acne caused by birth control, talk with your doctor, finding the right pill for you may come down to trying a few different ones before you’re happy and you see an improvement in your acne symptoms.

There’s also a link between coming off the pill and something called “post-pill acne.” Post-pill acne can and does start more typically in the first few weeks after you’ve stopped taking the pill.

Hormones can cause acne because the body uses and responds to them in varying ways. If you experience hormonal acne after stopping the pill, this isn’t something to immediately worry about. It may clear up after a few days or weeks. If it doesn’t and it’s impacting your quality of life, speak with a doctor.

What should I do if I have acne and am using the contraceptive pill?

If you want to know how to get rid of acne caused by birth control, how to treat acne from birth control or whether you should go on the pill for acne, you’ll need to talk with your doctor or a medical health expert to see what’s best for you.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work, which acne can be a side effect of. (But you can also experience PCOS without acne.) Hormonal contraception may help in managing PCOS acne, speak to your doctor for more advice about the best birth control for PCOS and acne.

If you want to know how to help hormonal acne without birth control, you can talk more with your doctor. 

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