Birth control for acne: Can it help?

By Katy Brodski-Quigley, MD, EdM Jan 25, 2024 • 2 min

Birth control pills, also called oral contraceptive pills and simply “the pill,” are a common medication used by millions of women every year to prevent pregnancy and treat other health conditions. One of those health conditions is acne, and healthcare providers often prescribe certain types of birth control pills as a treatment for moderate to severe acne in women who want an oral contraceptive for birth control.

Does birth control help acne?

Combination birth control pills (containing both the hormones estrogen and progestin) can treat acne. The hormones in the birth control pills that prevent pregnancy affect many organs in the body, including the skin. Because of this, birth control pills may cause or improve acne, depending on multiple factors. For example, the kind of acne called "inflammatory" responds better to birth control pills than other kinds. A primary care doctor or dermatologist can help distinguish between the different kinds of acne and advise on the medicine that will work best.

If the appearance of acne changes with a woman’s menstrual cycle, it’s likely that taking a combination birth control pill will help. Typically, there are other acne treatment options that may be used first, including over-the-counter acne products, especially in mild acne. However, if the treatments don’t work, a healthcare provider may prescribe the pill for acne that’s moderate to severe in women wishing to avoid pregnancy.

Can birth control cause acne?

Birth control pills, patches and implants (Nexplanon) may cause women to break out with acne in the beginning. This usually resolves in three or four months. If the acne doesn't go away, it's important to discuss the issue with your healthcare provider. There are birth control methods that do not cause acne, such as a copper IUD (Paragard) and condoms.

What birth control pills are approved for the treatment of acne?

There are three combination birth control pills that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of moderate to severe acne:

  • Estrostep
  • Yaz
  • Beyaz

Tri-Sprintec (Ortho Tri-Cyclen), a polyphasic birth control pill, is also approved for the treatment of moderate to severe acne. These medications can be prescribed for girls and women with acne, but your healthcare provider may offer other options, depending on your overall health needs. A different brand of birth control pill may work better for some people.

For acne, birth control pills are often prescribed in combination with other therapies, such as creams or washes. It may take several weeks to see an improvement from any acne treatment. Birth control pills can be a safe and effective way of controlling acne, but you should always talk to your healthcare provider to make sure the treatment is right for you.

Clinically reviewed and updated January 2024.

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