We all know that contraception is one of the most important things in our reproductive health toolkit, but for many women, birth control is also an essential part of their routine for beautiful skin. With all the barriers, pills, implants and patches available today, though, it can be difficult to understand the benefits (and drawbacks) that each type of contraceptive has on acne. So, we’ve done a little fact-finding to breakdown the most common methods of birth control and their affects on the skin.
How it affects your skin: Most women get a friendly reminder every 28 days of the affects our hormones have on our acne. Without forcing you to re-live health class, let us remind you that acne is caused by a fatal combination of skin, bacteria and built-up sebum — and sebum production is regulated by hormones. So, although condoms are by far the most popular method of birth control used in America, because they have no affect on our hormones, they also have no affect on our skin.
Method: The Pill
How it affects your skin: Gynecologists often prescribe the hormonal birth control pill — the most common method of hormonal contraceptive used in the U.S. — to teenage girls not only to help protect them against pregnancy, but also to clear up the acne that comes with the turbulent adolescent years. It works because it ups your levels of estrogen and lowers the levels of sebum-producing hormones. Usually with oral contraceptives, there will be a brief break-out period as your body adjusts to the new hormones, eventually leveling out to overall clearer skin in a few months. But did you know that only three birth control pills have actually been FDA-approved to blast your blemishes? These are the combination-type pills which contain a double-dose of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and you might know them as YAZ, Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Estrostep. With that said, birth control pills that contain only progestogens and no estrogen (aka the Mini-Pill) may actually make acne worse because progesterone can stimulate sebum production.
Method: The Patch
How it affects your skin: Ortho Evra, commonly referred to as “the Patch," uses a similar hormonal cocktail as the combination birth control pills, so it’s associated with the same skin-clearing benefits. One small consideration is that the patch is worn at all times and must be applied to clean, dry skin, so you won’t be able to use any lotion or powder around the area where you stick it (most often the thigh, hip or upper arm).
Method: The Shot
How it affects your skin: This injectable contraceptive method, known by the brand name Depo-Provera, is another form of birth control that works by delivering only progestogen. Though this may be beneficial to some women for other reasons, it means that it will probably not have the same reducing effect on sebum production as other forms of birth control. In fact, increased breakouts are often cited as a side effect of the shot.
Method: The Implant
How it affects your skin: IUDs or intrauterine devices are another non-estrogen form of birth control. Like the pill, different types will have different affects on the skin. Hormonal IUDs like Mirena, which releases low-levels of progestin, may cause an increase in acne in the first few months. Because these long-term, internal methods use such low-levels of hormones compared to other forms of birth control, however, many users find that hormone-induced breakouts balance out after a few months. ParaGard is a copper implant that contains no hormones, so in theory it shouldn’t have an impact on hormonal acne. A quick Google search, however, will turn up many users frustrated by acne that they believe is a side effect of their copper IUD, so it’s probably best to talk to a professional if you’re interested in this method, but concerned about your skin.
Remember, hormones are only one of the factors that contribute to your our skin woes. Maintaining a healthy diet, practicing a consistent skincare routine and consulting a dermatologist about any problems are essential as well. It’s also important to keep in mind that besides its effect on the skin, there are myriad other effects involved with each form of birth control, and you should always talk to your women’s health doctor to make a comprehensive decision about which form is right for your skin and your body. Here's to happy hormones!