I have acne that doesn't clear up when I use medications or creams. Could birth control pills help?
Answers from Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.
Yes, birth control pills (oral contraceptives) can improve acne in women.
Though typically safe and effective, birth control pills for acne (combination estrogen–progestin pills) aren't for everyone. Side effects can include headaches, change in menstrual flow, breast tenderness, and slightly increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and blood clots.
Talk to your doctor about how your health history and age may affect your risks with birth control pills for acne.
Don't take birth control pills for acne if you:
- Gave birth less than a month ago
- Are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- Haven't reached puberty
- Are over age 35 and are obese, smoke, or have high blood pressure or migraines
- Have a history of migraines
- Have high blood pressure and vascular disease
- Have a history of heart disease
- Have a history of breast, uterine or liver cancer
- Have a history of blood clots
Aug. 05, 2014
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo tablets (prescribing information). Raritan, N.J.: Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals; 2012. http://www.thepill.com/thepill/shared/pi/Tri-Cyclen_Lo_PI.pdf#zoom=100. Accessed April 9, 2014.
- The truth about oral contraceptives and acne. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/article_oral_contraceptives.html. Accessed April 9, 2014.
- Junkins-Hopkins J. Hormonal therapy for women with acne vulgaris. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 9, 2014.
- Arowojolu AO, et al. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004425.pub6/abstract. Accessed April 9, 2014.
- Tyler KH, et al. Contraception and the dermatologist. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2013;68:1022.
- AskMayoExpert. What treatments are recommended for acne vulgaris? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.
- Martin KA, et al. Risks and side effects associated with estrogen-progestin contraceptives. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 16, 2014.