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Acne Caused By Birth Control Pills

By Rachel Nall ; Updated August 14, 2017

Birth control pills can contain progestin, estrogen or a combination of both hormones, according to Young Women’s Health, a website sponsored by the Children’s Hospital Boston. While certain birth control brands help to reduce the incidence of acne, others can stimulate hormones associated with causing acne. Knowing the difference can help you determine the right birth control pill for you.


Combination birth control pills are those that contain estrogen and progestin—also known as combination pills, according to Young Women’s Health. The estrogen in the pills works to suppress the action of the pituitary gland and prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg, which is known as ovulation. The progestin in the pill works to stop sperm from reaching an egg to fertilize it. The uterine lining also becomes thinner, meaning the fertilized egg may not be able to attach to the lining. Progestin-only pills work to suppress ovulation and thin the uterine lining.


Progestin-only birth control pills are associated with increased incidence of acne because progesterone has some qualities of a hormone known as an androgen, according to Dr. Audrey Kunin, a dermatologist writing on DERMA Doctor. Androgens are responsible for hormones associated with masculine qualities, including acne. This is because the hormones can stimulate sebum production, which can clog the pores, resulting in the development of acne, according to the Mayo Clinic. When you take a progestin-only birth control pill, the pill may take on these androgenic effects, causing breakouts. This is not always the case, however.


While the progestin-only pill is associated with greater incidence of acne, some women may need to take the progestin-only pill based on their health, according to Young Women’s Health. Because some women do not respond well to synthetic estrogen found in the combination pill, the progestin-only pill may be the only option if you wish to take a birth control pill.

Expert Insight

Taking a birth control brand that contains progestin that may contribute to acne does not necessarily mean that you will experience acne, according to Dr. Kunin. “Most women are not going to have acne flare-ups caused by a ‘wrong choice’ of BCP brand and there is no reason for everyone to give up their favorite oral contraceptive,” Dr. Kunin says. She recommends speaking with your physician if you have concerns related to acne and your birth control pills.


Progestin-only pills are 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Young Women’s Health. If you wish to take a birth control pill, progestin-only pills can offer an effective option—particularly if you cannot take synthetic estrogen. While there is an increased risk for acne development, this can potentially be minimized through preventive acne care.

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