In this article, we'll be explaining the importance of birth control, how birth control pills work, whether it's possible that birth control could be the cause of your hormonal acne breakouts and the different ways you can treat hormonal acne depending on severity.
Birth control, otherwise known as contraception, refers to any method used to prevent pregnancies from occurring. These methods can include practicing the rhythm method, using condoms, taking birth control pills, using an IUD or undergoing tubal ligation.
If you are sexually active with your partner, it is vital that you use a method of birth control. In a study done by the National University Hospital (NUH) in Singapore, it was reported that 84% of couples who did not use any methods of birth control got pregnant within the first year, and 92% of them got pregnant within 2 years.
2 different forms of birth control pills are readily available such as the combination pill (Yasmin, Yaz) or the progestin-only pill (Cerazette, Cerelle).
Combination birth control pills prevent pregnancies by using both progestin and estrogen hormones to stop ovulation. They also thicken the mucus within the cervix, preventing fertilization of the egg from occurring.
Progestin-only pills contain only one hormone, progestin. Like combination birth control pills, progestin-only pills prevent pregnancies by stopping ovulation, thickening the mucus in the cervix to prevent fertilization and thinning the uterine lining to prevent implantation of the egg.
When used "perfectly" (taken everyday at the same time, without fail), it is possible for both combination birth control pills and progestin-only birth control pills to achieve a 99% effectiveness rate.
When used "typically" (taken every day at the same time, but there are occasions when the user forgets to take a dose or begin a new pack of pills), combination birth control pills and progestin-only pills still have a high effectiveness rate of 91%.
Besides preventing pregnancies, birth control can also be used for other purposes. Hormonal birth control methods can be used to regulate periods, reduce period cramps and symptoms of PMS and reduce hormonal acne breakouts. Hormonal birth control can also help lower the risk of the user developing uterine and ovarian cancer.
Acne is usually caused by high levels of androgens -- male hormones that can stimulate sebum production and clog hair follicles. Higher levels of androgens (more specifically, testosterone) mean more sebum, which in turn usually leads to more pimples.
Most birth control pills contain estrogen and progesterone -- two female hormones that are not directly responsible for acne.
In fact, these hormones can work together to reduce your risk of developing acne on a regular basis by balancing the effects of excess androgens.
In short, not only do birth control pills not cause acne -- over the long term, they’re very effective at preventing it.
The way birth control works as an acne treatment is simple. As a woman, your body produces a small quantity of androgenic hormones such as testosterone. These hormones are essential for optimal wellbeing and health.
Testosterone, for example, plays a role in everything from your muscle and bone health to your sex drive.
Testosterone also regulates the amount of sebum produced by your skin. When your adrenal glands and ovaries produce too much testosterone, your skin can become overly oily, resulting in more severe and frequent acne outbreaks.
The estrogen and progesterone in oral contraceptives lower the amount of androgens in your body. Lower levels of testosterone mean less sebum production, which means a lower risk of experiencing hormonal acne.
So, where does the belief that birth control pills cause acne come from? Part of this belief is due to the natural changes in hormones that can occur over the course of your menstrual cycle, with another part coming from the sudden change in hormones that can occur with birth control.
First, let’s cover the menstrual cycle and its effect on hormones. Over the course of the month, the amount of androgens (male sexual hormones) and estrogens (female sex hormones) that are produced by your body will fluctuate.
Generally, you’ll reach your highest androgen levels in the week before your period, as well as during your period. During your period, your estrogen will also increase, while your body’s level of progesterone will reach its lowest point.
In short, your period, and the days leading up to it, is when you’ll have the highest concentration of androgens circulating throughout your body. This can lead to a sudden increase in acne that’s usually referred to as a hormonal acne outbreak.
If you’ve just switched to an oral contraceptive, it’s easy to assume this outbreak is caused by your birth control pill. This is very unlikely. Instead, it’s far more likely to be caused by regular hormone fluctuations that your new birth control hasn’t yet been able to prevent.
Treating Mild Acne At Home
If your acne is mild, it is possible to clear them up at home with these following steps:
While it might be tempting, especially if your acne seems to be ready to pop, don't touch, pick or squeeze at your pimples! This can spread the bacteria and excess sebum across the skin, potentially causing an acne breakout.
So leave the pimple popping to the ASMR video on Youtube!
Regular Face Washes
To prevent the build up of dead skin cells, oil and bacteria on your face, it is important that you regularly wash your face. You should wash your face twice a day, once in the morning and another time before going to bed.
To avoid drying your face with the washes, remember to apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer after to ensure your skin is hydrated.
Using a Gentle Cleanser
Be sure to use a gentle cleanser to remove all the dirt, sweat, excess oils and bacteria that builds up on your face. If your skin is sensitive, avoid cleansers that contain alcohol or are scented as this could further irritate your skin and drag out the healing process.
If you find that your acne isn't going away, try using medicated cleansers that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid prevents your pores from getting clogged while benzoyl peroxide dries out your existing pimples and prevents new ones from developing. Benzoyl peroxide also helps to kill the bacteria that causes acne.
Take a Break From Using Makeup
Makeup products like foundation, concealer and blush can clog up your pores. Makeup brushes are also a breeding ground for bacteria to thrive if not cleaned properly.
To speed up the healing process, try to avoid wearing makeup until your acne has healed up.
If you do have to apply makeup, look for products that are either water-based or non-comedogenic. Remember to clean your makeup brushes and applicators regularly too!
What Medication Is Available To Treat Hormonal Acne In Singapore
If home remedies and self-care doesn't improve your acne, there are topical OTC medication and creams available for you to try. These medications contain ingredients that reduce oil and bacteria present on the skin.
Look out for these ingredients:
- Benzoyl peroxide: This dries out your existing pimples and prevents new ones from developing. Benzoyl peroxide also helps to kill the bacteria that causes acne.
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid prevents your pores from getting clogged.
Differin gel can contain adapalene 0.1% and is a retinoid medicine (a vitamin A derivative). Differin works to clear and prevent acne by increasing the turnover of skin cells. This helps to naturally exfoliate the surface layer of skin and helps to unblock both pores and sebaceous glands (glands that produce sebum, the skin's natural oil). This allows the sebum to escape and reduces the formation of blackheads and spots.
Differin also acts as an anti-inflammatory, which reduces the redness and swelling of the skin.
If your acne continues to persist or worsen, you might want to see a doctor or a dermatologist for a consultation. They can help uncover the root cause of your acne and prescribe you an antibiotic medication to heal your acne and prevent any scarring.
These prescription medications include:
Clindoxyl treats acne by killing the bacteria that causes acne and keeping skin pores clean.
Clindoxyl contains two medications: clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide.
Clindamyn is an antibiotic that stops or slows down the growth of and clears acne.
Benzoyl peroxide is a keratolytic agent that breaks down a protein known as keratin, removing dead skin cells and softening the skin. This then helps to reduce blackheads and whiteheads. Benzoyl peroxide also possesses antibacterial properties, killing bacteria that causes acne and reducing inflamed acne spots.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic that comes in the form of a tablet and is prescribed to fight moderate to severe inflamed acne. Belonging to a classification of antibiotics called tetracycline, they help treat the infection by blocking bacterial protein from being produced.