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What are the best and worst contraceptive pills for acne?

What are the best and worst contraceptive pills for acne?

Living with acne can be a frustrating and mentally draining experience. But there are a number of treatment options available. And for some looking into birth control for acne can be an option. Certain contraceptive pills can help alleviate the symptoms of acne, and birth control pills for acne can also be prescribed solely for that intention.

On this page, we’ll discuss which pills may be beneficial for your skin and acne symptoms, which aren’t and what to do if you take a pill that makes your skin worse.

Daniel  Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead
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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on November 17, 2022.
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Can the contraceptive pill be used for acne?

There are certain pills that can help with acne. This can be beneficial for women who struggle with skin issues like acne, which can lead to feelings of insecurity, embarrassment and low self-esteem.

Generally, birth control for acne is often prescribed to healthy women who are also looking for contraception. It’ll also usually be prescribed after you’ve tried things like antibiotics or dermatological treatments for acne without success, such as topical solutions and creams.

But do pills actually work for acne?

The evidence shows that, yes, some contraceptive pills are beneficial for acne. The benefits of taking birth control for acne include protection from pregnancy, as most pills are prescribed as contraceptives with the secondary intention of helping alleviate the symptoms of acne.

What effect does hormonal birth control have on acne?

The skin changes in response to hormonal changes. Examples of naturally occurring female hormones include oestrogen and progesterone. Lots of different things can impact your skin, including your age, environment and your menstrual cycle.

Your skin is affected by small glands called sebaceous glands. These glands produce an oily substance known as sebum. When you experience puberty, sebaceous glands increase in size and start to secrete more sebum.

Sebaceous glands are affected by your hormones, mostly by particular hormones known as androgens. The more androgens which bind to sebaceous glands, the more you’ll notice oily skin. The more you experience oily skin, the greater your chances of developing acne.

It’s thought that the menstrual cycle impacts sebum secretion, particularly levels of progesterone and oestrogen as they rise and fall throughout the month. In fact, up to 85% of women report experiencing an increase in the severity of their acne symptoms leading up to their period. Though not fully understood, it’s thought that as oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, this can trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum and this can lead to more oily skin.

There may be a number of ways to help hormonal acne, including practising good lifestyle habits like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. However, making sure you stay as healthy as possible won’t always clear up your skin.

What are the best contraceptive pills for acne?

There are certain contraceptive pills that help with acne, or at least are less likely to give you skin problems. If you’re thinking about contraception and you also want to prevent hormonal acne, there’s likely a pill for you that serves both functions.

Contraceptive pills have gone through a number of incarnations over the years. First generation pills, the first contraceptive pills, were introduced to the UK in the early 1960s. However, they contained higher levels of progesterone and oestrogen than is now typically used, and caused some health scares. First generation pills are now no longer approved for use in the UK.

Second generation pills followed 1st generation contraceptives, and contained lower levels of hormones. Later came 3rd and 4th generation pills which were created to lower the risk of certain side effects associated with 2nd generation pills.

The best generational birth control to prevent acne are most likely to be 4th generation pills. This includes brands such as Yasmin, Zoely and Qlaira. In fact, when Yasmin was introduced to the UK market it was said to be one of the best contraceptive pills for acne.

Yasmin, Lucette, Dretine and acne

Yasmin, Lucette and Dretine all contain the same synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone - ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone respectively. They are all 4th generation pills, and so may be beneficial for skin problems including acne.

The Yasmin pill may help acne according to one study on the active progestogens found in combined contraceptive pills. You can talk to your doctor about Yasmin and acne if it’s a benefit you would want from a contraceptive pill.

The Lucette pill may also be beneficial for skin and acne problems. Many women have reported online about acne side effects caused by certain contraceptive pills they’ve taken. However, some women find that they have a better relationship with Lucette and their acne symptoms.

This may be largely in part to the fact Lucette is a 4th generation pill. It’s possible that women may have to try different contraceptives before they find the one that works best for them.

Qlaira and acne

Qlaira is a combined contraceptive pill that can help with heavy or painful periods, but Qlaira may help with acne too. Each Qlaira pill packet contains different types of pills - some contain estradiol valerate (oestrogen), some contain both estradiol valerate and dienogest (progesterone) and some pills contain no hormones at all. These ‘empty’ pills are taken with the intention of helping you get into the habit of taking a pill each day.

Dienogest-based pills like Qlaira may help with skin problems like acne. Certain side effects associated with other contraceptive pills are also less likely when you take Qlaira. This may include vaginal dryness, appetite increase, weight gain, cramps, mood changes and reduced libido.

However, Qlaira can cause more oestrogenic side effects including breast fullness and tenderness, headaches, fluid retention, tiredness, irritability, nausea and bloating.

Cilique and acne

Cilique is a Norgestimate-based combined pill, making it a 3rd generation pill. So it may not be as good for skin problems as certain 4th generation pills, but it may also help. People respond to contraceptive pills in different ways, and it’s important to keep in mind what doesn’t work for someone else might work for you.

Cillique also contains the same active ingredients as Cillest, which was discontinued.

What is the relationship between the Cilique pill and acne? Cilique may help with the symptoms of acne and other androgen related skin disorders.

Evra Patch and acne

The Evra patch is another 3rd generation contraception, but it isn’t a pill that you swallow. You apply Evra to the skin and hormones are absorbed into the bloodstream over the course of seven days.

One study on Evra and adolescents found that the contraceptive method was well-tolerated and provided excellent contraceptive cycle control. 33% of women in the study who started the process with acne or skin problems reported their symptoms had reduced since starting Evra.

Marvelon, Gedarel and acne

Marvelon and Gedarel are also third generation pills. They contain desogestrel, a synthetic progestogen. Desogestrel and ethinyl estradiol for acne might be a good combination because they reduce the risk of acne symptoms, but also reduce the chances of developing a series of other oestrogenic side effects also.

Marvelon has been shown to help with acne, with one study finding that women who took Marvelon had significantly reduced symptoms.

NuvaRing and acne

NuvaRing is the brand of contraceptive ring used in the UK. It’s a small ring that is placed inside the vagina which releases hormones over 21 days.

The type of progestogen found in NuvaRing, called etonogestrel, may help some women with skin problems like acne. According to Clue, an app that tracks your menstruation cycle, ‘an analysis of three studies, people using the birth control ring for three to 13 months report less acne than people using the pill (P).’

However, in the NuvaRing patient information - acne is listed as a potential side effect. Again, what works for some women might not work for others.

How long will it take for my acne to improve with birth control?

Oral contraceptive pills affect people in different ways. If you take hormonal contraceptives to help improve acne, as well as to protect you against pregnancy, it might be two to three months before you start to notice an improvement in your symptoms – though this might not be the case for everyone.

For acne, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed before contraception to help treat your symptoms. One study found that antibiotics helped acne at around three months, whereas hormonal contraception took up to six months to reduce acne lesions. They state that oral contraceptive pills may be a better first-line method to antibiotics because they can be used long-term to help women manage their symptoms.

Which contraceptive pills aren’t as helpful for acne?

Generally speaking, first and second generation pills will be less helpful for acne when compared with third and fourth generation pills.

Examples of 1st generation pills include:

  • Ones which contained norethynodrel, norethindrone, lynestrenol and ethynodiol diacetate.

Examples of 2nd generation pills include:

  • Ones which contain levonorgestrel and norethisterone.
  • Microgynon, Logynon and Loestrin.

However, this isn’t to say that second generation pills might not help skin problems like oily skin and acne. (First generation pills are no longer available in the UK). What works for you can depend on a number of intricate factors happening inside your body, like how your body absorbs, uses and responds to particular synthetic hormones.

Rigevidon, Microgynon, Ovranette and acne

Rigevidon, Microgynon and Ovranette are all second generation hormonal contraceptive pills. But how do they affect acne?

A dermatology solution website conducted a poll of 2,000 women who suffered from acne. In the survey, 65% of participants reported Microgynon had no impact on their acne symptoms, 19% reported it had helped a bit and 6% reported Microgynon had noticeably improved their acne.[8]

On the flip-side, some women have also reported that Microgynon can give them acne, or that it makes their acne worse. But Microgynon acne isn’t the only side effect associated with the pill, it can cause a number of other progesterone related side effects too. Always read the patient information leaflet prior to use.

Does Rigevidon help acne, or does the pill Rigevidon make acne worse? Because Rigevidon is a second generation pill, it may affect women in a similar way to Microgynon. Rigevidon is typically one of the first pills a woman might be prescribed, and most will get on fine with it. However, it can cause certain progestogenic side effects because it contains older versions of progesterone - these can include mood swings and acne.

It’s a similar story with Ovranette and acne, which is another second generation pill. The majority of women won’t be affected adversely by Ovranette, but certain side effects can happen and this does include acne.

Loestrin and acne

Loestrin is a first generation pill that contains ethinyl estradiol and an early version of progesterone, norethisterone.

First generation pills are no longer approved for use in the UK, because safer and better tolerated contraceptives have since been created. However, Loestrin may help with acne and it carries a relatively low risk of progestogenic side effects.]

Are mini pills like Cerazette, Cerelle or Desogestrel good for acne?

Cerazette, Cerelle and Desogestrel are likely not beneficial for skin problems like acne. This is because they are mini pills, or progestogen-only pills (POM), and so don’t contain any oestrogen. Though they’re just as effective contraceptives as combined pills, they’re less effective at combating acne symptoms.

If you notice acne when using cerazette, cerelle or another other desogestrel mini pill then it’s worth speaking to your doctor or pharmacist about switching to a different method of contraception – providing there isn’t a reason that precludes you from using combined contraceptive methods.

Can Dianette and Co-Cyprindiol be used for acne?

There are some birth control pills approved for acne treatment in the UK, these include Co-Cyprindiol and Dianette. They can also be used for excessive hair growth.

Dianette is a combined contraceptive that contains cyproterone acetate and ethinyl estradiol. While taking Dianette, acne symptoms may improve and you’ll also be protected from pregnancy. And if Dianette doesn’t help, then Co-Cyprindiol can be an alternative.

Acne is caused when certain glands produce an oily substance called sebum, which can lead to acne and other skin problems. Co-Cyprindiol can impact sebum secretion and reduce it.

Can the contraceptive pill cause acne?

The hormones found in contraceptives can help to reduce acne because they reduce the circulation of androgens, which decreases sebum production. However, this will very much depend on the type of contraceptive you use, the types of hormones it contains and amounts.

Can the pill cause acne? Yes, birth control acne is listed as a side effect on most contraceptive patient information leaflets, but in some cases you may see an improvement to acne.

If you want to know how to treat acne caused by birth control, talk with your doctor, finding the right pill for you may come down to trying a few different ones before you’re happy and you see an improvement in your acne symptoms.

There’s also a link between coming off the pill and something called ‘post-pill acne’. Post-pill acne can start more typically in the first few weeks after you’ve stopped taking the pill.

Hormones can cause acne because the body uses and responds to them in varying ways. If you experience hormonal acne after stopping the pill, this isn’t something to immediately worry about. It may clear up after a few days or weeks. If it doesn’t and it’s impacting your quality of life, speak with a doctor.

What should I do if I have acne and am using the contraceptive pill?

If you want to know how to get rid of acne caused by birth control, how to treat acne from birth control or whether you should go on the pill for acne, you’ll need to talk with your doctor or a medical health expert to see what’s best for you.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work, which acne can be a side effect of. (But you can also experience PCOS without acne). Hormonal contraception may help in managing PCOS acne, speak to your doctor for more advice about the best birth control for PCOS and acne.

If you want to know how to help hormonal acne without birth control, you can talk more with your doctor.

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When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.

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