Doctors say that about 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 have acne. That's millions of people!
However, knowing how common it is to have acne probably won't make you feel any better about getting pimples. So we'll skip to the good stuff.
The basics on acne and birth control
One of the leading causes of acne in all women is changes in hormone levels.
Have you noticed that you tend to break out at certain stages of your menstrual cycle, maybe right before you get your period? The cause of your acne is most likely hormonal.
Women primarily use birth control pills, also known as "oral contraceptives," in medical terms, to keep from getting pregnant.
However, in the last couple of decades, birth control pills have been used to also treat acne in teenagers and adults. It makes sense though - both birth control pills and acne have to do with your hormones.
The best type of birth control pills for acne
There are two main types of birth control pills:
- Combination birth control pills
- Progestin-only birth control pills (the "mini-pill")
Short answer: Out of the two types of birth control pills, the best type of birth control pill for acne is a combination birth control pill. This is the most common type of birth control pill.
Combination birth control pills "combine" two hormones called estrogen and progestin.
If you've been prescribed birth control pills, chances are that you're taking a combination pill. There are tons of different brands of combination pills like Vienva, Yaz, or Loestrin.
However, there are birth control pills that have only one hormone, progestin. It's a progestin-only pill, also called the "mini-pill."
And there are other types birth control methods that add hormones to your body, like the IUD.
However, these other methods seem not to affect acne. Some researchers have found that hormonal IUDs like Mirena may even increase your likelihood of getting acne. Their research also seems to show that birth control pills that contain only progestin (the "mini-pill") could make acne worse.
For the best answer on these other methods and their effect on acne, though, talk to your doctor. They've seen it in action from their experience with helping their patients!
The top 4 brands of birth control pills for acne-prone skin
There are only 4 brands of birth control pills that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for preventing pregnancy AND treating acne. The FDA is the federal organization that must approve all prescription drugs, both brand-name, and generic brands, for their intended use.
That said, doctors will tell you that almost any combination birth control pill should help with acne.
However, these 4 birth control pill brands are special because the chemicals and specific hormones that they contain have been shown to help with acne.
The 4 FDA-approved brands of birth control pills for acne are the following:
Beyaz®: Drospirenone/ethinyl estradiol/ levomefolate calcium tablets
Estrostep® Fe: Norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol tablets, USP and ferrous fumarate tablets
Yaz®: Drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol tablets
Ortho Tri-Cyclen® and Ortho-Cyclen®: Norgestimate/ethinyl estradiol
Most popular birth control pill for acne: Yaz
Yaz is the most popular birth control pill prescribed for acne.
The active ingredients in Yaz are a progestin called drospirenone and an estrogen called ethinyl estradiol. These two hormones help treat acne by preventing the overproduction of androgen, a hormone that causes excess oil production in the skin, causing acne.
Doctors prescribe this medication to help clear up pimples because it contains drospirenone, which studies have proven to be the most effective ingredient in birth control pills used for acne.
Costs of Yaz ($$$)
Yaz is the cream of the crop here when it comes to the best birth control pill for acne. But it's also the most expensive, and most insurance plans don't cover the brand name Yaz.
Without insurance, the average retail price for Yaz is $79, but it can cost as much as $160.
Cheaper generic versions of Yaz ($)
Some generic brand alternatives to Yaz include Nikki, Loryna, Gianvi, and Vestura. With insurance, Loryna or one of the other generic brands may be free and can cost as low as $0. Without insurance, Loryna costs an average of $52 for a one month supply.
When is Yaz a good fit?
Yaz is usually prescribed for women and teenagers who, show no adverse reactions to birth control pills. Women who have a history of heart disease or at a high risk of developing blood clots should not take Yaz.
You may experience some side effects when using Yaz include nausea, headaches, mood swings, and breast tenderness.
Best low-cost birth control pill for acne: Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Ortho Tri-Cyclen works similarly to Yaz. It blocks the production of the hormone androgen, which causes oil glands in our skin to go into overdrive and cause acne. Health care providers often prescribe Ortho Tri-Cyclen and a topical acne treatment like tretinoin for the best results. The active ingredients in Ortho Tri-Cyclen are a progestin called norgestimate and an estrogen called ethinyl estradiol.
In a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 164 women aged between 15 to 49, with moderate acne, participated in a study to show the effectiveness of Ortho Tri-Cyclen for treating acne. Researchers divided the participants into two groups. The first was given Ortho Tri-Cyclen, and the second a placebo pill. Scientists discovered that about 136 women on the pill showed significant improvement in their acne.
You might experience some side effects when using Ortho Tri-Cyclen, including weight gain, nausea, headaches, mood swings, and changes in your menstrual cycle. People who smoke shouldn't use this as they are at risk of experiencing severe side effects like developing a blood clot or a stroke. Ortho Tri-Cyclen is prescribed for women and teenagers who are as young as 12 years old (though it varies by state) and have no history of reacting adversely to birth control pills.
The manufacturers have discontinued ortho Tri-Cyclen, but generic brands with the same active ingredients include Trinessa, Tri-Estarylla, and Tri-Sprintec. The average retail price for a month's supply of Sprintec is around $15.
Acceptable birth control pill for acne: Estrostep
Estrostep is one of the four birth control pill brands approved for acne. Estrostep is made up of a combination of a progestin called norethindrone and an estrogen called estradiol. It works by reducing your body's androgen levels, and in turn, reducing the production of oil in your skin.
The cost of Estrostep ranges from $44 to $142 for a month's supply.
Estrostep has similar side effects to other birth control pills. They are mostly mild and include breast tenderness, mood swings, vomiting, and nausea. In very rare cases, some people might experience high blood pressure, strokes, and blood clots on Estrostep. If you notice any signs of these side effects, stop the pill immediately and see your doctor. Women above the age of 35 who smoke are also discouraged from taking Estrostep, as they are more likely to experience severe side effects.
Best birth control pill for folate supplementation: Beyaz
Beyaz is made up of a progestin called drospirenone and an estrogen called ethinyl estradiol. These are the same active ingredients in Yaz. What differentiates Beyaz from Yaz is that it contains levomefolate calcium, which is a folate. A folate is a form of vitamin B that helps the body make healthy new red blood cells. Folates also help to prevent congenital disabilities in pregnant women.
Doctors prescribe Beyaz for women and girls who have started their periods.
Beyaz brand name pills cost between $163 to $233 for a monthly supply without insurance. Your insurance is most likely to cover a generic brand of birth control pill over brand name drugs. However, there are no generic brand alternatives to Beyaz, which means most insurance providers don't cover it.
Beyaz has similar side effects as Yaz. Some include headaches, nausea, spotting, and weight gain. It's rare for healthy women to experience severe side effects like tumors, blood clots, and high blood pressure on Beyaz.
When deciding what type of birth control to use for treating acne, it's important to speak to your doctor. What is useful for one woman might be ineffective for another woman.
How do birth control pills work for acne?
Women usually produce low levels of androgen, a group of hormones that help regulate libido, energy, and muscle formation in women. An example of an androgen you might know is testosterone.
Changes in hormonal levels might trigger an overproduction of androgen in your body, which triggers excess sebum production in your skin. Sebum is natural oil produced by your skin that keeps it healthy.
People who have oily skin produce sebum in excess. Excess production of sebum can cause acne to form. Breakouts happen when hair follicles on your face get clogged with extra oil and dead skin cells.
Combined birth control pills help treat acne by lowering your androgen levels, reducing your oil production.
They also increase the production of a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). This protein works to prevent acne by binding to androgens and making them inactive, decreasing the amount of oil produced by the glands in our skin.
A review of 31 studies involving 12,579 women examined the effectiveness of birth control pills as an acne treatment. Scientists observed that birth control pills effectively treat both inflammatory acne like cystic acne and non-inflammatory acne like whiteheads and blackheads.
Who shouldn't use birth control pills for acne?
You shouldn't use birth control pills for acne when you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, have a history of blood clots or heart disease. Birth control pills are also not prescribed for girls who haven't reached puberty yet.
Some side effects you may experience on the pill include bloating, headaches, nausea, and a very slight risk of developing blood clots.
You can speak with your dermatologist, primary doctor, obstetrics & gynecologist (OB-GYN) doctor, or nurse practitioner about the pill and whether or not it's right for you. They can then prescribe the right medication for you after taking your medical history.
Worst types of birth control for acne
Birth control pills that contain only progesterone, like the mini pill, shouldn't be used for acne. Not only do they not show any success in clearing up acne, but they might also trigger acne formation. Studies have shown that other birth control types like implants, IUDs, and patches may not benefit acne treatment or worsen it.
How long will it take for birth control to help clear up acne?
Using birth control pills as an acne treatment won't produce quick results. It usually takes up to three months of using the tablets for you to see results. In some severe cases, birth control pills alone might not be enough to clear up the acne completely. Some doctors would prescribe them alongside a topical acne treatment like tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide. One downside of using birth control pills for acne treatment is that if you discontinue using the birth control, your acne might return.
Birth control pills are a standard treatment for adult acne and teenage breakouts. It's relatively safe and sometimes more affordable than several prescription acne treatments. However, you might experience some minor side effects like headaches, nausea, or weight gain on the pill. Before deciding on using birth control to help clear up pimples and prevent breakouts, speak to your doctor. It's also important to share your complete medical history with your doctor to avoid serious side effects.
Brand-name birth control pills are often a lot more expensive than their generic alternatives. Generic birth control pill brands contain the same active ingredients and are as effective as brand-name pills.
At Pill Club, our team of over 30 U.S. licensed medical professionals, including pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and nurse practitioners, are here to help you get the best birth control pill that's right for you.
If you'd like to get birth control with Pill Club, get started here. We look forward to hearing from you!
Kailasam & Cahill. Review of the safety, efficacy and patient acceptability of the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system. Patient Preference and Adherence. 2008.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). FDA-Approved Drugs. Accessed November 10, 2020.
Lortscher et. al. Hormonal Contraceptives and Acne: A Retrospective Analysis of 2147 Patients. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2016.
Snyder, P. Editorial: The Role of Androgens in Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. March 2001.
Arowojolu AO. Effect of birth control pills on acne in women. Cochrane.org. Published July 11, 2012.