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Which Birth Control Pill Is Best for Me? The Ultimate Guide

Which Birth Control Pill Is Best for Me? The Ultimate Guide

  • Mary Walsh
    By: Mary Walsh
    Reviewed By: Shannon DeVita DNP, FNP-BC, CPNP-PC, Julie Lamonoff, CNM, OBGYN-NP
    Updated:

As early as 1912, Margaret Sanger moved science forward to find the "magic pill"—what we now call the birth control pill, or simply, "the pill".

The pill has made a huge difference for the world. Perhaps the largest benefit the pill can offer you is a measure of control over your future.

But did you know there are over 250+ brand names of birth control pills, as listed in the FDA's drug database? Fortunately, you can narrow it down if you know where to start. Finding the best birth control pill for you may take some trial and error (no magic crystal ball, unfortunately!), but knowing the facts can help you make the right decision.

If you'd like to go straight to the experts, see if you're eligible to talk to our medical team for free about the best pill for you.

What is the best birth control pill?

In the grand scheme of things, the best birth control pill for you is: (1) a pill that is highly effective in preventing pregnancy and 2) also provides other benefits along the way if you need them; for example, a pill that also helps acne.

If you decide you want to try birth control pills, your doctor will first consider if the medication is safe for you. Overall, they'll want to prescribe the lowest dosage of hormones that will still be effective.

Which birth control pill is right for me?

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You should consider your risk of unpleasant side effects, how easy it is to access, and the price of the particular brand your doctor recommends.

When searching for the best birth control pill, you and your doctor might ask:

  1. Is the pill safe for you?

  2. Which pill has a low hormone dose, but is still effective?

  3. What type of pill will work the best, without unpleasant side effects?

  4. Do you need any secondary benefits from the pill (e.g., treating acne)?

  5. Will your insurance plan cover the pill?

  6. Is the pill affordable?

  7. Do you need additional health or lifestyle benefits (e.g., skipping periods)?

The birth control pill is very effective at preventing pregnancy, with only a 7% failure rate. You can compare that to the 13% failure rate of male condoms (though condoms can protect you from STIs, while the pill cannot).

Besides preventing pregnancy, the pill offers other advantages for women because it may help with:

  • Irregular periods by regulating the menstrual cycle

  • Painful period cramps

  • Acne

  • PMS

Let your doctor know if you're looking for any secondary benefits from the pill.

Next, we'll get into our recommendations and common questions.

Is there a best birth control pill for weight loss?

If you're trying to lose weight, you don't have to worry about your birth control pills getting in the way. Many women and girls ask questions about birth control pills and weight gain or weight loss. Science has shown that birth control pills don't cause weight changes.

You wouldn't need to find a birth control pill that helps with weight loss. Instead, you can create a weight loss plan that works for you. The Office on Women's Health says that most women will need to consume fewer calories and get the right amount of healthy foods to lose weight.

What is the best birth control pill for acne?

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In general, the best birth control for acne is any one of the combination birth control pills on the market. Doctors say that most combined birth control pills (which have a combination of progestin and estrogen) can be good for acne. But among the entire group of combination oral contraceptives, there are a few specific brands that have been approved by the FDA for preventing pregnancy and treating acne.

Specifically, the best brand names of birth control pills for acne include:

  1. Yaz™

  2. Ortho Tri-Cyclen™

  3. Beyaz™

  4. Estrostep™

*Editor's Note: Ortho Tri-Cyclen has been discontinued, but there are many other equivalent brands, like Tri-Sprintec.

Yaz is great for treating acne, but the brand name version can be expensive. That's why many women go for a generic version.

The generic brands (same ingredients, different manufacturer) include Nikki, Loryna, Gianvi, and Vestura. Generic brands are less expensive, so you can get the benefits of Yaz from one of the generic brands, but for a cheaper price.

The Ortho Tri-Cyclen family works similarly to Yaz, and is a good low-cost option. The generic brands of Ortho Tri-Cyclen include Tri-Estarylla, TriNessa, Tri-Previfem, and Tri-Sprintec.

What is the best brand of birth control pill?

Here we give you 5 popular brands of birth control pills. As we mentioned, the "best" birth control pill varies across women, and you should speak with a health professional about what would work best for you.

These are some of the top birth control pill brands prescribed in the U.S.:

  1. Lutera™: (aka Vienva™)

  2. Apri™: (aka Isibloom™)

  3. Loestrin/Loestrin Fe™: (aka Junel™/Junel Fe™)

  4. Ortho-Cyclen™: (aka Sprintec™)

  5. Yaz™: (aka Loryna™)

Learn more about these top 5 brands of oral contraceptives below.

1. Lutera™ birth control pill

Active ingredients: levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol

Other names: Vienva™, Aubra EQ™, Aviane™, Larissia™, Falmina™, Lessina™, Orsythia™, and Sronyx™

Type of pill: Combination

Average cost: As low as $0 with insurance. The average cash price for Vienva without insurance is about $14/month for a 3-month supply, and could be even lower (about $10/month) for a year's supply.

Lutera is one of the most popular and affordable combination birth control pills around. You may find Lutera under the generic name "Vienva." The standard pill pack of Lutera comes with 21 active pills and 7 inactive pills.

Researchers reviewed several studies and found that women taking pills with this specific combination of hormones were more likely to keep using it, when compared to other mixtures of hormones in birth control pills.

At Pill Club, you can get Vienva for as low as $0. Even if you don't have insurance, the price per month can range between $10 to $25 as of this writing, depending on if you buy a 1-month supply or a 12-month supply. Currently, it is the most affordable birth control pill we offer. See if you're eligible to get Vienva prescribed online and delivered to your door for free.

2. Apri™

Active ingredients: desogestrel and ethinyl estradiol

Other names: Cyred EQ™, Emoquette™, Enskyce™, Isibloom™, Juleber™, and Reclipsen™

Type of pill: Combination

Average Cost: As low as $0 with insurance. The average cash price for Isibloom is around $13 a month for a 3-month supply without insurance.

Apri is another popular combination birth control pill. The standard pack contains 21 active pills and 7 inactive pills. Apri is commonly prescribed under the generic name Isibloom.

3. Loestrin/Loestrin Fe™

Active ingredients: norethindrone/ethinyl estradiol

Other names: Junel™, Larin™, Microgestin / Blisovi Fe™, Junel Fe™, Larin Fe™, Microgestin Fe™, and Tarina Fe™, Hailey Fe™

Type of pill: Combination

Average cost: As low as $0 with insurance. The average cash price is more expensive than some other generic brands, with the brand Hailey Fe having an average cash price of $12 a month with a 3-month supply. However, some RX sites list it at $15 with a coupon.

There is a low-dose version of Loestrin, called Lo Loestrin Fe™. It's contains the lowest dose of estrogen on the market today.

The most common side effect reported from using Loestrin was headaches. Some doctors might recommend this pill for acne.

4. Ortho-Cyclen™

Active ingredients: norgestimate/ethinyl estradiol

Other names: Estarylla™, Femynor™, Mono-Linyah™, Mononessa™, Previfem™, Sprintec™, VyLibra™

Type of pill: Combination

Average Cost:  As low as $0 with insurance. The average cash price for Sprintec is about $15 per month for a 6-month supply.

Ortho-Cyclen is another popular, combined birth control pill. This birth control pack comes with 21 active days and 7 inactive days.

The most common side effect reported using Ortho-Cyclen is a headache. Some doctors might recommend this pill for acne.

5. Yaz™

Active ingredients: Drospirenone/Ethinyl Estradiol

Other names: Nikki™, Loryna™, Gianvi™, Vestura™

Type of pill: Combination

Average Cost:  As low as $0 with insurance. The average cash price for Loryna is about $52/month for a 3-month supply.

Yaz is a popular combination birth control pill and is approved for use with acne.

What is the best low-dose birth control pill?

The birth control pills available today have lower doses than they did when they first came out, which has really decreased the risk of side effects. In fact, one pill in 1960 is the equivalent of taking one week of pills today!

Because of these changes, most birth control brands today are low-dose pills. The Mayo Clinic says that most combination birth control pills, which combine the hormones progestin and estrogen, have 10--35 micrograms of estrogen. Low-dose pills would then contain estrogen levels at the lower end of this range.

Lo Loestrin Fe™

Lo Loestrin Fe has the lowest dose of estrogen available today on the market, at 10 micrograms of estrogen.

However, women who took Lo Loestrin Fe still experienced side effects. In a clinical study, some common side effects for women (and the percentage of women who experienced them) were:

  • Nausea/vomiting (7%)

  • Headaches (7%)

  • Spotting/bleeding between periods (5%)

Note there isn't a generic equivalent of Lo Loestrin Fe, so you'll have to make sure it's covered by your insurance if you want to avoid high costs.

What is the best birth control pill for women over 40?

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Though technically there is no one "best" birth control pill according to age, there are certain considerations you can think about that relate to women over 40.

Unless your doctor advises against it, you should be able to take birth control pills in your 40s and early 50s. Though fertility rates go down after 40, if a woman is still getting her period, she can get pregnant.

Experts say that a lower-dose combined birth control pill may be a good fit for women over 40, especially since it can provide other benefits during perimenopause for symptoms like irregular periods, excessive menstrual bleeding, or the start of hot flashes. There is no restriction on taking the mini-pill (progestin-only pill) for this age group as well, for women who should avoid taking estrogen-containing pills.

What is the best birth control pill for teens?

Out of the two types of birth control pills (combined birth control pills and mini-pills), it's more common for teens to take a combined birth control pill. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the mini-pill is not recommended as the first choice for teens. Combination birth control pills can be a good option for adolescents who can remember to take it every day.

Though the pill is easy to use, there are other methods of birth control that might be even more convenient for young women. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the IUD and the arm implant should be the first-line choice for young women who are sexually active. These methods could serve teens best, because they're busy, and unlike the pill, you don't have to remember to take it every day.

What is the best birth control pill for PMDD?

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is similar to PMS, but it's a more serious health problem.

For premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), research has shown that one specific combination of hormones works best: a combination of drospirenone (progestin hormone) and ethinyl estradiol (estrogen hormone). In addition to approving them for preventing pregnancy, the FDA has also approved some birth control pills containing the hormone drospirenone to treat symptoms of PMDD.

The following brands contain drospirenone and are approved by the FDA to treat PMDD:

1. Best for PMDD: Yaz birth control pill

The brand-name drug Yaz tends to be more expensive than most pills, but there are more affordable pills with the same active ingredients. The generic brands Nikki, Loryna, Gianvi, and Vestura can be substituted for Yaz.

2. Also good for PMDD: Beyaz birth control pill

Beyaz has also been approved by the FDA for treatment for PMDD. Beyaz doesn't have a generic version, so it will run more expensive than the generic brands of Yaz listed above.

What is the best birth control pill for PCOS?

The treatment for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is focused on your individual concerns, such as infertility, acne, or obesity. Doctors recommend birth control pills to regulate your periods and help with concerns like acne and excess facial growth.

In general, doctors recommend a brand of combination birth control pills for treating the symptoms of PCOS. There are many combination birth control pill brands to choose from, and you can ask your doctor which one is right for you.

Which birth control pills have the least side effects?

Over time the pill has improved and has fewer side effects while still being effective. The Office on Women's Health says that the pill is safe for most women.

That said, there are birth control pills that are considered low-dose, like Lo Loestrin Fe mentioned above. However, women still report side effects from taking Lo Loestrin Fe, like headaches, nausea, and bleeding between periods (spotting).

The other type of birth control pill is called a mini-pill and only has 1 hormone, progestin. Mini-pills are usually prescribed if you're sensitive to the effects of estrogen. The level of the hormone progestin is lower than the progestin level in combined birth control pills.

Though the side effects of birth control pills are generally the same, regardless of the brand or type, every woman's experience of taking hormonal birth control is different.

FAQs: Birth control basics

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What are the common side effects of birth control pills?

Some common side effects of birth control pills are:

  • Spotting or bleeding between periods (also called breakthrough bleeding)

  • Nausea (can be avoided if the pill is taken at night)

  • Breast tenderness

  • Headache

Breakthrough bleeding is actually the most common side effect from oral contraceptives. All in all, minor side effects may disappear over time, or may improve if you switch to another pill.

Other minor side effects include:

  • Irregular bleeding

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating (from water retention)

  • Contact lens intolerance

  • Depression

  • Yeast infections

  • Weight fluctuations*

*Editor's note: To date, studies have shown that birth control pills do not cause weight gain, so any weight changes may simply be normal weight changes over time.

Are there serious side effects of birth control pills?

Yes. An uncommon side effect of the pill is high blood pressure, and rare side effects include blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. If you have high blood pressure or any family history of blood clots, let your doctor know. Birth control can present a risk of blood clots for some women, depending on your health and family history.

We recommend being on a new pill for at least 2-3 months before switching brands. If you are worried about side effects or have intolerable side effects talk to your doctor.

How does the pill work?

Compared to other birth control methods,  the pill is hormonal contraception that is taken daily. The pill works by making it harder for sperm to reach the egg. Specifically, it prevents the egg from being released from the ovaries. It also thickens the cervical mucus and changes the uterus' lining. Each pack of birth control contains "active" pills and "inactive" pills, meaning pills that have hormones, and ones that don't. You would typically have your period when taking the inactive pills. Each brand varies, but you will usually see 21 active, 7 inactive; or, 28 active, 4 inactive pills.

Be mindful that the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Is one pill more effective than another?

In general, all birth control brands are found to be an incredibly effective method of pregnancy prevention. The pill has a very low failure rate, meaning it is successful at preventing pregnancy. Specifically it works around 95-99% of the time, when taken at the same time every day, as your doctor directs. The American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that with typical use, both the combined pill and mini pill are 91% effective in preventing pregnancy.

The effectiveness drops if you skip, miss, or switch the times when you take pills. For example, if you are on the pill but miss more than 3 pills that month, you should use emergency contraception if you have unprotected sex.

If you know taking a pill every day is going to be a struggle, you may want to consider using a different method of contraception.  For some women, an IUD, shot, arm implant,vaginal ring, or patch could work better with their lifestyle. If you want to know more about the specifics, ask your doctor.

What's the difference between monophasic and multiphasic?

A monophasic birth control pack means that the same amount of hormones are delivered throughout the month. If you have a multiphasic pill pack, the levels of hormones would vary throughout the month to simulate the body's natural hormone cycle. One of the FDA-approved brands is Tri-Sprintec, which is multiphasic.

What are the main types of birth control pills?

The two main categories of birth control pills are combined oral contraceptive pills (COC) and mini-pills. Both types of pills have hormones that interact with a woman's ovulation cycle to prevent pregnancy. A combination pill combines the two hormones estrogen and progestin, while a mini-pill (also known as a progestin-only pill, or POP) only contains progestin.

*Both pills are effective contraceptives and approved by the FDA.

What is a mini-pill (progestin-only pill)?

The mini pill contains only 1 hormone, progestin. A progestin-only pill (POP) may be suitable for:

  • Women unable to take estrogen

  • Women breastfeeding

  • Women who smoke over 35

However, the mini pill may still produce hormonal side effects.

What are some of the long-term benefits of combined oral contraceptive pills?

The combination pill for some women has other advantages besides contraception like:

  • Less acne

  • Less body hair or growth

  • Reduces the risk for ovarian, endometrial, and colon cancer

  • Reduces the risk of ovarian cysts

  • May reduce perimenopausal symptoms

However, the combination pill is not recommended for women over the age of 35 that smoke, as they are at an increased risk of more serious side effects.

What is the difference between a brand name and a generic name?

Each birth control pill on the market is named by either a brand name or a generic brand name. This can be confusing, but for now, think of the brand name and generic name as referring to the same thing.

If you're confused, you can always look at the active ingredient in the pill. If you see that two names have the same active ingredients, then they're essentially the same hormones going into your body, regardless of the name.

For example, the brand name Yaz™ has a couple of generic versions named Nikki, Loryna, Gianvi, and Vestura. The active ingredients they all have in common are the hormones drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol.

How to choose the best birth control pill for you

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Because every woman is different, your body may tolerate some brands of birth control pills better than others.

Here are a couple of steps we suggest you consider when thinking about what birth control is best for you:

What are the side effects? Most doctors recommend staying on a new birth control pill for at least 2-3 months. However, different women experience different side effects, so if you try one and it's not the right fit, be sure to tell your doctor so you can try a different pill.

What hormones would work best in my body? Most doctors will probably recommend a combined contraceptive, but if estrogen is a concern (because of health concerns or other reasons), you may want to consider a progestin-only pill.

Is it name-brand or generic? In general, when you are looking at name-brand birth controls, they will be more expensive. Depending on your insurance or budget, you may want to ask about the generic version of birth control (good news is almost every ingredient combo has a generic brand!)

Why do I want to be on birth control? If you are simply looking for a contraception method, the pill you choose may be different from if you are looking for birth control for acne, or PMDD, etc. Be mindful of the fact that the pill does not protect against STDs.

What if I'm still not sure? Birth control is different for everybody, if you have any questions you should contact your doctor, or sign up for Pill Club to get in touch with an expert.

What is the best birth control method overall?

Most women who want to protect themselves from pregnancy get a prescription for the pill. Yet there are other forms of contraception, like the IUD for example, that last longer and are even more effective. The pill is a short-term method that suits many people, though you'd have to remember to take the pill every day.

Ultimately, the best birth control for you depends on many things and could change over time. The Office on Women's Health says there is no best method of birth control for every woman, but that you should consider things like:

  • Whether you want to get pregnant soon or in the next few years

  • Possible side effects

  • Your overall health

  • How comfortable you are with the method, such as having to take a pill everyday

We've come a long way from one birth control pill option. The number of brands of pills might be a little overwhelming, but we hope that this article will give you confidence when you talk to your doctor. With so many brands of pills and combinations of different ingredients, there is truly a birth control option out there for almost everybody who's eligible to take it. The best birth control pill is the pill that works best for you!

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