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Women's Health

Does contraception cause acne?

Thu 6th February, 2020

Reviewed by: Dr. Vamsee Thalluri

Most modern combined oral contraceptives, like The Pill, will actually benefit acne.

In fact, Dermatologists work with contraceptives in three common ways:

• Prescribing combined oral contraceptives for the treatment of acne.
• Making sure women who are being treated for any skin-related health issues are not compromising their contraception effectiveness.
• Providing counsel to female patients on the types of contraceptives that can worsen acne.

There is evidence that progestin-only contraception can cause a flare in acne.

That said, there is strong evidence for the use of combined oral contraceptive medications to effectively treat women for acne.

What are androgens and how do they relate to acne?

Studies show that having a high level of androgens in the body can lead to acne.

Androgens are reproductive hormones - typically thought of as a male hormone. However, women also naturally produce a small amount of androgens too.

In excess, the androgen hormone makes your body produce more sebum than it needs to through the sebaceous glands. These glands are what secrete the oily substance (otherwise known as sebum) which blocks your pores and can lead to acne.

Problem areas (which is where the sebaceous glands are most dense) include the scalp, face, neck and shoulders.

How does contraception help acne?

When it comes to treating acne, studies suggest you need to block the androgen receptors in your body’s sebaceous glands and ovaries.

Combined oral contraceptives contain two ingredients: estrogen and a progestin. Put simply, these ingredients work together by reducing the production of androgens and blocking the action of androgens in the ovaries and adrenal glands.

Can contraception make acne worse?

Although there is a large body of evidence to show that combined oral contraceptives are more likely to benefit acne, this isn't the case for all hormonal contraceptives.

A 2008 review found that the hormonal IUD, such as the Mirena, could make the user more likely to get acne due to the main ingredient levonorgestrel. A more recent study backed these findings with 35 per cent of patients reporting their acne has worsened after getting the IUD inserted compared with four per cent who reported their acne improved.

While it’s been shown that oral contraception generally benefits acne rather than causes it, this shouldn’t be the only thing you focus on when choosing the right contraception for you.

Make sure you take the time to speak with your doctor about any adverse effects associated with the contraception you’re considering.