Hormones are no one’s friend. They often leave our bodies feeling out of sorts and our skin looking like we are going through puberty all over again. Birth control is a contraceptive that helps prevent pregnancy. However, it can also be used to help regulate hormones. Many women use birth control to help make their periods less severe or to help with medical conditions.
Birth control affects every person differently. Oftentimes, because it seeks to control hormone production, it can lead to adverse effects on your skin.
What hormones do women have?
Estrogen and progesterone are primarily female sex hormones responsible for things such as regulating menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and growth of body hair. Males produce estrogen, but at lower levels than females. Likewise, women still produce testosterone, but at lower levels than men.
Progesterone is at its highest production levels right before actual bleeding occurs. It is common for women to break-out about a week before their period because this rise in progesterone leads to increased sebum production. Sebum clogs pores and leaves the skin looking oily, causing breakouts to occur.
Types of birth control and their effect on skin
There are a variety of methods of birth control, each having different effects on your skin due to their different compositions.
The Pill/Oral Contraceptives
Different pills have different levels of estrogen and progesterone. It will take some time and experimentation with your doctor to find the right one for you. Some are higher in estrogen while others are higher in progesterone. Androgens, which are primarily male reproductive hormones that women also produce, are also a factor to consider. Formulas that are more androgenic increase sebum production while formulas that are anti-androgenic decrease sebum production. The latter may seem like the wise choice, as it will prevent breakouts, but it can also strip your skin of necessary oils and leave it dry.
This type of contraceptive is a shot that only needs to be taken every few months, rather than everyday like oral contraceptives. There are different brands that use different formulas. The shot can contain both estrogen and progestin, but there are also some brands that contain only progestin. The shots that are progestin-only are more likely to cause oily skin.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
This type of birth control is inserted into the uterus and can last a few years. Like with the other birth control methods, it uses progestins. IUDs have higher hormonal doses than other birth control methods, however. Interestingly enough, there are non-hormonal IUDs that, as the name suggests, don’t affect hormones. This means that it should have no effect on acne.
The implant is a contraceptive that is placed in your arm. Like IUDs, this method is long term and can last for about three years. It is similar to injections in that some brands use progestins only.
The ring is inserted into the vagina every three weeks. It releases progesterone and estrogen into the bloodstream. The ring has similar hormones to the pill. Users of the ring, however, breakout less than those taking the pill. There is not much research on how it affects acne, but, rest assured, acne seems to be less common when using this method.
The patch is placed on your body and releases both estrogen and progesterone. It is similar to the ring in that it has both hormones, but does not affect acne production.
How to treat your skin on birth control
- Stick with what you know. If you take birth control and you find your skin is clearing up, it is still important to cleanse it and use acne treatments. Birth control will not magically make your acne disappear, so follow your normal skin care routine while on it.
- Moisturizer is your best friend. Some methods may dry you out due to a decrease in sebum production. You want to make sure you keep your skin nice and hydrated. Moisturize twice a day and look for oil-free moisturizers. However, if you are using a progesterone-only contraceptive, moisturizer may not be for you. It may make your skin look extra oily. Dermatologists recommend using an oil-free sunscreen as an alternative.
- Use a gentle cleanser. If you opt for one of the progesterone-only methods, make sure to wash your face twice a day to control oil production. Gentle cleansers work best, as they will still keep necessary oils in your skin while removing the bad ones.
- Use sunscreen year round. Yes, even in the winter. Melasma is a type of skin-discoloration that occurs because of increased exposure to the sun. They are more commonly referred to as sun spots. Many people do not realize that birth control has negative effects on melasma and may make it worse. Keep some sunscreen handy and make sure to apply it whenever you are going outside for prolonged periods of time.
Choosing a method of birth control can seem daunting. Horror stories about bad skin only increases anxiety when thinking about going on birth control. With a little extra care, however, these effects may not be as bad as you think. If you take care of your skin and show it the love it deserves, you will not have a problem.
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