For Teen Vogue, by Phillip Picardi.
Here in the beauty department, we’ve already told you about one particular pill that could help with your acne. You know it as Accutane, and while it certainly works for most who try it, it’s a pretty major and serious commitment.
But there’s another pill you can take that’s a lot less medically controversial. Yes, you guessed it: birth control. Going on “the pill,” as it’s called, can totally change your skin by regulating your hormones, which is crucial for young women who are still developing, or whose bodies are still adjusting from their very first period. (Yet another reason it has uses beyond just preventing pregnancy — but we digress.)
“The pill contains the same hormones that your body makes, called estrogen and progestin, just in different amounts, so it can override your body’s signals to release an egg (or ovulate). Consequently, it also lowers your body’s testosterone level, which in turn can reduce acne,” says Dr. Jennifer Ashton, OB-GYN and senior medical contributor for Good Morning America.
Testosterone is the male hormone that, as we know by now, increases our oil production. And as celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau explains, “oils breed bacteria, and bacteria leads to breakouts.” So the theory is, if testosterone goes down, so does acne.
“In my 10 years of experience, I would say that 90 percent of girls’ skin problems improve dramatically or completely resolve within six months of starting the pill,” Dr. Ashton says. But it’s not exactly instant gratification. “The tricky part is that sometimes there’s a flare before the suppression occurs, which can temporarily make acne worse before it gets better. Sometimes the initial flare-ups occur because some pills’ progestin can have a pseudo-testosterone effect, which can cause a surge in breakouts.”
A good rule of thumb? Wait a few months before deciding if your birth control is bad news. Then, if your skin is still freaking out, talk to your doctor about trying another one. “Girls can react differently to the same pill,” Dr. Ashton points out. And, Rouleau says, 90 days is a good general benchmark for hormonal normalization.
But how do you know if it’s a hormone-related breakout versus an “I slept in my makeup last night and totally had this coming” sort of thing? Well, there are no hard and fast rules, per se, but generally, “hormonal breakouts are oftentimes one bigger blemish — a pustule or a cyst. They happen mostly around the chin or jaw area,” Rouleau says. (And if you don’t know what to do when a cyst strikes, read here.)
Finally, just remember: It’s science, not magic. So even though birth control will help reduce acne, this isn’t your golden ticket to forsaking face wash and spot treatments. “Typically breakouts occur either during or right before menstruation, or when hormonal levels change due to going off or on the pill. It’s important to be particularly vigilant about your routine during these times,” says celebrated dermatologist Dr. Amy Wechsler.
The best part? It’s just for girls. That means boys don’t have such easy access to clearing up their complexions (win!) but it also means you can totally talk to your friends about what they’re using or what doctor they’re seeing to get insights and advice. And while birth control may not be a miracle, it certainly is well worth investigating. To learn even more about how the pill can help you, check out our ultra-comprehensive guide right here.
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