Birth Control and Acne: Is ‘The Pill’ an Acne Pill?
In the United States alone, there are over 62 billion women of childbearing age, so it isn’t a surprise that many women are turning to contrraceptive pills to prevent unwanted pregnancies.. or are they?
A study done by the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) revealed that 1.5 million women taking the pill rely on it for purposes other than pregnancy prevention. It was also found that 14% of these 1.5 million women rely on the pill for the prevention of acne.
If you’ve been to my site before, you’re familiar with my bashing of any body-invasive substance. That being said, I will not lie to you. I myself once took the pill with the hopes that it would cure my acne. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about synthetic hormones and the disruption they cause to your body. I just wanted clear skin.
I was on the pill for approximately six months and while I didn’t experience any health-threatening side effects other than a general drowsiness (which for me was quite upsetting, as I like to keep my energy up) and fatigue, my acne became the worse I’ve ever had.
So… let’s look a little deeper into the pill. Also- fun fact! The pill is the most used pharmaceutical product world wide.
What’s The Pill?
For many acne-prone women, ‘the pill’ is actually an acne pill. That’s how we (the acne-prone) see it. For women taking it for its intended purpse, it’s an oral contraceptive or a way to prevent pregnancy.
The pill prevents pregnancy by disrupting certain reproductive activities, mainly ovulation. Contraceptive pills contain synthetic forms of estrogen and progestin. Your body needs a chemical signal to release a mature egg and this signal comes in the form of a mid-cycle estrogen peak.
Since the pill balances out your hormone levels, you no longer get the peak, the signal isn’t made, and the egg isn’t released. Voila.
There’s a bit more involved, but I want to get to the acne part, so that’s just a very simplified overview of the ‘how’.
How The Pill Clears Acne
Women are prescribed birth control as an acne pill because it reduces androgens (male hormones that are present in females). Androgens have been associated with increased sebum production, so hypoandrogenism is related to clear skin.
So basically, the idea is that balanced hormones equals clear skin.
How The Pill Causes Acne
The pill is one size fits all. If you’ve ever bought a piece of one-size-fits-all clothing, you’ll know how false that statement is. In terms of the pill, the implications are much deeper than not looking exactly how you wanted to in that dress.
A one-size-fits-all pill means that each contraceptive pill has the same amount of hormones- No matter who it’s prescribed to. Since body mass isn’t taken into account, some people may get more than their body can take. These are the women who end up having bad side effects and you guessed it- acne.
*Note: At the other side of the spectrum, the pill can be ineffective and pregnancy can occur. Six million women taking the pill end up pregnant. Of course some of this is due to taking the pill inappropriately, but the real culprit is the one-size-fits-all dose.
The pill can also increase androgen levels and here’s how. Different brands of contraceptives use different types of syntetic progestin. Some use androgen-based progestin and others use anti-androgenic progestin. Pills with androgen-based progestin can promote acne.
If you are going to go the pill way for clear skin, watch out for contraceptives that use norgestrel, levonorgestrel, and norethindrone acetate. It doesn’t matter if you can’t pronouce them, just write them down and tell your ob/gyn that you don’t want those in your pill- she/he should know though.
Coming off the pill can also cause acne because the pill doesn’t actually cure anything. It just halts and covers stuff. This means that if your skin was bad before the pill, it will be bad after as well. Additionally, the pill will drain you of zinc, which means that when you come off the pill you’ll be deficient and zinc deficiency causes acne (read my post on zinc and acne).
I’m treating this overview of the pill for acne as a review and the fact that I’ve mentioned ‘synthetic’ hormones was an indication that I do not agree with the pill at all. If you’ve read my site before, you saw that coming.
Although I do not promote unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, I don’t think that the pill is our best answer just because it’s a physically non-invasive contraceptive method. What I mean by ‘physically’ is that it doesn’t require us to wrap up our genitals during coitus. However, for that moment of bare carelessness, we are willing to ignore dangerous reproductive health issues related to the pill.
Here’s stating the obvious, but the pill is meant to disrupt fertility. This is its function, what it was made for. Because we’re so wrapped up in the pregnancy-prevention part of it, we don’t actually pay attention to the fertility part which is quite a strange phenomenon. However, be extremely aware of the fact that the pill can cause infertility. Seriously.
The pill has a tremendous list of side effects including blood clots, stroke, amputations, and even death. These are the extreme side effects, but just the normal ones aren’t worth it- The mood swings, nausea, dizziness, lethargy, migranes, weight gain, low libido and general not-feeling-good.
The pill can also eat away at your bones causing them to become brittle and setting you up for increased risk of osteoporosis. Also affected by the pill is your liver, which is responsible for the transportation of nutrients throughout your body.
One of the most fascinating things about the pill though is its ability to influence our choice in a mate. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the pill because it’s keeping you from ‘the one’, but hear me out. Women and men are equipped with an extremely sensitive, yet unconscious sense of smell.
During ovulation, a woman’s sense of smell heightens and for a specific reason- so she can sniff out the man whose immune system is most different from her own. In raw biological terms, the ideal outcome of ovulation is pregnancy, so the ability to sniff out someone with the most different immune package from our own allows us to create a baby with an optimal immune system- meaning it will survive.
Anyway, I don’t judge anyone who takes the pill, I know that acne-prone people are not taking it for its intended purpose and because of that are taking on a whole bunch of risks that are unnecessary. The oral contraceptive pill is not an acne pill.
1. “MANY AMERICAN WOMEN USE BIRTH CONTROL PILLS FOR NONCONTRACEPTIVE REASONS.” Many American Women Use Birth Control Pills for Noncontraceptive Reasons. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2013.
2. Adams, Rebecca. “Birth Control And Acne: What Going On (And Off) The Pill Does To Your Skin.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013.
3. “The Pill – Is It for You?” Nat Kringoudis’ Fertilise Yourself. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2013.
4. 1. M. Hassan and S. Killick, ‘Is previous use of hormonal contraception associated with a detrimental effect on subsequent fertility?’, Human Reproduction, 19 (2): 344-51, 2004.
5. “How Do Birth Control Pills Work?” Go Ask Alice! N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2013.