How Does Birth Control Affect Your Skin?

When it comes to the different methods of contraception available, birth control pills tend to be the most popular one.

It is easy to see why, thanks to the way in which they are so convenient, yet extremely effective.

However, did you know that the pill can affect your skin in several different ways?

From clearing up acne breakouts to increasing hyperpigmentation, here are a few of the ways in which birth control can have an impact on your skin.

Decrease in Hirsutism

Hirsutism is a condition that is more common than people realize, affecting between 5% and 15% of women.

What is hirsutism?

It refers to excessive hair growth in a male pattern, but on a woman, such as dark and coarse hair on the face, breasts and other parts of the body.

What causes it?

Hormones. More specifically, when the ovaries produce excess androgens, especially testosterone.

Androgens are the dominant hormones in males, which is why an excess of this in a female body can cause male-pattern hair growth.

How do birth control pills help with this?

Well, as you already know, the pill reduces androgen levels in the body, which then helps to decrease hirsutism.

Fewer Acne Breakouts

One of the most documented skin effects of birth control pills is the way in which it is able to reduce acne breakouts.

In fact, it does this so well that many dermatologists actually prescribe the pill as a way to combat acne.

How exactly does birth control help with acne?

Well, for many, acne is caused by hormonal changes.

Woman popping pimple in the bathroom mirror

Each month, as you near menstruation, your androgen levels fluctuate.

Androgens are a group of hormones that include testosterone, which is known for triggering the skin into producing excess sebum. This extra oil then clogs up the pores in the skin, while also contributing to the growth of bacteria, resulting in inflammation and breakouts.

However, the birth control pill counters all of this, by reducing the amount of testosterone in your body.

Once your testosterone levels decrease, so does the amount of oil that your skin produces, therefore preventing breakouts from occurring.

Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as that…

There are quite a few different birth control pills out there, and each one will contain varying amounts of each hormone.

The FDA has approved three types of birth control pills for treating acne, and these are:

  • Estrostep
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • YAZ

If you are looking to target your acne with birth control pills, you will need to ensure that you are taking one of the above types of pills.

How long until you notice a difference?

It can take up to three months, so make sure that you stick at it, and don’t give up if you don’t notice an immediate improvement.

One more thing to keep in mind…

Due to the way in which birth control pills affect the hormones that your body naturally produces, your skin may react in the opposite way at the start, with even more breakouts than you used to experience.

Again, give your body some time to adjust to the pill before making any decisions on how you want to continue.

Dry Skin

As mentioned above, birth control pills prevent your skin from producing as much sebum.

For those who have oily skin and frequently have to deal with acne breakouts, this can be a godsend.

However, for those who already have dry skin, preventing the skin from producing as many natural oils can exacerbate the problem.

The severity of the dryness you will experience depends on a number of different factors, including the type of pill that you choose.

If you only notice a slight increase in dryness, you may be able to counter this with a thicker and richer moisturizer.

However, if your dryness is more severe, it could be worth considering switching to a different type of pill.

More Dark Spots

Another common skin side effect of the birth control pill is an increase in hyperpigmentation.

What is hyperpigmentation?

The technical term for dark patches on the skin. It is caused by an increase in melanin production in the skin, which is the pigment that gives your skin its color.

Closeup of freckles and dark spots on woman's face

How does birth control lead to hyperpigmentation?

Due to the way in which it alters your body’s natural hormone levels.

These changes can sometimes stimulate your skin into producing an excess amount of melanin. This extra melanin then ends up clustering under certain parts of your skin, resulting in those areas appearing darker.

For many, this tends to appear on the upper lip, but it can show up just about anywhere on the face.

It also happens quite gradually, meaning that many women don’t actually notice the dark patches appearing until they have become quite obvious.

What can you do about it?

The easiest way to stop this from happening is by switching birth control methods. Even if you still want to be using birth control pills, trying a different type of pill could help with hyperpigmentation, since everybody’s skin reacts individually to different ingredients.

If you already have hyperpigmentation from your birth control pills…

You likely want to know how to fade this as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for hyperpigmentation, as this color change has occurred deep within your skin.

However, there are still a few things that you can do to encourage the darker patches to fade:

  • Regular exfoliation – exfoliation clears away the top layer of your skin, enabling the newer skin cells to move on up. This then stimulates your skin into producing even more new skin cells, speeding up its natural cell turnover rate. By doing this regularly, you will be able to encourage the darkened cells to make their way to the surface of your skin faster, after which you will then be able to clear them away
  • Retinol – retinol, which is a derivative of vitamin A, is such a multi-tasking ingredient, and, just like with regular exfoliation, it speeds up your skin’s natural cell turnover. This helps to fade hyperpigmentation over time
  • Skin lightening ingredients – there are several ingredients out there that can help to lighten dark patches, such as hydroquinone and kojic acid
  • Sun protection – the UV rays from the sun will only darken your hyperpigmentation further. Sun protection is absolutely essential if you are looking to fade dark spots, as none of the other treatments mentioned above will have much of a difference if UV rays are constantly attacking your skin
  • Chemical peels and microdermabrasion – both of these skin treatments are basically more intense forms of exfoliation, meaning that the effects mentioned above will be witnessed faster

Other Forms of Birth Control

While the pill may be the most popular form of birth control, there are plenty of other options out there too, but it is important to also be aware of the effects that all of these can have on the skin as well.

Let’s begin with the contraceptive patch…

This basically looks similar to a band-aid, and is stuck on to the skin in the same way. The patch then releases certain hormones to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.

When it comes to the skin effects of the contraceptive patch…

The most common is skin irritations and redness.

This tends to occur on the part of the skin where the patch is located, but, in most cases, will sort itself out on its own after a couple of months.

Since the patch usually contains similar hormones to the pill, some of the same skin effects, such as the reduction in acne, may still apply. Of course, this varies with each individual.

Another birth control option is the contraceptive implant…

This is inserted into the arm, after which it can remain there for up to three years.

It contains the same hormones as the pill, releasing these slowly and steadily into the body.

The main impact that this can have on your skin is scarring at the site of the implant.

In terms of acne, this can go in two ways…

While some women notice an exacerbation in their breakouts after the implant has been inserted, others notice that their acne significantly improves, meaning that you won’t know the effect that the implant will have until you have actually tried it.  

If you do end up experiencing an exacerbation in acne from the implant, you can either start incorporating a few acne treatments into your skin care routine, or simply opt for a different form of birth control.

Finally, let’s take a look at IUDs, which are also known as the coil.

This is a small plastic device that is placed into the uterus in order to prevent a pregnancy. The biggest benefit to using an IUD is that it can last for up to 12 years, although this does depend on the type of IUD that you choose…

There are actually two different types of IUDs available, and each one can have varying effects on your skin:

  • Hormonal IUDs – unlike the pill, which contains both estrogen and progestin, hormonal IUDs only contain progestin. When this hormone enters into the body, it is turned into progesterone, and then this is converted into different forms of testosterone. Due to the increase of testosterone in the body, a common side effect of hormonal IUDs is an increase in acne
  • Copper IUDs – these are made from copper, and do not contain any hormones. However, the fact that they contain metal can trigger reactions in sensitive skin, from redness and itching to rosacea

Adjusting Your Skincare Routine While Using Birth Control

As you can see, birth control affects the skin in so many different ways.

When you first start using a hormonal birth control, this can trigger a number of different changes within your skin, meaning that you should also consider adjusting your regular skin care routine in order to properly cater to this.

What changes should you be making to your skin care routine?

Well, to begin with, increase the amount you moisturize your skin.

This is important due to the fact that your skin will be producing significantly less oil when birth control is being used.

If you have dry skin, try using a thicker and richer moisturizer.

Think you don’t need to do this because you have naturally oily skin, and are hoping that your birth control will reduce this?

While a reduction in excess oil production is always a good thing for oily skin, your skin still needs to be moisturized. A light, oil-free lotion will be ideal for this.

If you are using birth control as a way to reduce acne, you can support it by also using a few other oil-clearing ingredients.

Here are a few to try:

  • Clay – absorbs excess oil, along with toxins
  • Glycolic Acid – a gentle exfoliant that is often found in cleansers and creams. It unblocks the pores to prevent breakouts
  • Niacinamide – also known as vitamin B3, niacinimide has been shown to absorb excess sebum. It also helps to treat hyperpigmentation, which can be another side effect of birth control
  • Retinol – tightens up the pores so that less oil is produced 

No matter the type of birth control you decide to opt for, chances are that you will notice at least a few subtle differences in your skin.

Whether these differences are good or bad is another story…

Whatever the case may be, don’t forget that there are so many different types of birth control pills, as well as other contraceptive methods, out there. If you are using one that seems to be causing nothing but havoc for your skin, it would be well worth speaking to your doctor or dermatologist to go over the other options available to you.

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