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Free birth control for unwanted acne

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July 30, 2011 Reviewed by admin 7 Comments

Over this past weekend, I began reading articles about the possibility that birth control pills could become free in the United States. It’s a subject that didn’t really interest me as here in the US, we have bigger issues. But the more I read into the benefits of birth control, the more I began to hop on the band wagon.

One of the biggest benefits from a physical standpoint (aside from the obvious) is that birth control can help in fighting acne. Up until now, individuals that wanted an oral remedy either had to purchase birth control pills ($15-$50) or get a prescription for controversial drug Accutane which has harsh side effects that may include alopecia, fragile skin, and depression among others. Another benefit of birth control is that it can help curb hirsutism or excess facial hair growth on women. Both acne and hirsutism and even oily skin are symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome so the contraceptive pills could help make this disorder (affecting 5%-10% of reproductive age) a bit more manageable.

Birth control pills have the ability to lower free circulating testosterone in the body thus decreasing hirsutism and can also decrease androgens which stimulate the sebaceous or oil gland.

In a double blind study involving the contraceptive Yaz, randomized, placebo controlled study, 889 subjects, ages 14 to 45 years, with moderate acne received Yaz or placebo for six 28-day cycles. Mean reduction in inflammatory lesion counts was 15 (49%) in YAZ-treated subjects compared with 11 (33%) on placebo. Yaz is among three birth control pills approved by the FDA to treat acne in women:

    • Ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate (Ortho Tri-Cyclen)
    • Ethinyl estradiol and norethindrone (Estrostep)
    • Ethinyl estradiol and drospirenone (Yaz)

Of course these do some with side effects that can include nausea, weight gain, and stomach pains. Using LED light therapy may be a safer way to go if you're trying to fight acne on its own.

The reason for the push behind birth control isn’t due to a surging population growth or factors like acne- it is for preventative measures. Women on birth control see a 60% decreased risk of ovarian cancer. There is also a 50% reduction in uterine cancer which has 37,000 new cases every year.

While I understand that some may feel as though something like birth control shouldn’t be something that the government regulates, its benefits do out weigh the side effects. Insurance companies would probably love it if this passes because they’d get to charge a higher premium for a pill that costs them little to make but individuals might not be thrilled by the increase in price. What do you think about the new measure, should birth control be free?

  • November 5, 2011

    by Jess


    You're absolutely right... as someone who uses surgical instruments almost daily, I live and die by aseptic technique! I guess I take it for granted. Don't just stab at your face! Learning how to use and clean your tools is more important than having them in the first place!

    If you're going to do invasive things to your zits, keep in mind: you're exposing a site of infection to the environment, and you're exposing surrounding skin to the bacteria inside your comedone. There is no such thing as being too careful, here. Extraction is not for the faint or queasy, nor is it for those who tend to cut corners.

    Good advice, Spo!

  • November 5, 2011

    by spo

    As a nurse, married to an Endocrinologist, I would second everyone's concern about taking birth control pills, even though there may indeed be legitimate medical benefits for certain conditions - aside from preventing pregnancy.

    Having said that, I'd like to point out that all birth control pills are not the same.. It is important that the pills contain an estrogen/progesterone combo - in the lowest dose possible. For instance, drospirenone, which is the progesterone component of Yasmin, is the best for preventing acne and water retention.

    However, I know of no good way to insure that, after you go off the pill, your hormones will not run amok. Many women have no problems going off and on birth control pills, but how do you know if you will be the one to have hormonal havoc? No way to tell that, for sure!

    It's a real risk and concern - and if you are considering taking the pill for acne, or hirsutism, please do your own homework in comparing the different pills out there and how they work.

    Thanks Jess, for some really excellent advice in taking care of hormonal acne - but when using a comedone extractor, be sure that you view some youtube videos on the proper way to use this tool. Also use sterile technique and soak the extractor in 70% alcohol, for at least 20 minutes, to sterilize it before use.

  • November 4, 2011

    by Jess

    Talk about fraught issues... I'm of two minds about this. Part of me thinks that long-term hormonal or chemical modulation should be left as a last-ditch line of treatment if there are less invasive options available. There's little doubt within the medical/biological community that the body, in its constant quest for homeostasis, adapts (up- or down-regulates) its own production of hormones in the presence of an exogenous source. Danielle's question is apt; what happens when you go off birth control, not having addressed any potential underlying causes of your acne?

    The answer, for me, was 'skin armageddon.' Six months ago, I stopped birth control for the first time in 8 years. My skin went from having the occasional breakout to an evolving constellation's worth of angry red lumps... with a supporting cast of blackheads, whiteheads, ruddiness, and oiliness. I'm pretty meticulous when it comes to eliminating variables & narrowing down causes, and I found no other explanation for my sudden pizzaface than stopping the birth control. Unbelievably lame.

    So what did I do? Were insurance not an issue, I'd have gone to an endocrinologist. As it is, I decided it was cheaper to go back on my relatively expensive birth control, since I was spending ridiculous amounts of money trying to deal with the acne. I've been back on it for about two months, and my skin is 90% clear. A relief, to be sure, but until I can see a specialist, I'm left to wonder why I can't have decent skin without BC.

    Side note for my fellow sufferers: months of PubMed searches, kitchen experimentation, and trips to Sephora left me with three tools/rules that I swear by.

    - A surgical-grade extractor

    - Quercetin/bromelain powder & aspirin, dissolved in a bit of vodka and mixed with squalane and the acne topical of your choice; used this as a mask and a spot treatment

    - No soap! Seriously. I alternated between a soap-free Evan Healy face wash and oil cleansing (rubbing about 1/2 tsp of pure coconut or olive oil into your face, then gently pressing a hot washcloth over it several times and wiping the oil, dirt, and makeup off).

  • November 1, 2011

    by ceg

    I'm from overseas, but I feel like I have to comment on this.
    I had no acne problem before I took the pills, now the acne just won't go away.
    I'm off of birth control pills and regret ever taking them because of the high risk of breast cancer.
    If you have acne, try to find the cause of it.

  • September 18, 2011

    by Danielle

    What I want to know is what you are supposed to do after you go off of the pill? Adult acne doesn't just go away forever because you were on the pill. It comes back after and you can't be on the pill forever. The longer you are on it the harder it is for your body to go back to normal once you quit. It's a temporary fix and I am actually surprised to hear TIA recommending it.

  • August 16, 2011

    by Jeni

    I'm surprised that there's talk of making birth control free. I spend a fortune on it! It really does help a lot with my acne, and it helps with a few other things, but if I had to do it over again, I would probably skip the birth control pills and try something else due to possible serious health side effects. And now that I'm experiencing crazy hair loss, I will always wonder if the pill caused my hair loss, or sped up my genetic hair loss.

  • July 31, 2011

    by Alicia

    Birth control also increases chances of breast cancer

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