Acne vulgaris is a common skin problem that develops when the pores in the skin are clogged up with oil and dead skin. Some call acne as pimples, blemishes, blackheads, whiteheads, or zits. Most people have a few red pimples, which is a mild form of acne. However, others may have severe acne, which means having many pimples that cover the face, and even the neck, chest, and back. Some may also have bigger red lumps (cysts) that may be painful.
Although there is no cure for acne, there are many treatments that can help you get it under control. These include keeping the skin clean and avoiding skin products that can clog the pores. Some over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide may also help improve acne. When the pimples do not improve after three months of adult acne treatment, a doctor may prescribe specific medications such as isotretinoin and certain birth control pills to treat your skin.
How Oral Contraceptives Work on Pimples
Your hormonal levels may affect the way your skin produces oil. Men and women have a balance of both androgens (male hormones) and estrogen (female hormones) in their body. Androgens like testosterone tend to increase sebum (oil) production in the skin, which can lead to clogging of pores, resulting in acne. Doctors often prescribe certain birth control pills or oral contraceptives that contain estrogen and progestin (synthetic form of progesterone) to help lower your androgen levels. The effect is to leave the skin clear of pimples after three months of use. However, not all contraceptive pills have the same effect, and those that contain androgen-based progestin such as norgestrel, levonorgestrel, and norethindrone acetate can actually increase acne formation. It is best to use FDA-approved brands of oral contraceptives that can effectively control acne. These include Ortho Tri-Cyclen, which contains estrogen and norgestimate, Estrostep, which contains estrogen and norethindrone, and YAZ, which contains estrogen and drospirenone. Other brands that contain drospirenone include Gianvi, Beyaz, Loryna, Ocella, Yasmin, Zarah, Safyral, and Syeda.
It is also important to consider that dermatologists generally prescribe oral contraceptives only when other acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide, topical retinoids and antibiotics have been proven ineffective. It is not used for all women because of the potential side effects. In general, only women who are below 35 years of age, who do not smoke, and who do not have problems with high blood pressure or migraines may be treated with birth control pills for acne.
Another important thing to remember is that like other treatments, it may take time to clear your skin of pimples. Sometimes, early in therapy, acne may seem to worsen. However, patients are often advised to continue taking the pills as prescribed to avoid reducing their effectiveness. Patients who discontinue taking the pills may see acne growing back if their hormonal levels do not stabilize.
Experts warn that oral contraceptives do not cure acne, so they must be used as part of a treatment plan that also includes keeping the skin clean, eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar and fat, and using other medications for acne.
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