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Can birth control pills be used in the treatment of acne?

If you experience troublesome acne over time, it may be appropriate to use more than just topical remedies to treat acne. One question many have is whether birth control pills can be used in the treatment of acne?

To understand more about how acne (often referred to as acne) can be treated, we need to take a closer look at how acne occurs.

Problems with acne often occur in adolescence, when the body begins to produce more testosteron. One of the things that testosterone affects is the sebum production in the sebaceous glands.

The increased sebum production will often make itself visible as white or black blackheads (comedones). If the sebum remains and blocks the exit passages from the sebaceous glands, bacteria will break down the sebum. This then releases waste products that can irritate the sebaceous gland and make it inflamed.

Acne eruptions can look different from person to person, but it is common with a combination of blackheads, papules (small raised lump in the skin) and pustules (papules with pus in the top / pus-filled swelling).

The sebaceous glands of people who suffer a lot from acne are more sensitive to the hormones in the body than the sebaceous glands in others. It is not the case that those who struggle with acne have more testosterone than others, our bodies only react differently.

Acne is not contagious and is not caused by poor hygiene.

How to treat acne?

How to treat acne depends on the severity. It is common to divide the problems into the categories of mild, moderate and severe acne. There will of course be variations within each category, but as a pointer we can define the categories as follows:

  • Mild acne: Limited appearance of comedones and less than 10 pustules on the face.
  • Moderate acne: 10-20 comedones and 10-40 pustules on the face, limited acne on the upper body.
  • Severe acne: More than 40 deep papules or pustules on the face and upper body.

If you have mild problems, you will also use mild treatment methods. This usually involves various forms of facial cleansing that remove excess sebum.

Cleansers and creams for this purpose can be divided into three subgroups; Retinoids, azelaic acid and antibiotic cream.

In more severe cases, tablet treatment with antibiotics, birth control pills (for women) or isotretinoin tablets may be used.

The reason why birth control pills can be used in the treatment of acne is that hormones play a major role in the development of acne.

In cases of mild acne, there will not necessarily be a need for a consultation with a dermatologist. However, if the acne worsens, or over-the-counter medications do not work, you should contact your dermatologist as soon as possible.

Some reasons to contact your dermatologist for acne breakouts:

  • If you have large, deep papules and / or pustules
  • If you easily get scars from the pimples
  • If over-the-counter treatment has not given results within 6-8 weeks.
  • If you suddenly have problems with acne in adulthood - then acne can be a symptom of other skin diseases.

If you need help with acne or other skin problems, you can book an appointment with the dermatologists in eClinic.

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Birth control pills as a treatment for acne

Many menstruating girls and women experience that the acne outbreaks worsen around menstruation, this due to natural hormonal fluctuations. Women who have PCOS may also be more bothered by acne than others.

Since acne often occurs due to hormones, birth control pills can have a beneficial effect on acne.

Although we refer to it here as birth control pills, it is technically more correct to say that hormone drugs for acne also work as birth control pills due to the content of the female sex hormones estrogen og stagnated (gives similar effect as progesterone). This content is also the reason why men should not use hormone drugs to treat acne.

Due to the possible side effects, it is recommended to use birth control pills only as a treatment for cases of very severe acne, or if other treatment has not worked.

It is also not the case that all birth control pills can be used as part of the treatment for acne. There are in fact several types of birth control pills that have different hormone content. We need to take a closer look at this.

Combination pill

The most common types of birth control pills are so-called combination pills. They contain both estrogen and progestogen. It is probably the content of estrogen that allows some to have a good effect of birth control pills as part of treatment for acne.

The reason for this is that estrogen affects the production and circulation of male sex hormones, androgens.

As mentioned above, it is the androgens that increase sebum production. Estrogen therefore indirectly inhibits the increased sebum production of the sebaceous glands. It may also be that estrogen affects the sebaceous glands more directly, but this is an area that needs more research.

Mini pills

Mini-pills are birth control pills that only contain progestin. This hormone does not have the same effect as estrogen. Progestogen actually has an effect that may be similar to the effect androgens have.

Since progestin can contribute to increased sebum production and therefore increase the risk of acne, mini-pills are not suitable as a treatment for acne.

Pills with different types of progestogen

Although many types of progestogen can help aggravate acne, there are also some types of progestogen that inhibit androgens in the same way that estrogen does.

These progestogens have an "anti-androgenic" effect.

There are birth control pills that contain these types of progestogens.

This may be an alternative, the doctor will consider.

Advice and guidance from a general practitioner

You can easily order a digital consultation

GPs can help you with everything from simple ailments to diseases that require short- or long-term treatment.

Talk to your doctor

If it may be appropriate for you to use hormonal drugs to treat acne, it is important that you talk to your doctor about this. In such a conversation, you must inform the doctor about which medications you are using, and what kind of contraception you may be using now.

This is because you should not combine hormone replacement therapy with other hormones that contain hormones. This means that you must consider other treatment methods if, for example, you have inserted a contraceptive stick.

If you are already taking birth control pills, you may be able to continue with the same brand, but your doctor may also suggest switching to another birth control pill. For example, it may be beneficial to try a combination pill if you are currently on a type of mini-pill.

The use of drugs will always carry a risk of side effects. It is important that this is also discussed, and you must contact your doctor if you notice any of the more serious side effects.

Possible side effects include an increased risk of blood clots, and your doctor will therefore check if you have any other risk factors for blood clots before you can start taking birth control pills.

It is expected that the treatment will give results within 3-4 months after start-up.

Birth control pills in combination with other treatments for acne

Although hormones are often the cause of developing acne, there are several other factors that can contribute.
There are several factors that are believed to be important for acne formation, among these are genetics, stress, certain drugs, and the use of makeup and creams that are not adapted to oily and impure skin.

More research is needed in this area, but various studies also show that there may be a connection between a diet with a high intake of fast carbohydrates and an increased risk of developing acne.

To deal with acne, one must therefore often use combination treatments. This can mean the use of, for example, birth control pills in combination with retinoid creams.

The treatment is adapted to each individual, but will always involve cleansing the skin twice daily. As mentioned, pimples do not occur due to impurity, but cleansers for this purpose contain various agents with abrasive effect that dissolve and remove excess sebum.

As part of the treatment, it is also important to avoid greasy creams and make-up that can potentially clog the pores in the skin. This will aggravate the problems.

Do not squeeze the pimples

Many people will try to squeeze out the pimples or scratch them when they occur. This hurts worse because it will aggravate the inflammation of the sebaceous glands. In addition, more serious scars can appear on the skin.

Therefore, refrain from squeezing or picking at the pimples and rather consult a dermatologist for advice on treatment.

If you have tried over-the-counter medicines and have not seen results after 3 months, you should contact your dermatologist for assistance. This is because the risk of scarring and deepening of the acne increases over time.

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