Navigating the effects of hormonal birth control is a difficult process.
I—like a lot of other people with a uterus, have been on “the pill” for almost ten years. For so long, it was just something I never even thought twice about, I would just wake up, swallow my birth control, and go about my day. That is until I was trying to manage balancing my hormones, my contraceptive options, and the state of my health, which in turn, had a pretty big impact on my skin—something I was not expecting at all.
Last year, the chaos of the pandemic finally managed to reach every little corner and piece of my life—even my hormonal birth control. On a Sunday morning in March, just like I did every four weeks, I sat at the pharmacy window to pick up my pack of pills for that month. But when I opened up the package, my usual brand of birth control was not inside. Instead, I was given an off-brand generic version of my usual medication.
My first reaction was to call my doctor, of course. When I spoke to my gynecologist, I was told that this new pill pack was the ‘exact same pill.’ According to my doctor and pharmacist, this new pill had the same dosages of hormones, it was just the generic, non-name brand version of my usual medicine. So naturally, I continued to take the oral contraceptive and go on with my life. Supply chain problems, what can ya do?
Two months later, and two pill packs in of this new medicine, my skin was a disaster. It was the first time in my life I had struggled with acne, and though that in itself may have been a blessing, it was frustrating being a 21 year old with what felt like the skin helplessness of a middle schooler.
It was the first time I recognized the relationship between mental health and acne. I was discouraged, confused, and extremely self conscious. I weighed all of my options for this random acne crisis that was so out of character for my skin—could it be stress? My diet? The products I was using? My mask? I began to trial and error, becoming increasingly frustrated, and hitting dead ends.
An estimated 14% of those with a uterus aged 15-49 in the USA take birth control. Some take the birth control pill for its intended use, while others take the pill for its long list of unintended side effects, including acne treatment. However, for a portion of people, certain birth control pills can cause acne due to the skin’s reaction to the androgenic effect that some birth controls have. Androgens are characteristically male hormones that contribute to acne, hair loss, and unwanted hair growth.
This hormonal birth control for me was stubborn. It consisted of an extremely rough and bumpy skin texture around my jawline, with tiny whiteheads that just multiplied on the surface of my skin. I was also experiencing acne around my mouth and nose that was deep, under the skin, and painful.
It wasn’t until my skin continued to worsen for another month, and with another pill pack gone, that I thought about the impact that this different medicine may be having on my skin.
I was so confused, I thought birth control was supposed to help clear skin? In fact, most times, it does. And in my case specifically, it probably was a factor in my clear skin before I had the unwanted pill change, and this new medicine was not reacting to my body in a regular way.
At this point it was June, I was going through a ton of emotional and physical stress, changes in environment, and my body felt all out of sorts. So, I decided to stop taking the birth control pill altogether. I had no idea if my birth control was what was negatively affecting my skin, but I was at the breaking point of trying everything but this, so why not at least see? Less than a month after stopping, my skin started to clear immediately, and by August and September, it had returned almost completely back to normal.
In combination with stopping the hormonal pill, I began using a face cleanser meant to target stubborn hormonal acne, PanOxyl. This water-based cleanser has 10% benzoyl peroxide to tackle deep, under-the-skin acne. It was truly the only staple skin care product that I saw results with at the time. The cleanser has strong acne-fighting ingredients, which in turn brought on a bit of dry skin.
I made sure to use a hydrating moisturizing cream to protect and nourish my barrier. One of my favorites is First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, formulated with colloidal oatmeal, a skin protectant, and allantoin, a humectant that helps to calm irritated skin.
During this time, I also used a TON of SPF. Active skin care ingredients are strong and it was the dead of summer. You could find me in SPF 50, a hat and sunglasses, under an umbrella, under an awning.
The Bottom Line
Birth control has a powerful effect on your hormones, and your hormones have a direct correlation with your skin. If you are struggling with hormonal birth control or stubborn hormonal acne, have a conversation with your doctor about your concerns and needs, and remember that your acne is not your fault!
+Have you had this experience? If so, drop your tips below!