Acne & Birth Control: What You Need To Know

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IMG_0094_r_JessicaNash-335x447Photographed By Jessica Nash.
Birth control users know that the pill's dose of hormones can cause some strange (and sometimes wonderful) things to happen to the skin. But, just how effective is the oral contraceptive as a treatment for acne?

A new review of 226 clinical studies, published last week in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, took that question head-on with 32 randomized trials comparing the zit-zapping powers of oral contraceptives and antibiotic treatment options.

The results showed that during the first three months of treatment, antibiotics resulted in a larger reduction of acne lesions (48%, vs. 37% for birth control). However, by six months, the oral contraceptives were slightly more effective than antibiotics at treating acne: Those on birth control experienced a 55% reduction in symptoms, while antibiotics were associated with a 53% decrease.

The hormones progestin and estrogen are most likely to thank for this effect; they slow down the production of sebum, a naturally occurring oil that can cause acne.

Which BCs have the most acne-fighting potential? According to the NIH, there's not much of a difference among them — although Everyday Health recommends Yaz (despite its widely reported side effects) and Ortho Tri-Cyclen.

Of course, everyone's skin is different, not to mention their hormonal makeup, and this study only looked at oral antibiotics, not topical treatments. Still, the research confirms what many women already know: Those pills could get your skin under control, too.