Is The Morning-After Pill Giving You Acne?

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Nobody ever wants to have to take the morning-after pill, but shit happens. Primary methods of birth control fail. (That’s why they call it Plan B — it’s what happens after plan "A" goes awry.) But the fact remains that it’s a necessary and important medical innovation, and a relatively safe one, at that: The World Health Organization lists no medical condition for which the prospective risks of emergency contraceptive pills outweigh the benefits.
But while there are few significant health risks associated with Plan B, there’s no way around the fact that the high dose of the progestin hormone levonorgestrel drops a bomb on your endocrine system. This can cause fluctuations in your body’s hormone levels, and you know what happens when your hormone levels go haywire: acne.
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“Hormones play a large role in controlling sebum production in your skin,” says dermatologist Karyn Grossman, MD. Generally, the higher the male hormone levels — known as androgens — the more sebum the oil glands will make. Those who have higher levels of testosterone and DHEA, the two most prevalent androgens, tend to have more acne problems than those with higher estrogen levels as a general rule.
Birth-control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin often help control acne by leveling off those hormone levels, but because Plan B is high in the progestin hormone, it can have a different effect. Levonorgestrel — which is responsible for Plan B’s ability to prevent the egg from being released from the ovary, as well as thicken the vaginal fluids to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg — can have androgenic properties as it breaks down in the body, which can potentially lead to acne flare-ups and skin that produces more sebum than usual.
In addition to its obvious benefits, Plan B isn’t a guaranteed breakout-in-a-pill — but it is possible that you’ll see these effects, particularly if you’re already prone to hormonal breakouts. Just think of it this way: $50 and a pimple is a very small price to pay for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.
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