Updated 7/26/15. For many young women, taking birth control pills are a part of a daily routine. Beyond the obvious benefits of these tiny pills, for some they can also greatly affect the skin. While the pills can improve certain conditions like acne, for others it can increase breakouts or cause brown patches on the skin. Here’s some important information you need to know.
Potentially lessen breakouts with birth control pills. The pill can have a positive effect on breakouts for many women, so it may be worth considering if you believe your breakouts are hormonal and all other efforts to reduce acne have not helped. There are fluctuations in androgen hormone levels right before and during a woman’s period that can stimulate sebaceous glands to produce excess oil. Since oil encourages bacteria, along with dead cells in the pore lining, this can cause breakouts to occur. The pill can help reduce breakouts due to their affect on natural hormonal balance. Many of our clients have found that going on the pill, or simply making a change in the one they are currently taking, can reduce acne and occasional hormonal breakouts. Some examples of FDA-approved birth control pills that seem to lessen breakouts include Ortho Tri Cyclen, Yaz, and Estrostep; but your doctor can help to determine the best course of action. This is a great post that discusses the various birth control methods and how they might affect the skin.
Hair growth reduction. There is a condition called hirsutism, which is the growth of dark, course hair for women on the face, back, and breasts. This occurs when the ovaries produce excess androgens. Birth control pills may reduce the androgen production to lessen hair growth in these unsightly areas.
Brown patches and skin discoloration. A common complaint I’ve seen from clients taking birth control is the development of brown patches above the upper lip, making it look like a mustache. These dark patches can also appear on the forehead and lower cheeks. This pigmentation comes on so gradually that many women don’t even realize its happening until it’s there. (To note, there are plenty of women who take birth control pills who never experience pigmentation.) If you are someone who experiences this side effect, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or other forms of birth control as this can help it disappear over time. While there are steps you can take to help fade it, as long as the pill is in your system, it’s difficult to get it to go away completely.
To help fade pigmentation, treat the area with exfoliation and natural skin lighteners by following these three steps.
1. Exfoliate often. Look for facial scrubs that use gentle round beads like Mint Buffing Beads and use this 2-3 times a week. In addition, use exfoliating acids found in serums or at-home peels with ingredients like glycolic acid and salicylic acid. Both the AHA Smoothing Serum 17% and Triple Berry Smoothing Peel are very effective for brown patches. The combination of these exfoliants will help to break up the pigmented cells and allow them to fade. You can also use a product containing retinol, as this too will help stimulate cell turnover to get discoloration to appear lighter. With exfoliation, however, be sure to follow the instructions for usage because you don’t want to over-do it and cause potential irritation. (Take this Skin Type Quiz to get skin care products recommended.)
2. Use a pigment lightening product. Using a fading serum or cream daily can help significantly. There are many on the market, some over-the-counter and some available by prescription. I recommend for my clients to start with a gentle, natural product and one that contains the vitamin C active ingredient, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate like found in Vitamin C&E Treatment. This is a proven melanin suppressor to put pigment cells asleep and lighten stubborn discoloration with continued use. Just remember, it’s important to address brown patches as soon as possible. Because skin cells have a memory, the longer the skin pigmentation is present, it may not try to fade it as efficiently as time goes on. Sometimes, a topical skin bleach prescription is needed, but this is a really good place to start.
3. Get professional chemical peels or Bio Brasion. Without a doubt, the right home care products can make a dramatic difference with the skin but getting quicker results requires treatments from an esthetician or skin care professional. Peels and Bio Brasion are my go to treatments for those wanting to fade discoloration. As you can see from this picture, the results are quite impressive. Photo-facials and other laser treatments can be effective, too.
As a licensed esthetician, I work closely with my clients to determine the best course of action to get their skin looking its best and manage the side effects from birth control pills.
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