Evidence continues to mount that birth control pills help with acne. Interestingly, it has become apparent that just because a birth control pill is approved for acne, however, does not mean it will produce superior results.
First, it’s important to understand how oral contraceptives (OCs) help with acne. Almost all OCs contain an estrogen component and a progestin component.† The estrogen component helps reduce the production and expression of male hormones which can lead to acne. Depending on the progestin used, the effects of the progestin component can range from relatively inert to theoretically leading to increased male hormone levels. But the estrogen component is much stronger and outweighs progestin, thereby allowing all OCs to help with acne.
An article published in the International Journal of Women’s Health in 2010 took a look at all of the different options and research to date. As it turns out, no matter what OC you take, it will likely produce a 30-60% reduction in acne lesion count. According to the article, “Studies comparing oral contraceptives did not convincingly show superiority of one oral contraceptive to another in the treatment of acne.” They went on to note, “Compilation of evidence was difficult due to variable study designs. More research needs to be done to draw conclusions about the comparative efficacy of different [oral contraceptives].”
In other words, it appears women who are looking for acne symptom relief with their oral contraceptive are not constrained to “approved” brands.
Important: Whether or not to embark upon hormonal acne therapy requires careful physician screening with a focus on risks and benefits.
†Note: Cyproterone Acetate (Diane, Dianette), which is a synthetic derivative of 17-hydroxyprogesterone approved for contraception in Europe and Canada but not the United States, and which can be used on its own or in combination with an estrogen component, was also considered as authors in this article drew their conclusions.