Oral Contraceptives to Treat Acne and the Potential Risks

Hormonal therapies have been shown to be an effective therapeutic procedure in the treatment of acne in women. However, some acne treatments, such as prescribing birth control pills, are not common. According to Julie Harper, M.D. of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, birth control pills are often overlooked as an acne therapy. In an article in Dermatology Times, she acknowledges that oral contraceptives are often used in combination with topical medications. Additionally, she points out that the hormonal therapies are not fast, that it can take up to three months to see meaningful changes.

There are currently four FDA-approved birth control pills that are used to treat acne:

• Ortho-TriCyclen
• Estrostep FE

Dr. Harper points out that all birth control pills can help with acne. She states, “When you are thinking about the side effects and the risk of a birth control pill compared to the risk of pregnancy, you always win with a birth control pill.”

Dr. Harper continues to say that the pills are also prescribed to women who do not need contraception, so the risk of pill versus acne needs to be balanced. “We do know birth control pills have risk,” Dr. Harper says.

Possible Risks to Hormonal Therapies

According to Dr. Harper, there are risks and side effects with birth control pills. She says that remembering the level of risks can be identified by using 3,6, 9, and 12. The baseline risk to a woman developing a venous thromboembolic event when not on birth control is about 3 events per 10,000 women per year. If you factor in birth control pills, the risk doubles to 6 events. Similarly, if the woman is prescribed birth control pills that contain the progestin drospirenone (YAZ and BEYAZ), the risk is tripled to 9. However, during pregnancy, that risk quadruples to 12, and during delivery, there are around 30 events per 10,000 women in a year.

Dr. Thomas Wright says, “We can weigh the risks of using oral contraceptives to treat acne for each individual case. Some patients may be in a higher risk group than others, so it is important to ensure that each person’s case is treated individually.”

If you are concerned about acne and want to know more about acne treatments, including birth control pills, we invite you to schedule a consultation. We will work with you to find the very best diagnosis and treatment.