Does contraception cause acne?

Contraception can sometimes affect your skin. Sometimes it will help your skin get clearer. But for some people, the changes will include oily skin, spots and acne.

What is acne?

Acne is very common and affects most people at some point in their lives. It causes spots and oily skin. It usually appears on the face, but it’s also very common to get it on the chest and back.

Acne is linked to changes in your hormones, which is why it often starts during puberty. If you have periods, the hormones testosterone and progesterone are released during your menstrual cycle, and these can both make your skin oilier.

Your skin is always producing oil. There are small glands at the base of hair follicles that create it. This oil stops your skin and hair from drying out. Acne occurs when too much oil is created. The extra oil and dead skin cells block the entrance of the gland, and this can become infected by the usually harmless bacteria on your skin. This results in blocked pores,  acne spots,  blackheads and blemishes.

Because contraceptive pills use hormones to work, they can make acne better or worse.

If you have problems with your skin and would like more help and advice with this, speak to your GP about possible treatments. They will be able to assess what’s safe for you to take.

Which contraceptives might reduce acne?

Non-hormonal contraceptives, like the non-hormonal coil, won’t affect your skin.

If you’re keen to try hormonal contraception but are worried about how it might affect your acne, it’s best to try a method that contains oestrogen, if it’s safe for you to take. If this doesn’t suit you, you can try a progestogen only method.

Methods that contain oestrogen

Oestrogen can reduce acne – and so contraceptives that contain oestrogen can also improve acne. These include the:

Although some types of combined pills have been marketed as better for acne, there is no clear evidence to support this.

One very large review that included 12,000 people and 31 studies showed that many types of contraceptive pills improve acne, but could not show any difference between the different pills. Some brands that are recommended as better for acne include Silique, Lizinna, Gedarel and Marvelon.

There's a very effective acne treatment called Dianette (also known as Diane, co-cyprindiol and Teragezza) which also works as contraception. You take it just like you take the combined pill. It’s not usually recommended to take it for more than 2 years as it can cause liver damage in some people.

Methods that contain progestogen

Even though progestogen can increase the chances of getting acne, contraceptives that just contain progestogen may improve acne if they stop the usual menstrual cycle. 

During ovulation, the ovaries produce testosterone. Stopping menstruation means stopping ovaries from producing testosterone, which means potentially improving acne. 

Contraceptive methods that only contain progestogen include the:

How long does it take for contraception to help my acne?

Some evidence suggests that it takes around 3 months for the hormones in the combined pill to have their effect on acne.

Whenever you start a new type of contraception, it’s a good idea to use it for 3 months to see how it affects you. It can take this long for your body to get used to the contraception and for side effects to settle down.

Last updated at: 22 February 2024
Published on: 21 November 2022