5 Ways Birth Control Medication Can Affect Your Skin

woman looking into mirror
Wonder how your body will react to birth control? You never know until you take it, so ask your doctor about available options.

Birth control prevents pregnancy, but hormones aren't something to take lightly -- they can have all kinds of effects on your body, some of them good, some of them not so good.

Common negative side effects of hormonal birth control include spotting, headaches, breast tenderness, nausea and decreased libido. On the plus side, you can have lighter, shorter periods and decreased symptoms of PMS.


But what can birth control do for your skin? Here are five things you should know.

5: Less Acne

As if bleeding for a week isn't fun enough, acne before or during a woman's period is very common.

It's all about the hormones -- in this case, ones that are thought of as male hormones. Women produce androgens, too, however, and just before menstruation, they trigger the body to produce extra oil.


Oil is good for your skin, but too much can clog your pores and cause pimples. Sometimes birth control can stop androgen from making excess oil, which means fewer breakouts [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. It's been so successful in doing so that the FDA has approved certain brands of birth control to treat acne [source: Mayo Clinic].

4: Oiliness

For as many types of birth control pills as there are, there are just as many different ways that a woman's body can react to them.

Hormonal birth control does affect androgen levels in the body, but it may not affect them the way you were hoping. It's possible that androgen levels could just get out of whack and increase sebum production [source: Go Ask Alice]. It can take time for the body to get used to a new birth control pill, but if you can't deal with the side effects, talk to your doctor about switching.


3: Dark Patches

It's called "the mask of pregnancy," but melasma affects plenty of women who aren't with child. It's characterized by dark patches that appear on skin that's exposed to sun -- often, the face. The "mask" part of the nickname comes from the fact that melasma usually covers the upper lip to the forehead and is symmetrical on both sides [source: PubMed Health].

Melasma is associated with female hormones, which is why pregnant women, women taking oral contraceptives and women on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are most intimately acquainted with the brown discoloration.


2: Hirsutism

Hair removal is a time-consuming and expensive beauty habit, but it's tougher for women with hirsutism. Hirsutism is the growth of coarse, dark hair on women in places you don't usually expect it -- the face, back, breasts and lower abs, for example. As self-conscious as a woman may feel, the condition is common. It's often caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which triggers her ovaries to produce excess androgens [source: American Society for Reproductive Medicine].


1: Irritation and Scarring

When many people talk about birth control, they're just talking about the Pill. But oral contraception isn't the only kind of hormonal birth control out there for women. There's the vaginal ring, the shot and some types of IUD.

Any hormonal birth control method can have the effects we've already mentioned, but a few have unique skin concerns. The birth control implant, such as Implanon, can cause scarring where it's been inserted, and the birth control patch can lead to irritation [sources: Planned Parenthood; Planned Parenthood].


Truthfully, you'll never know how your body is going to react to birth control until you take it, so talk to your doctor about your options.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Hormonal therapies offer effective solutions for many adult women with acne." July 29, 2009. (Aug. 5, 2012) http://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/hormonal-therapies-offer-effective-solutions-for-many-adult-women-with-acne
  • American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "Hirsutism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Guide for Patients." 2003. (Aug. 5, 2012) http://www.asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Info_Booklets/hirsutismPCOS.pdf
  • Go Ask Alice! "What can I do to take care of my very oily hair and skin?" Columbia University. Last reviewed Nov. 15, 2011. (Aug. 5, 2012) http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/what-can-i-do-take-care-my-very-oily-hair-and-skin
  • Mayo Clinic. "Acne treatments and drugs." Oct. 21, 2011. (Aug. 5, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/acne/DS00169/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
  • Planned Parenthood. "Birth Control Implant (Implanon and Nexplanon)." (Aug. 5, 2012) http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/birth-control-implant-implanon-4243.htm
  • Planned Parenthood. "Birth Control Patch (Ortho-Evra)." (Aug. 5, 2012) http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/birth-control-patch-ortho-evra-4240.htm
  • PubMed Health. "Melasma." Oct. 3, 2010. (Aug. 5, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001839/