How To Take Care Of Your Skin While on Birth Control
Whatever your reasons are for starting a new birth control method, it can be a seriously confusing time. Not only are you dealing with a completely new dose of hormones in your body, but you’re also faced with a whole crop of side effects you may or may not have seen coming — including changes in your skin.
There are two main types of hormonal contraceptives, and they have totally opposite effects. “Combination contraceptives” tend to make your face more dry, while “Progesterone-Only Contraceptives” make it more oily. Whatever birth control method you decide is right for you (and there are so, so many options out there), there are certain things you can do to make sure your skin is properly taken care of. Here are some small things you can do to cater your skincare routine to your birth control, whether it’s making your face feel dry, greasy, or somewhere in between.
How To Treat Your Skin On Combination Contraceptives
Combination Contraceptives are the most commonly prescribed type of birth control, and include most pills, the patch, the ring, and the implant. They contain estrogen and progesterone, which help balance the levels of testosterone in your body and decrease the production of an acne-causing oil called sebum. According to Dr. Ellen Marmur, founder of Marmur Medical, sebum is “like a delicious smoothie for bacteria,” which means… pimples. The combination pills get rid of the sebum, which can help curb hormonal acne. When you hear about someone going on birth control to help with pre-existing acne, they’re probably going on a combination method. Since the hormones in this method are basically getting rid of the oil in your skin, they can potentially really, really dry out your face, so there are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re getting the care and hydration you need.
Stick With Your Topical Treatments
While combination contraceptives can work miracles on your skin, they’re not a solo solution. Just because you’re on a seemingly magical acne pill it doesn’t mean you can skip out on your skincare routine. Your best bet is to stick with whatever topical solutions you may have already been using to treat your acne, like spot treatments, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize!
Because your skin is producing less oil on the pill than it would on its own, its important to keep it extra-hydrated. Opt for an oil-free moisturizer, like this one from Kiehl’s, which will hydrate your skin without adding any excess grease.
With any birth control method, the first three months are an adjustment period, so if you break out like crazy at the beginning Don’t. Freak. Out. It’s totally normal! It can definitely be scary, though, especially if you started the pill to fight acne you already had. “If you start your birth control and then immediately get a rebound reaction, like you’re totally breaking out, you might actually want to ask for antibiotics for a month,” says Dr. Marmur. This will help calm the madness that’s happening on the surface of your skin before it figures out how to subside on its own. Just remember that antibiotics make birth control pills less effective, so if you’re sexually active remember to use an additional contraceptive method (like a condom).
How To Treat Your Skin On Progesterone-Only Contraceptives
The alternative to combination contraceptives are Progesterone-Only Contraceptives, like the Mirena IUD, the mini-pill, and the Depo-Provera shot. These methods have only progesterone in them (so, no estrogen) and actually tend to make your skin more oily instead of drying it out. “Progesterone-only birth control methods can cause acne to flare by increasing oil production,” says dermatologist Dr. Mara Weinstein. Chances are, you wouldn’t take this type of birth control if you already had hormonal acne, but you may opt for a progesterone-only method for other reasons, like if you have really heavy periods or any sensitivities to estrogen. “It is unlikely I would prescribe a progesterone only birth control pill if acne was a concern as a side effect,” says Dr. Sheryl Ross, OBGYN and women’s health expert. “Progesterone only birth control pills are more likely to have acne as a side effect.” To combat the extra oil, try adding these few steps to your skincare routine.
Use A Gentle Cleanser
Dr. Weinstein advises washing your face twice a day with a gentle foaming cleanser, like Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Control Foam Wash, to control oil production. Scrub your face once in the morning and once at night, and make sure to rinse thoroughly.
Pick The Right Toner
“Choose a toner that contains LHA or glycol acid to help restore the skin’s pH and gently exfoliate the surface of the skin, unclog pores, and remove excess dirt from the day,” says Dr. Weinstein. Toner is important for keeping skin, especially acne-prone skin, clean, so make sure to add it to your daily routine.
Skip The Moisturizer
Because you’re trying to get rid of excess oil, it’s OK to forego moisturizing until your skin is in better shape. Use a lightweight, oil-free, or oil-absorbing sunscreen instead. Layering on tinted moisturizer, like this one from Tizo3 that Kylie Jenner swears by, is a great option too because it provides sun protection and extra coverage.
Keep Blotting Pads On Hand
The number one rule of being on progesterone-only birth control? Don’t touch your face to wipe the oil off! You can introduce bacteria from your hands, which will make everything worse. Better to use blotting pads (or, in a pinch, toilet seat covers) throughout the day as needed.
Washing your skin 10 times a day won’t help anything, because your skin isn’t actually dirty! “The more you wash, the more your skin works to re-hydrate and creates more oil as a result,” says Dr. Weinstein. Two times a day is plenty.
Use The Right Kind of Makeup
Dr. Weinstein suggests sticking to gels, foams, and mattifying powders, which will all help to curb oil production. She loves Colorscience’s Loose Mineral Powder Foundation Brush with SPF 20, which is easy to brush on during the day to erase the oily look.
Apply Retinoid Cream At Night
Find a night cream that contains retinoid, which decreases sebum production and helps unclog pores. You can get a prescription strength cream from your dermatologist, or try a generic over-the-counter version.
How To Treat Your Skin On Any Birth Control
Consult A Dermatologist
Even if your birth control was prescribed by a gynecologist, it’s important to have a dermatologist on hand to work with in case any problems arise.
In the words of Baz Luhrmann, “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” Birth control pills can exacerbate melasma, a solar-induced skin discoloration which you may know as “sun spots.” “Although birth control pills might help acne, they actually make melasma really terrible,” says Dr. Marmur. “Young women don’t realize that, and then they’re stuck with melasma for a couple of years.” Put sunscreen on every day (yup, even in the winter) to make sure you’re totally protected.
Don’t Pick Your Zits
With hormonal acne in particular, it is really important not to pop your pimples or pick your skin — you can do serious damage that you’ll pay for later in life. “If you’re a skin picker, which most of us are, it’s really good to see a dermatologist once or twice a month to break the habit,” says Dr. Marmur. “They’ll coach you through how to take care of your acne without picking your skin and how to not get scars.”
When to Consider a Change
All of this feeling a bit overwhelming? Here’s the good news: There are dozens of birth control options out there, so if one method isn’t working for you, you can just try, try again until you find one that does. “It’s important to know side effects such as acne, irregular bleeding, nausea, breast tenderness, and headaches can be avoided on one type of pill compared to another type of pill,” says Dr. Ross. “If unwanted side effects don’t go away in two to three months you should change to another type of pill — because there are many different types and combinations of estrogen and progesterone depending on your side effects and body type.” Give yourself a three month trial period for your body to adjust to all the new hormones, and if things still haven’t cleared up talk to your dermatologist and gynecologist to find a solution. Everyone’s body, and skin, are different, and it’s totally normal to have a different reaction than your friends do. Talk it out, figure out what works for you, and say hello to clear, hormonal-acne-free skin.