Acne, melasma and alopecia: How birth control pills can affect your appearance

Instagram/Valentina Muntoni

Thanks to the lack of adequate sex education in schools, the concept of birth control remains smoke and mirrors for most even in adulthood. Some believe that hormonal birth control can clear up acne, while others want you to know that the same pills can cause acne and make your hair fall out. If you aren’t sure what to believe, here’s a science-backed look at how birth control pills can affect your skin. 

Relationship status: It’s complicated

...between birth control pills and your skincare, that is. For the uninitiated, birth control pills are contraceptives that can be ingested orally. They employ the use of hormones, such as estrogen and progestin, to prevent the release of an egg in the ovaries. Due to the changes in the lining of the uterus, women on the pill have reported menstrual cycles ranging from monthly to every three months, depending on the pill. 

Needless to say, tampering with the hormone levels can bring along some uninvited side-effects as a guest. These include, but are not limited to, frequent nausea, unexplained weight gain, lighter periods, mood swings as headaches, chest pains and blurred vision in severe cases. 

However, the buck doesn’t stop there. Several scientific studies have established a link in between the consumption of oral contraceptives and skin conditions, such as acne, melasma and dermatitis, among others.

Can birth control pills affect your appearance?

The unfortunate answer is yes, regular consumption of the morning-after pill can solve some skincare concerns while nudging the door open for others. Indeed, research has found that oral contraceptives can trigger a wave of hormonal issues, especially pertaining to the skin. Here’s a closer look at some of the issues to stay alert for if you’re taking the pill:

Sudden acne breakouts

While birth control pills can control acne for some, it can also trigger sudden flare-ups for others. This comes down to the presence of androgen progestin that can cause inflammation in the skin and cause women who have just started taking the pills to observe acne breakouts.

Fix this: There’s a chance your body will eventually get used to the changed hormones and the flare-ups will subside after two or three months. Apart from opting for over-the-counter treatments, you can also look at switching to a non-hormonal form of birth control. 

Dark patches of skin or melasma 

If your face has suddenly been developing blotchy, pigmented patches, your birth control could be at blame. While sun exposure and pregnancy are considered as the most frequent causes of melasma, hormonal birth control can also trigger excessive estrogen. This causes your body to overproduce melanin in the skin, thereby leading to the occurrence of blotchy patches. 

Fix This: To avoid provoking your body’s level of estrogen, it helps to switch to a progestin-only pill. A study has also proven that topical treatments, such as tretonin, can offer significant improvement for melasma.

Hair loss or alopecia

If you’ve been observing more than normal hairfall in conjunction with your use of oral pills, it pays to learn about how the two are connected. We know now that progestin is one of the main components of birth control pills. It is also has androgenic activity that causes negative effects, such as hairfall. Those who are sensitive to hormonal fluctuations or with a family history of hairfall stand at greater risk of pill-induced alopecia. 

Fix This: While the hairfall may resolve itself within a few months, if you are looking for a long-term solution, it helps to look at pills that contain more estrogen than progestin, especially if you have a family history of hair loss. 

Inflammation of the skin or dermatitis

Does your skin feel angry, red and inflamed? These are the warning signs of dermatitis that manifests in the form of red rashes, dry skin and itchiness. Further proof can be found in a study tha observed an increased occurrence of eczema and dermatitis in current as well as recent pill users. 

Fix This: If you have been observin dermatitis, the first rule of thumb is to resist the urge to itch and scratch the affected area. Focus all you efforts on introducing anti-inflammation to your routine through oral anti-histamines that won’t require a prescription. 

At the end of the day, remember that if you are planning on choosing a contraceptive method for prolonged use, it pays to consult a doctor to find one that will be aligned with your medical history and body’s requirements. 

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