how to treat post birth control acne

Post birth control acne is real.

It doesn’t matter if you took the pill to keep the breakouts under control or to avoid pregnancy, once you get off it, all hell can breaks loose.

Inflamed skin. Excess sebum. Spots all over the place. With nothing standing in its way, your acne often comes back with a vengeance.

To add insult to jury, the longer you’ve been on the pill, the higher the chances of getting your acne back. *sighs*

But what if you need to get off the birth control pill? Maybe it doesn’t agree with your body and it’s making you sick. Or maybe you just want to have a baby.

How will your skin react if you stop taking hormones? And, if the worst happens, how can you treat post birth control acne? Here’s the answer to these (and more) questions:

What is Post-Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS)?

Post-Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS) refers to a group of undesirable symptoms women experience within the first 4-6 months of getting off hormonal birth control. They include:

  • Acne: Hormones trigger oil production. When they’re out of whack, your skin pumps out excess oil that gets stuck in the pores, causing breakouts.
  • Excess body hair growth: Another side effect of hormonal imbalance.
  • Migraine: Fluctuating levels of hormones can give you headaches.
  • Irregular menstrual periods: You can experience changes in the length, intensity, duration and even onset of your period that can last up to 9 months.
  • Post-pill amenorrhea: Sometimes, your period stops completely for a while after you get off the pill. But this reversible and doesn’t cause any serious health problems.
  • Weight changes: Again, hormones play a part in weight gain and loss. When you mess with them, it can have an impact on your weight.

PBCS is real. Women are going through it every day. Yet, the medical community hasn’t recognised it as a real medical condition yet (I guess that’s because only women experience it…).

We don’t know exactly why this is happening. But the birth control pill affects the body’s natural hormone balance. So, it makes sense that when you get off it, your body needs some time to adjust and restore its normal hormonal levels and fluctuations.

FYI, it’s not all bad. Every woman experiences PBCS differently. Some women don’t experience it at all. It’s such an individual thing, it’s hard to predict how YOUR body and skin will react when you stop taking birth control.

Related: Adult Acne: Why It Happens And How To Deal With It

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that tackles both acne and wrinkles? Download your free “Acne + Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” cheatsheet to get started. It features product recommendations + right application order:

Why Do You Develop Acne After Stopping The Birth Control Pill?

Blame it on hormones.

The birth control pill floods your body with a continuous supply of hormones. In particular, it helps control the male hormones that contribute to acne development.

When you get off the pill, your hormones slowly get back to their pre-birth control levels. If you had acne before, now it comes back with a vengeance.

Of course, hormones are not the only cause of acne. Here’s the main causes of post birth control acne:

  • Chronic inflammation (this is often the result of stress and a poor diet low in vegetable and rich in processed foods)
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity that increases the production of sebum (excess sebum gets stuck in the pores, clogging them up, and giving you breakouts)
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Increased oxidative stress (an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals).

Related: How Do Antioxidant Work And How Do They Get Rid Of Free Radicals?

5 food rules to follow for beautiful skin 04

What Increases Your Risk Of Developing Post Birth Control Acne?

Post birth control acne isn’t a done deal. You’re more at risk if:

  • Your pre-birth control hormones were already out of whack: If your skin already pumped out too much oil and you experienced acne before, chances are the same’s gonna happen now you’ve stopped oral contraception.
  • Genetics: Again, if your skin was naturally oilier and acne-prone, you’re more at risk when you get off the pill.
  • Type of birth control: Pills with a higher dose of estrogen, containing only the hormone progestin, and higher androgen effect of progestin make you more at risk of post-birth control acne. Combination pills with the new generation of progestins and vaginal rings are less likely to cause any trouble.
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking and an unhealthy diet high in processed foods increase your risk of acne, too. And stress. Stress causes inflammation and inflammation leads to acne (as well as every other disease under the sun). If you want to get your acne under control, reducing stress is the first thing on your to-do list.

Related: I Went On The Low Glycemic Diet And It Transformed My Skin

How To Treat Post Birth Control Acne

If you’ve got post birth control acne, don’t panic. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.

Here’s how to treat post birth control acne and get your clear skin back:

benton aloe bha skin toner

1. Exfoliate, Exfoliate, Exfoliate

It doesn’t matter what kind of acne you’re dealing with, exfoliation is key in getting your clear skin back.

Your new BFF from now on is salicylic acid. A member of the Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) family, salicylic acid is oil-soluble: this is a fancy way of saying it penetrates deep inside the pores. FYI, it’s the ONLY exfoliant that can do this.

Once inside your pores, salicylic acid removes all the excess sebum, dead skin cells, and other gunk stuck in there before it has the chance to turn into a breakout.

While it’s at it, salicylic acid exfoliates the surface of the skin, too. Now those dead cells aren’t around in the more, they can’t fall into your pores and clog them.

One more thing: Salicylic Acid has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the redness and irritation that always comes along with acne.

Best Picks:

  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboois Glycolic Night Serum: This exfoliant contain salicylic acid to unclog pores and glycolic acid to fade away the dark spots pimples sometimes leave behind. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
  • Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9 Targeted Solution ($43.00): A 9% salicylic acid formula that gets rid of even the stubbornest of blackheads. It helps treat pimples faster too. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($29.00): A powerful exfoliant with Salicylic acid that tackles blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. The texture is a little sticky, but if you don’t mind that, it’s one of the best exfoliants out there. Available at Dermstore, Look Fantastic, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

2. Use A Spot Treatment

Salicylic acid can help you prevent acne. But what if you already have it? That’s where you need a spot treatment that can kill P.Acnes, the bacteria responsible for acne.

You have two options here: Benzoyl Peroxide or Sulfur. Here’s all you need to know about them:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide: It kills P.Acnes by generating free radicals (yep, the nasty molecules that speed up the aging process). Plus, it’s harsh on the skin. Use it on pimples ONLY.
  • Sulfur: It kills P.Acnes, dries out blemishes, and helps reduce excess oil. In my experience, it works faster than BP, but it’s harsh and drying. Again, use it on pimples only.

P.S. You’ll find lots of masks with sulfur that claim they can be used all over your skin. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Sulfur is drying, so use it on pimples only. On clear skin, it can do more harm than good. You want to dry out your pimples, not your entire skin!

Best Picks:

  • Epionce Purifying Spot Gel ($38.00): A spot treatment with sulfur that gets rid of pimples in a matter of days. Available at at Dermstore
  • Indie Lee Blemish Lotion ($26.00): It has sulfur to treat acne and pimples and a sprinkle of salicylic acid to unclog pores. Available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
  • Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment With 5% benzoyl peroxide ($18.00): Benzoyl Peroxide kills P.Acnes, helping your pimples heal faster. It’s harsh, but it does the job. Available at Paula’s Choice

Related: Sulfur: Good For Acne, Bad For Skin?

3. Cut Back On Sugar And Dairy

A typical Western diet is loaded with foods that can trigger acne and make it worse. The worst culprits? Sugar and dairy.

Let’s start with sugar. When you eat too much of it (and it’s almost impossible not to eat too much of it), your blood sugar and insulin levels spike up, triggering skin to produce more sebum than it needs. Excess sebum = acne.

Studies show that a low-carb diet reduces both insulin resistance and levels of acne-triggering hormones. Translation: the less sugar you eat, the lower the chances you’ll develop acne.

FYI, sugar is everywhere: fruit juices, soda drinks, ketchup, salad dressing, processed and pre-made foods… If you look at the label, chances are they’ve sneaked sugar in…

Your best bets are raw foods like fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts, lentils, beans, free-range meat and wild fish. You can find a list of the best foods to eat for clear skin here.

The link between dairy and acne is even stronger. Dairy products increase the levels of IGF-1 hormones and insulin and trigger an inflammation response that often lead to acne.

Not all dairy foods are created equal. Skim milk is more likely to give you acne than whole milk (yes, really) while Greek yogurt is usually safe. Find out what dairy foods are safe and which ones trigger acne here.

Related: Does Dairy Cause Acne?

does zinc help treat acne

4. Take A Zinc Supplement

Zinc is a metal ion naturally found in meat, nuts, whole grains and legumes. Your body needs it for all kinds of things, but we’re focusing on acne here.

Here’s how zinc helps you treat acne:

Studies show that zinc supplements are effective in treating inflammatory acne. Needless to say, the results vary from person to person. But if you’re dealing with post birth control acne, they’re worth a try.

I know you know this, but I’ll say it anyway: always consult your health care provider before taking any supplements.

5. Be Patient

This is the hardest part, I know. But your body is going through an adjustment period to get back to its natural hormonal balance. That’s where your acne is at its worst. Hang in there. Follow the tips above to make your acne disappear faster, and know your skin is healing.

It just takes some time, but you’ll get there.

How Long Will Acne Last After You’ve Stopped Birth Control?

I wish that I could give you a real answer. But, this is different for everyone as it depends on different factors, including lifestyle and genetics. As a rule, it can last anything between a few months and a year.

Can You Avoid Post Birth Control Acne?

You can minimise the risk of getting post birth control acne by using pills with 3rd generation progestins (a type of hormone) at the minimum effective doses only.

The Bottom Line

Post birth control acne is common, but you don’t have to put up with it. You can minimise the chances of getting it by opting for contraceptives with the new generation of progestins and exfoliating skin regularly. If you develop it, a few simple changes in diet and a zinc supplements can help you get rid of it faster. Most importantly, be patient and take care of yourself. You’ll get there.