Feature Archive

Can the Pill Clear Up Acne?

Women fed up with bad skin are betting that it can.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

It's a common belief that only teenagers suffer from acne, and that once a teen becomes a twenty-something, the embarrassing spots will fade away and leave a clear complexion in their wake.

That's not how it worked for Carmen Specter. At the age of 26, both Specter's life and skin remain marred by acne.

She's tried almost every drug on the market, from Retin-A to Cleocin T to tetracycline, not to mention all the drugstore lotions and potions she's lathered her skin with. But nothing can take back the feelings of unattractiveness and self-doubt, the devastating days when merely leaving the house was difficult.

Like Specter, many women are battling acne into their adult years -- and feeling frustrated about it. And increasingly, many of them are trying a new approach, one that goes beyond the traditional treatments such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxides, and antibiotics: They are using the birth control pill to control acne.

For Specter, hormone manipulation (which is how the pill works) became an option several years ago, when she got involved in a serious relationship and wanted both birth control and a new acne treatment. After talking with her doctor, she decided to start taking Ortho Tri-Cyclen, a birth control pill that's shown some success in treating adult acne. Ortho Tri-Cyclen reduces androgens (male hormones) and regulates a woman's hormones so their swings aren't as severe and don't throw a woman's body -- and complexion -- into flux. While all women have some level of androgens, an excessive amount can lead to acne.