Birth control pills are effective acne treatments, but they aren't being used nearly enough. Very few women are being prescribed oral contraceptives to treat their acne, according to a study reported at the American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting last month in San Diego.
Oral contraceptives accounted for only 1.5% of prescriptions written for females with acne. And, interestingly, dermatologists prescribed oral contraceptives as acne treatments less often than other physicians.
Another interesting note: isotretinoin (AKA Accutane) is prescribed more often than oral contraceptives. (All this information was gathered from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.)
The results actually surprise me. I've seen birth control pills work wonders for women with acne, and I've seen first-hand the improvement they made in my own skin, too. In fact, birth control pills (plus a bit of benzoyl peroxide) were the only treatments that worked to keep my skin consistently clear. Obviously, I'm biased, but I think they're great acne treatments.
I also wonder if geography has anything to do with it. I know where I am, out here in California, lots of women are on birth control pills strictly for controlling acne. I guess that's why the results of this study were startling to me. Maybe in other areas birth control pills just aren't used as often as acne treatments? I'd be curious to see the results broken down regionally.
The results of the study haven't been published in a medical journal yet, so they haven't gone through the peer-review process. But you can take this as a push to ask your doctor about using birth control pills to curb breakouts, especially if they aren't offered to you.
Particularly for women with adult acne, medications that regulate hormones (like birth control pills and spironolactone) are often the only effective treatments. And, if you need contraception anyway, using birth control pills just may be win-win!
Source: Landis E, et al "Oral contraceptives may be underutilized in the treatment of acne in the United States" AAD 2012; Abstract 5408.
Treating Acne in Women