Don’t let acne flares-ups keep you on the birth control pill!
I’m so excited to share this post written by naturopathic doctor, Bronwyn Storoschuk! She shares her insight on the internal reasons why stopping the birth control pill might cause acne flare-ups. For more on how to topically treat acne see here, and stay tuned for upcoming posts on skincare for acne!
Acne flare-ups after stopping the birth control pill are one of the most common reasons women actually choose to go back on the birth control pill. But, the pill is not the only way to be set free of acne. If you’ve been affected by post pill acne you know how frustrating it can be, so let’s talk about how you can prevent and treat it, naturally.
Why do women get acne after stopping the birth control pill?
Here’s the thing, if you went on the birth control pill because you had acne, then you will most likely be affected by flare-ups once you stop. Going off the pill doesn’t cause acne, it merely removes the treatment that’s been controlling the problem.
That’s what many women don’t understand about the pill, it does a great job of controlling breakouts, but it’s not addressing the root cause of the problem.
Now, post-pill acne doesn’t only happen if you’ve experienced it in the past. Many women who’ve never had skin problems before struggle with post-pill acne.
Why acne can flare up after stopping the birth control pill:
1. Sebum Overproduction
Certain hormonal contraceptives suppress sebum production. Sebum is the natural oil produced by the skin, that keeps our skin protected and hydrated. Once you remove the pill, your skin responds by upregulating sebum production, leading to overproduction and thus, to oily skin and more frequent breakouts.
2. Androgen Rebound
The pill affects our body’s ability to produce its own natural hormones. One way the pill works to reduce acne is by reducing the amount of androgens, like testosterone, circulating in the blood. When you stop the pill your ovaries try to return hormone levels back to normal, which can lead to an androgen rebound. Similarly, with higher levels of androgens we get more sebum production causing oily skin and breakouts.
3. Zinc Depletion
It’s well documented that the pill depletes many important nutrients, including zinc, which is essential for skin health and is an effective treatment for acne. Zinc reduces the specific bacteria on the skin that can cause breakouts. A zinc deficiency, caused by long-term pill use, may be responsible for post pill acne.
4. Disruption of the Microbiome
By now you’ve probably read about the importance of gut health for all health concerns. Well, the pill disrupts the health of the gut by altering the good bacteria in the intestines leading to inflammation and issues with the skin.
How to Heal Acne After Stopping the Birth Control Pill
It takes time for your body to get back into its normal rhythms after stopping the pill, and so it can take time to heal the skin. Post pill acne typically peaks around 3-6 months after ditching the birth control pill and can take months to fully treat. But, whether you are dealing with full-blown post-pill breakouts or you’ve ditched the pill and want to prevent acne there are many natural strategies you can use to prevent and treat your acne! (For topical acne solutions see here).
1. Ditch the Dairy
Consuming dairy, especially from conventionally raised cows, has been associated with acne. Dairy is full of hormones and inflammatory proteins (called A1 casein) that may promote, or make acne worse. However, other forms of dairy, like grass-fed butter or ghee, have a different type of protein and fats that can actually benefit your skin. So, when it comes to ditching the pill, dairy isn’t doing you any favours on your path to balanced hormones. I recommend eliminating it for 6-12 months, or until full resolution of your skin problems.
2. Balance your Blood Sugar
The birth control pill has unfavourable effects on blood sugar regulation and insulin production. We know that when blood sugar is not balanced, and we get high levels of insulin, our body produces higher levels of androgens. Remember, high levels of androgens like testosterone can lead to an increase in sebum from the skin, causing more breakouts. So, keep your blood sugar steady by eating whole, real, foods. Every meal should include loads of nutrient dense veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fat. It’s best to eliminate sugar, white flour and alcohol or at least keep these items to a minimum. Also, prioritize exercise, as it increases insulin sensitivity and will help manage blood sugar.
3. Supplement with Zinc
As I mentioned, zinc is an effective treatment for acne, especially post pill, as zinc deficiency is common in pill-users. Zinc helps to regulate testosterone, it kills the bacteria on the skin that causes acne, and it reduces keratin production that blocks pores. Speak to your ND to determine what dose of zinc will be right for you.
4. Restore the Microbiome
Your gut is the home to your immune system which controls inflammation. If your goal is clear skin, you need to reduce inflammation and nourish the gut. We do this by promoting healthy gut flora. A healthy gut helps to break down and eliminate excess hormone, reduces inflammation and optimizes digestive function. Be sure to include foods rich in pre- and probiotics and take a high-quality probiotic. If your digestion has been “off” since ditching the pill, you may need some extra individualized support to optimize the breakdown and absorption of nutrients to further heal the gut.
5. Support Hormonal Balance
Although all the strategies discussed above are ultimately working to balance hormones post pill, you may need some extra support to get things going. You can support hormone balance with targeted supplementation. DIM (diindolylmethane) found in cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, can help to enhance estrogen and testosterone metabolism to promote overall hormonal balance. This is one of my favourite supplements to use in women struggling with post-pill acne.
Remember, post-pill acne is treatable, but it can take time to achieve the clear skin you’re dreaming of. Don’t give up! I recommend working with a practitioner who can do a thorough assessment with necessary laboratory testing to determine an individualized treatment plan for you.
It is possible to get clear skin, without having to go back on the birth control pill!
In health, happy hormones and clear skin,
Dr. Bronwyn is a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto, Ontario with a clinical focus in Women’s Health. She works with women transitioning off hormonal contraceptives and those looking for support in managing their reproductive concerns, from PMS to infertility, whether the goal is to reach hormonal balance or in preparation of a healthy pregnancy. Dr. Bronwyn is passionate about empowering women to reclaim their hormonal health, to enable a full and vibrant life.