Acne is a very common condition for which The British Medical Journal estimates that over 3.5 million GP appointments are made annually. However, because it tends to be more casually associated with puberty, many people may be surprised to discover that adult acne is a common problem. For women in particular, it can be a condition which they battle for decades.

The NHS estimates that over 80 per cent of all adult acne cases are female, this could be due to a fluctuation in hormones caused by periods and pregnancy.

Spots form when the sebaceous glands in the skin become clogged with dead skin cells. This can occur when too much sebum is produced due to a change in the levels of hormones; in particular, testosterone, which is an androgen.

Acne, as we all know, is characterised by the formation of spots, blackheads and pustules on the skin, most commonly on the face, back and chest. Some flare ups may be mild but more severe cases can cause large numbers of painful and inflamed spots to appear, and these can lead to permanent skin damage and scarring.

The COCP and Acne

There are several treatment options available for acne, depending on its severity. For women, certain types of combined oral contraceptive pill can be used to help alleviate the condition. It can be particularly beneficial for women who notice acne flare ups around their period or if they have polycystic ovarian syndrome; this is because the pill helps to control the fluctuation in hormones associated with these changes.

The most effective versions of COCP contain a hormone blocker to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body thus slowing down the production of oil from the overactive sebum gland. The use of the contraceptive pill may also be recommended for you even if you are not sexually active. In these instances it would usually be offered after various other types of acne treatment have not worked. The contraceptive pill can be a good alternative to oral antibiotics that do not always suit people when taken on a long term basis due to their adverse side effects.

Which Pill Works Best?

If you want to try a combined oral contraceptive pill to help improve your acne symptoms then you should discuss the various options with your GP. Those pills most often offered to those women experiencing acne are Co-cyprindiol, Zoely, Microgynon, Brevinor and Loestrin.

These pills are known as anti-androgens, and help to reduce the production of the natural oils in the skin. Your GP will assess the suitability of this medication for you.

Some women may be more at risk of adverse side effects if they take this medication, including those who have:

  • hypertension; 
  • migraines; 
  • a family history of heart problems, blood clots or some types of cancer; 
  • or who are overweight.

Dianette is a treatment prescribed for acne, which performs a secondary function as a contraceptive pill. However, it is not suitable for everyone due to its potential to cause blood clots, and other side effects.

The improvement noted in acne symptoms seen when taking other contraceptive pills is a secondary benefit.

Can the Mini Pill Be Used to Treat Acne?

The progesterone-only pill, also known as the mini-pill, is not prescribed to help treat acne. This is because the increase in the progesterone hormone can stimulate the production of sebum, thereby initiating or increasing acne symptoms. Not every user will get acne as a result of taking the mini pill, but if you already have acne then it is unlikely that your GP will suggest this type of contraceptive.

Get the Most Out of Your Pill

In order to get the best possible results, should follow the instructions given to you by your GP when taking the pill. You should also bear in mind that it can take around three to four months before you start to notice visible improvements.

If you do not notice any progress then it may be worthwhile having another conversation with your GP who may prescribe a different pill. Your doctor may also suggest the use of a particular type of cleansing wash to use in combination with your pill in order to increase the chances of success.