If you’ve ever dealt with any kind of hormonal acne, you’ll relate strongly to what I’m about to say. Sure, my skin may not look so bad in the above photo (thank you based foundation gods), but I’ll be the first person to tell you that it had a complete field day when I decided to go off hormonal birth control. I’d been taking the pill for over five years and just decided it was time to consider other options. I took it for so long due to irregular periods and severe cramping, but after all this time, it seemed to be doing more harm than good to my body. To name a few harrowing symptoms, I’d gotten extremely dry hair, was always bloated, and was even short of breath from time to time. Needless to say, I think I made the right decision.
What I wasn’t quite prepared for, however, were the horrible cystic breakouts along my jawline that I got almost immediately after I stopped taking it. After speaking to quite a few other women about this, I realized that this was pretty common. Many women struggle with massive hormonal breakouts as soon as they go off the pill, so I decided to create a CliffsNotes version of the products I’ve been using to help.
Now, I also have to preface this by saying that I’m a big believer in nutrition and herbal support to help combat acne. Diet and your overall health do play a role in things like this so that’s something to consider as well. I’m going into my third month off the pill and I’d be lying if I said my skin has completely cleared up, but it has massively improved. If you’re interested in hearing about why this happens from a derm and want to know more about the products I’ve been using to help, keep reading below.
Board-certified dermatologist Azadeh Shirazi, MD, gave us a rundown on this. “Any shift in our hormonal climate can have a profound effect on the skin resulting in changes in oil production, cellular renewal, the microbiome, as well as skin barrier and hydration,” she says. “This ultimately results in breakouts or flare-ups in skin conditions. It’s important to maintain a simple healthy skincare regimen without overdoing it with too much exfoliation, not enough hydration, or using too many products.”
Board-certified dermatologist Lauren Penzi, MD also weighed in. “Combined oral contraceptive pills that contain estrogen and progesterone are beneficial and often prescribed for hormonal acne,” she states. “This is because they act to suppress our body’s natural androgens, including dihydrotestosterone and testosterone that increase [the] growth of sebaceous glands and sebum production, which creates excess oil and clogged pores that leads to acne. Upon removal of the synthetic hormones in birth control pills, there is a surge in these androgens that causes breakouts.”
Another factor to consider here is your skin type. If you have dry, acne-prone skin, or sensitive, acne-prone skin, this will also make a difference when selecting your regimen to help clear things up. “Products should be selected based on [your] skin type. Those with oily skin can opt for lighter formulations while those with dry skin can use heavier cream formulas,” Shirazi shares.
If your skin can tolerate a retinoid, Penzi also says it’s a good idea to incorporate one. “Having a retinoid on board will hopefully mitigate breakouts that occur when you go off birth control. This is because it works to increase cell turnover, decreases sebum production, reduces inflammation, and clears out dead skin cells. If you haven’t already started a retinol or retinoid when starting birth control, I recommend trying to start one two to three months before stopping the birth control.”
For reference, I have sensitive, acne-prone skin. For a while there, it was also extremely reactive when I found out I was allergic to a product I’d been using. I’ve listed my current routine below along with a few other dermatologist-approved products.