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.