How Birth Control Pills Impact Your Skin—and Exactly What to Do About It
Aside from its obvious purpose, going on the birth control pill can make major changes to your mood, monthly cycle and skin. The latter isn't always bad. For some, going on the pill can cause a reduction in acne and hair growth. But some women may find that the additional hormones from the pill kicks their melanin production into overdrive, often resulting in dark patches and discoloration. "It isn't a hard-and-fast rule that this will happen and a lot of women don't experience this at all, but it happens so gradually that a lot of times, people don't even notice until it's already there," says esthetician Renée Rouleau. "The solution is ultimately to talk to your doctor about changing your dosage or formula, because as long as the medication is the underlying issue, the treatments you do will keep fighting it all the way."
Luckily, there are ways to diminish the appearance of the uneven areas as you wait for your new prescription to be filled. Rouleau recommends seeking out an acid-based serum, like her AHA Smoothing formula ($45; reneerouleau.com), to exfoliate at a deeper level than your typical cleanser, and quickly break apart the pigmented cells. "Glycolic, lactic, and even salicylic acid is good for discoloration, and salicylic in particular can control acne if you're also experiencing breakouts," she says. "Serums have a smaller molecular structure than a moisturizer, so they're absorbed deeper, and help to lower the pH of your skin." Make sure to be religious with your SPF and stay out of saunas or steam baths, as heat and sunlight can re-stimulate melanin cells.
The pill can also trigger changes in acne, for better or for worse. If you tend to get hormonally-charged breakouts, you may notice a few spots closer to the end of your pack. If that's the case, Rouleau advises switching your skincare routine to be slightly more acne-focused with the addition of a salicylic acid serum and the Anti-Cyst Treatment ($43; reneerouleau.com) as extra insurance for those under-the-skin bumps. On the upside, birth control pills generally tend to decrease the overall amount of acne you get, as they regulate your natural hormonal balances. Although if you decide to switch or stop your prescription entirely, fret not: the breakouts you previously dealt with aren't likely to return. "Just because you broke out at one point in your life and the pill helped, that doesn't mean you'll have them forever," Rouleau adds. "Sometimes people take the pill way longer than necessary thinking it's a safety blanket for the issue, but your body is constantly changing, so you don't have to feel tied to it if you choose not to take it anymore."