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  • Nelufer Beebeejaun

Birth Control and Your Skin

I was sitting at dinner this past weekend chatting with some girlfriends when the conversation turned to the one thing most of us dread getting every month. The horrors of dealing with a female’s monthly visitor isn’t the greatest but something we have to live with. We started discussing different birth control methods and the effects it has on our moods, cramps and of course, skin!

I have been on the pill for well over a decade and I am often told by my mom and friends I should seriously consider getting off of it due to the pill’s link to risky complications. So I wanted to do some research and see what the deal was. I once got off the pill for a 4-month period after undergrad, and my skin freaked out. I am terrified at this happening again so I’ve kept taking it. For me, the benefits are mostly that it keeps my skin in check and helps with a regular and manageable period every month as well preventing pregnancy (obv).

So let’s back up and explain what the pill is: The birth control pill is a daily pill that contains hormones to change the way the body works and prevents pregnancy. Hormones are chemical substances that control the functioning of the body's organs. In this case, the hormones in the Pill control the ovaries and the uterus. Most birth control pills are "combination pills" containing a mix of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation (the release of an egg during the monthly cycle.

If you are currently on the pill, here is how the hormones effect your skin: Acne is triggered by an excess production of sebum. Sebum is an oil made by glands in your skin. Along with skin cells, sebum can clog pores and promote the growth of bacteria that contribute to acne. Androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone, stimulate your skin to produce sebum. A woman's ovaries and adrenal glands normally produce a low level of androgens. Higher levels of androgens can lead to excess sebum. Taking birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone lowers the amount of androgens in your body. This results in less sebum and less severe acne.

Why the pill is getting a bad rap: Although the research is still inconclusive, many women have reported behavioural and psychological effects on them coming from the pill. Depression, suicide and mood swings were top concerns. Thinking about my own experience on the pill, I always notice around the 15th pill of each month I start to experience mild symptoms of PMS, even though I don’t even have my period yet. I guess that is to be expected when you’re taking synthetic hormones into your body on a consistent basis.

Ok so if after reading all of this you are considering getting off the pill, what can you expect? What actually happens when you stop taking hormonal birth control? Do you need to do a cleanse in order to reset your hormones? Whether you're thinking about going off hormonal birth control now, or sometime in the future, here's what you should know.

Going off of the pill differs from person to person. There is no one size fits all approach to going off of it. It could take your body 3-6 months to start functioning normally again. How you feel when you go off hormonal contraceptives, and what does or doesn't happen with your period after you're off it can reveal a lot about your overall health. Hormonal birth control treats (and therefore disguises) many symptoms of health problems, so once you're off of it, it's no longer doing the work of staving them off.

First thing, its important that you talk to your doctor so you can come up with a plan that is best for you and to help manage your expectations of what will happen when you stop taking it. Here is why you might develop acne going off of the pill: Androgen Rebound: Hormonal contraceptives suppress your natural hormones, including testosterone. When you discontinue them what is known as an “androgen rebound” can occur. Or in other words, your body kicks into high gear creating more testosterone. The elevated androgens cause an increase in sebum production, which is why oily skin is common, and acne follows. Birth Control Depletes Zinc: Birth control depletes nutrients. like crazy, including zinc, which is essential for immune function and skin health. Zinc also keeps your testosterone in check, helps your skin flourish, and support the immune system in regulating the bacteria that can lead to acne. Birth Control Disrupts the Microbiome: Birth control alters the gut flora in your intestines. Imbalances in gut flora can lead to inflammation and skin symptoms, like acne, rashes, and even hives.

How to heal acne after stopping birth control?

If you're coming off the pill, and you're feeling afraid of having that post-pill acne or cystic acne come back, besides from a solid skincare routine (cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, targeted acne fighting agent) there are 2 main tips I found online cited by multiple naturopaths. Support Gut Health: Start taking a digestive enzyme and probiotic to support your overall gut health, as it can maximize nutrient absorption. If you are not eliminating your waste every day then your skin is going to be the default organ to move toxins out. Your gut is where your immune system lives, and if your immune system is healthy and happy then your skin is going to be healthy and happy.

Ditch the Dairy: Nobody likes it when I say take out any foods, but it is just so common to find that women who struggle with acne also have a dairy sensitivity. Dairy can aggravate your skin, and I've seen this in my medical practice with many patients. That doesn't mean you can't do dairy ever, but before you come off these hormones, or while you're coming off of them, pull dairy from your diet. You can always reintroduce to determine if it contributes to your acne.

I hope this information is helpful in your decision to stay on or go off of the pill. For right now, I’m going to do some more research into what my options are, but to each their own. Your decision is your decision. If I do decide to go off of it, I’ll be sure to document my journey here.

Xoxo Nel


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