In this article, learn more about the causes of hormonal acne, find out how birth control pills can affect acne, and discover helpful acne treatments.

What is hormonal acne?

Acne – including hormonal acne – causes spots on the face, chest, back or shoulders and can occur in these forms:

  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • Pimples
  • Nodules
  • Cysts

Hormonal acne is, as the name suggests, acne that is linked to fluctuations in your hormones. It’s caused by oil-clogged hair follicles; more specifically, it’s a result of excess sebum (a waxy substance your body’s sebaceous glands produce) in the oil glands.

Although it’s usually associated with the hormone changes that come with puberty, hormonal acne can affect adults of all ages. It can also affect both men and women, though it tends to be a much more common occurrence in women.

Acne cannot be ‘cured’ as such, but it can be controlled and managed with treatment.

The benefits of birth control pills for hormonal acne

Birth control pills have been prescribed by dermatologists to treat acne in women for a long time. However, it’s important to note that, although there are many contraceptive pills that have been clinically proven to improve acne, there are only 3 pills that are officially FDA-approved for acne treatment.

It’s also important to note that different types of contraceptive pills can have different effects on acne.

Browse birth control pills >

How can birth control pills treat hormonal acne?

Hormonal acne is caused by excess sebum production triggered by a group of hormones called androgens. Taking combined birth control pills containing both progesterone and estrogen lowers the amount of androgens in the body, often resulting in less sebum and ultimately less severe acne.

Can birth control pills make hormonal acne worse?

Birth control pills that only contain progesterone (known as the ‘progesterone-only pill’ or the ‘mini pill’), however, can make acne worse. It is thought that this is because these types of pills cause fluctuations of the ‘male hormones’, ultimately resulting in oily skin and causing acne.

Can the combined contraceptive pill clear acne?

The combined contraceptive pill can help to balance hormone levels, which helps to treat acne. Taking the combined pill won’t clear up acne altogether, but clinical trials have shown that it can:

  • Decrease flare-ups
  • Lessen the amount of pimples
  • Lessen the severity of acne

Note that if you start taking the combined pill, it can take up to a year for the full benefits to your acne to become apparent – so patience is advisable.

The side effects of birth control pills

If you are prescribed birth control pills to help treat your acne, it’s important to be aware of possible side effects, which include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Changes to your period
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Tender breasts
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness

What other acne treatments are there?

There are other acne treatments available from pharmacies, and in more moderate cases of acne, a retinoid treatment such as Differin may be prescribed to help combat the build-up of dead skin cells.

Prescription acne cream can take around 3 months to work, so you may find faster, more noticeable results with Differin instead of the contraceptive pill.

Differin is available to buy directly from PostMyMeds in either a cream or a gel form.

Browse hormonal acne treatments >

Hormonal acne: Myth-busting and FAQs

Can poor hygiene cause acne?

No. There is no evidence that dirty skin or poor hygiene causes acne.

Can sexual activity cause acne?

No. There is no clear evidence to support the belief that sexual activity can cause acne.

Is it ok to squeeze blackheads or whiteheads?

Trying to manage your acne by squeezing whiteheads or blackheads is not advisable. In many cases, it can make acne worse and even cause scarring.

Is acne infectious or contagious?  

Despite popular belief, acne is not actually infectious, and it cannot be passed on to other people.

Can toothpaste help to dry up spots? 

Although toothpaste contains antibacterial substances, there are also other substances in it which could damage or irritate your skin. There are many safer, more effective acne treatments available from online pharmacies like PostMyMeds.



Although all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it should not be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please speak to your doctor.

Authored Jul 30, 2022 by Joseph Issac, MPharm
Reviewed Feb 01, 2023 by Prabjeet Saundh, MPharm