Teenagers get pimples most frequently; the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that most of the more than 40 million annual acne sufferers are teens. But adult women also suffer from acne, and in them it often appears to be related to their monthly cycles. If you're one of these women, Alesse birth control pills might help you control your breakouts.
Acne appears when your skin's oil-producing glands make too much of the oil called sebum, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The glands make oil in response to signals from hormones called androgens, a group of hormones that includes the male hormone testosterone. If you have high levels of androgens, or if your skin's glands respond too sensitively to those hormones, you'll get oily skin and potentially, acne.
Alesse birth control pills, which contain ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel, both female-type hormones, can counter and eventually lower the levels of androgens in your body by replacing them with estrogen compounds, which are female hormones. Although Alesse hasn't received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval specifically for acne outbreaks, physicians are free to prescribe it to treat acne.
Oral contraceptives such as Alesse work well to treat acne, medical research shows. In one trial, reported in the medical journal "Obstetrics and Gynecology" in October 2008, clinicians compared results in more than 500 women who took either an oral contraceptive or a placebo to treat their mild to moderate acne. After six months, the group taking the oral contraceptive had reduced their acne lesions by nearly half, and many reported having clear or almost clear skin.
Don't expect Alesse to work quickly to control your acne. Clinical trials and other research show that birth control pills take up to six months to clear skin noticeably, and your skin may well look worse before any clearing starts, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition, your dermatologist may recommend you use a topical acne product, either prescription or over-the-counter, in addition to Alesse for the best results.
Although millions of women take oral contraceptives such as Alesse daily, they do carry some risks. You shouldn't take Alesse if you have a medical history that includes stroke, blood clots or cancer of the breast, liver or uterus. Those women with migraines, severe high blood pressure, or a heart valve disorder also should avoid the drug. Your doctor may advise against Alesse if you're older than 35 or if you smoke.