Oral contraceptives, a mainstay in birth control since they were introduced half a century ago, can do more than just prevent pregnancy--they also can help to control your acne. If you're a woman with mild, moderate or even severe pimples and associated inflammation, your dermatologist may recommend you take Kariva, a form of oral contraceptive, to help improve your complexion.
Since oral contraceptives contain hormones, you might think that acne is a hormonal condition--and you'd be right. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it's the male-type hormones circulating in our bodies that cause the skin to produce too much oil. Once this oil is present in and on the skin, it can clog pores and encourage bacteria to reproduce too fast, the Cleveland Clinic says. This combination of extra oil, clogged-up pores and bacterial infection results in acne.
Kariva contains ethinyl estradiol and desogestrel, two hormones that can prevent pregnancy by stopping you from ovulating and also stopping any embryo from implanting itself in your uterus, according to Drugs.com. These hormones also stop your male hormones from over-stimulating the glands in your skin that make oil, the American Academy of Dermatology says. When you take Kariva or other oral contraceptives for acne, your normal monthly hormonal swings gradually level out and male hormones become less influential in your body, which curbs oil production and acne, the AAD says.
Like almost every birth control pill, you'll take Kariva once per day. It's better to take it at the same time every day, in part because that helps you develop a routine, according to Drugs.com. Again, like other birth control pills, Kariva can cause some side effects, including mild nausea and vomiting, breast pain or swelling, changes in appetite or weight, decreased sex drive and depression, according to Drugs.com.
At least one medical study shows oral contraceptives including the ingredients ethinyl estradiol and desogestrel can effectively treat acne lesions. In a study conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch and reported in 2003, researchers compared ethinyl estradiol and desogestrel-based oral contraceptives to older types of birth control pills. They found that ethinyl estradiol and desogestrel-based pills decreased acne by nearly two-thirds after nine months of treatment.
Clearing your acne with Kariva will take months--you likely won't see good results for half a year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Also, many women with pre-existing medical conditions should not take Kariva or any other oral contraceptive. If your medical history includes liver, breast or uterine cancer, blood clots or migraines, you shouldn't try Kariva to treat your acne.