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Acne & Levonorgestrel

author image J.M. Andrews
J.M. Andrews has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years. She specializes in health and medical content for consumers and health professionals. Andrews' background in medicine and science has earned her credits in a wide range of online and print publications, including "Young Physicians" magazine.
Acne & Levonorgestrel
Oral contraceptives containing levonorgestrel can treat acne outbreaks.

Dermatologists believe hormones cause acne, and teenagers who get acne as their hormones awaken in puberty probably would agree. But teens aren't the only ones to suffer from pimples--adult women often see breakouts prior to their menstrual periods or when they get pregnant, according to the Cleveland Clinic. As with teen acne, hormones are to blame. However, there's a solution: birth control pills containing the ingredient levonorgestrel.

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When the level of your hormones--specifically, the male hormones called androgens--rises, those male hormones prod the glands in your skin to produce the oil you find on your skin's surface. This oil, if there's too much of it, can clog your pores and encourage bacterial growth. Although some women who get acne have other medical conditions, most have normal hormonal levels, and simply have skin that reacts more than the average to normal monthly hormonal shifts.


Levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone, can prevent pregnancy by itself when used as an emergency contraceptive. But for acne treatment, you take birth control pills containing the ingredients ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel. Oral contraceptives help to curb acne by smoothing out drastic monthly hormone swings, which helps to slow oil production in the skin.

Side Effects

Oral contraceptives, including those with the active ingredients ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel, carry the risk of some side effects, according to the Mayo Clinic. After starting the pills or even after taking them for a while, you may get headaches, changes in your menstrual flow, nausea and vomiting, breast tenderness and even depression. You also run a small risk of serious cardiovascular complications, such as blood clots.


Medical research shows that birth control pills containing levonorgestrel can help to halt your acne. For example, a study published in the "American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology" in 2003 compared the effects of different birth control pills in 34 women who took them for nine months. The clinicians found that acne decreased by more than half in the group that took the levonorgesterl-containing pill.


Although oral contraceptives that contain levonorgestrel can help you clear your acne, many dermatologists urge you to try other treatments for acne, either first or along with your birth control pills, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Since oral contraceptives only treat the excess oiliness that helps to cause acne, other medications that target bacterial infection and clogged pores directly can help you clear your skin and prevent new breakouts.

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