If you've ever dealt with any kind of hormonal acne, you'll relate strongly to what I'm about to say. Sure, my skin may not look so bad in the above photo (thank you based foundation gods), but I'll be the first person to tell you that it had a complete field day when I decided to go off hormonal birth control. I'd been taking the pill for over five years and just decided it was time to consider other options. I took it for so long due to irregular periods and severe cramping, but after all this time, it seemed to be doing more harm than good to my body. To name a few harrowing symptoms, I'd gotten extremely dry hair, was always bloated, and was even short of breath from time to time. Needless to say, I think I made the right decision.
What I wasn't quite prepared for, however, were the horrible cystic breakouts along my jawline that I got almost immediately after I stopped taking it. After speaking to quite a few other women about this, I realized that this was pretty common. Many women struggle with massive hormonal breakouts as soon as they go off the pill, so I decided to create a CliffsNotes version of the products I've been using to help.
Now, I also have to preface this by saying that I'm a big believer in nutrition and herbal support to help combat acne. Diet and your overall health do play a role in things like this so that's something to consider as well. I'm going into my third month off the pill and I'd be lying if I said my skin has completely cleared up, but it has massively improved. If you're interested in hearing about why this happens from a derm and want to know more about the products I've been using to help, keep reading below.
How Hormone Changes Can Effect Your Skin and What to Do About It
Board-certified dermatologist Azadeh Shirazi, MD, gave us a rundown on this. "Any shift in our hormonal climate can have a profound effect on the skin resulting in changes in oil production, cellular renewal, the microbiome, as well as skin barrier and hydration," she says. "This ultimately results in breakouts or flare-ups in skin conditions. It's important to maintain a simple healthy skincare regimen without overdoing it with too much exfoliation, not enough hydration, or using too many products."
Board-certified dermatologist Lauren Penzi, MD also weighed in. "Combined oral contraceptive pills that contain estrogen and progesterone are beneficial and often prescribed for hormonal acne," she states. "This is because they act to suppress our body's natural androgens, including dihydrotestosterone and testosterone that increase [the] growth of sebaceous glands and sebum production, which creates excess oil and clogged pores that leads to acne. Upon removal of the synthetic hormones in birth control pills, there is a surge in these androgens that causes breakouts."
Another factor to consider here is your skin type. If you have dry, acne-prone skin, or sensitive, acne-prone skin, this will also make a difference when selecting your regimen to help clear things up. "Products should be selected based on [your] skin type. Those with oily skin can opt for lighter formulations while those with dry skin can use heavier cream formulas," Shirazi shares.
If your skin can tolerate a retinoid, Penzi also says it's a good idea to incorporate one. "Having a retinoid on board will hopefully mitigate breakouts that occur when you go off birth control. This is because it works to increase cell turnover, decreases sebum production, reduces inflammation, and clears out dead skin cells. If you haven’t already started a retinol or retinoid when starting birth control, I recommend trying to start one two to three months before stopping the birth control."
For reference, I have sensitive, acne-prone skin. For a while there, it was also extremely reactive when I found out I was allergic to a product I'd been using. I've listed my current routine below along with a few other dermatologist-approved products.
My Post–Birth Control Skincare Regimen
I recently went to Biologique Recherche Ambassade, the brand's new flagship store in L.A., and it was a game-changer for my skin. I received a skin analysis that told me all about my skin's current makeup and what needs improvement. It was extremely helpful and my facialist suggested I start with this milky botanical cleanser because it's great for sensitive, reactive skin. It's quite literally the best face wash I've used for my skin type. Most other face washes have caused my skin to be dry or would irritate breakouts even more and I didn't even realize it. But this beauty of a cleanser does none of that and leaves my skin so soft and hydrated.
Before you start thinking that Biologique gave me all these products for free and that's why I'm saying this, think again. I purchased these products with my own money because I was that impressed after getting a custom facial at the Ambassade. P50W is the brand's most gentle exfoliating lotion for sensitive skin and the glow I've seen after using it is incredible. Yes, Biologique products are also definitely higher-end price-wise, but I wouldn't be recommending them if I wasn't super impressed with the results. They're well worth it and P50W keeps my pores clear without overdrying my skin.
Dermpore works over time with a high concentration of active ingredients to tighten dilated pores which can cause acne. It also helps purify the epidermis and keeps it matte and looking fresh. This has been a key serum for me along with the brand's corresponding creme.
Creme Dermopurifiante was the most recommended product for my skin by the facialist at Biologique. It has a high concentration of antibacterial ingredients that work together with Dermopore to cleanse the epidermis of acne-causing bacteria. I've been using it for a little over a month now and have noticed a massive improvement in the acne along my jawline. It has fast become my new favorite cream. It also leaves my skin feeling really fresh and hydrated despite being a strong acne fighter.
I do at-home microcurrent treatments two or three times a week and that has also really improved the texture and tone of my skin. This ATP Booster Gel Mask is great to layer under conductivity gel when doing a microcurrent treatment because it helps stimulate cell renewal and boosts ATP production, resulting in less redness, reduced acne, and scarring on my face.
I'm a big fan of face oils and Byrdoum's organic 100% pure desert date oil is packed with antioxidants and restorative fatty acids that leave my skin glowing and hydrated. I mix a drop with my face cream in the morning and it helps improve hydration levels and reduces any inflamed acne.
As I mentioned above, I love using herbal supplements and tinctures like Cycle Balance from Elix to help correct any hormonal imbalances. Elix is great for anyone who's just going off birth control because each blend is custom-designed for your needs. You take a 10-minute health assessment beforehand and using well-loved herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, they'll create a blend for you and your specific cycle. I honestly credit this product the most for helping improve period symptoms and breakouts. Any cramps during my period have begun to be less and less of an issue every month I take it as well as any new breakouts.
More Derm-Approved Products for Hormonal Breakouts
Shirazi recommends this rich moisturizer from Biossance because it's packed with essential lipids that mimic and support the skin's natural moisture barrier. It also contains squalane, omega fatty acids, ceramides, and plant sterols to nourish and plump the skin.