I get asked a lot of questions about The Pill (birth control pills). The two questions that come up the most is what my opinion is about taking birth control pills for treating acne, hormone imbalances, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and what to do when you do get off The Pill and your breakouts are even worse?
When it comes to deciding if you want to take birth control pills, that’s entirely your decision. I’m not here to say yes or no, and I am certainly not here to judge. What I’d like to do instead is share my experience, and offer some suggestions on how to support your health if you are taking them, and how to make the transition off of them easier.
My Own Personal Experience Taking Birth Control Pills To Treat Acne & Breakouts
Back when I was a teenager, I went on The Pill hoping it could help clear up my acne. I stayed on The Pill for almost a decade, until my mid-twenties when my doctor told me I was on it for too long and it was time to get off of it. As she told me that, she also glanced over looking at my face and said “and obviously it’s not working” (I’ll never forget that!).
The Pill never really helped my skin, and looking back, I’m not sure why I had stayed on it for so long. I think I was hoping that one day I’d just wake up with clear skin, and perhaps if I stayed on it long enough, it would start “working.”
When I got off the pill, my situation was quite extreme. Not only did I have even worse breakouts, but I didn’t get a period for 2-3 years. And because of that, I had some tests done and found out I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) with cysts covering both my ovaries. It turned out The Pill had been masking the PCOS symptoms all along and I was completely unaware I had this health condition.
When I found out I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome my doctor and endocrinologist wanted me to go back on the birth control pills to force my body to have regular periods again (because I wouldn’t get a period on my own for a few years at a time). But when I asked what The Pill really does and if it will help to balance my hormones and cure the PCOS, the answer was no.
All The Pill does is force your body to shed the lining of your uterus every month (which is important if you don’t get a regular period on your own, especially in preventing reproductive cancers). But with The Pill, you’re not ovulating, and therefore not having a real menstrual cycle. As one doctor put it, you’re kind of having a “fake” period. It looks like a period, but it’s not a real one.
In my situation, because I was already on The Pill for almost a decade and unknowingly developed PCOS while I was on The Pill, and both my ovaries were covered with cysts and all my bloodwork showed abnormal hormone levels, the last thing I wanted to do was go back on The Pill. I was scared to go back on The Pill. I was scared of taking any more hormones.
So what I decided to do instead was take an alternative approach to get my hormones back into balance, get my period back, and get rid of all the symptoms of PCOS. I wanted to see if by getting super healthy by improving my diet and lifestyle, if that could help.
I made an agreement with my GP and Endocrinologist that I wanted to first see if diet and lifestyle improvements could help before taking any more pills or hormones. We agreed that I would have regular check-ups and blood work done every six months to watch my hormone levels, and have a yearly ultrasound to watch the cysts covering my ovaries. The goal was for me to get at least one period a year naturally on my own, and if I didn’t get a period for 2 years at a time I agreed I would be open for further discussion about taking progesterone or birth control pills to force a period/shedding of the lining of my uterus.
To make a long story short, I changed my diet and lifestyle considerably (I even went on a strict raw food diet for 4 years!). Over time I was able to balance all my hormones, my adult acne cleared up, I got my menstrual period back regularly, all the cysts covering both ovaries disappeared, I started ovulating again, and a few years ago I got pregnant naturally and gave birth to my daughter Luna Ray. All this healing happened without taking birth control pills, progesterone, and other medications doctors wanted me to take to treat PCOS and hormone imbalance.
Did all the healing and reversal of PCOS symptoms happen over night? No way! It took years to completely heal my body (5+ years to go from no period to monthly ovulation + period). I completely healed my self, and both my GP and endocrinologist compared all my blood work results over the years, and ultrasound films and I’m considered 100% PCOS-Free, completely 100% cured.
No hormones, no drugs.
What you need to know about taking The Pill
So if you’re thinking about taking The Pill or any other hormone drugs to treat acne, PCOS, or other hormone imbalances; here’s a few things you do need to know:
Once you start taking hormones (The Pill, Hormone Replacement Therapy/HRT, synthetic hormones, natural hormones like wild yam progesterone cream, etc) – you’re weakening your body’s ability to produce it’s own. It’s kind of like your muscles, if you don’t use them, they’ll become weak; if you use the regularly, they’ll stay strong.
Your hormones also work synergistically, which means hormone levels change in relation to other hormone levels. For example if your progesterone is low, that could have to do with having too high estrogen or too high testosterone. Once one hormone that is abnormally high comes back down to a healthy range, a lot of times the other hormones that are too low end up coming back up (all your hormones work together).
Because your hormones work synergistically, and not individually, it’s very hard to balance your hormones with hormone drugs (pharmaceutical or natural). And that’s why many of you who’ve tried taking The Pill to balance your hormones to get rid of acne have failed. I can’t tell you how many people write me saying:
“Natasha, I just got off The Pill and my breakouts are terrible! I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go back on The Pill because I don’t think that was helping my skin either. Please help!”
I know for myself, I was on The Pill for too many years hoping one day I’d wake up with clear skin. And that never happened.
Like many of you, my skin was terrible while I was on The Pill, and once I got off it, my hormones were all over the place, and my skin was even worse.
Getting off The Pill and getting breakouts…
If you’re getting off The Pill and your skin is breaking out – I want to assure you this is normal. You’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to ride it out.
If you are freaked out and go back on The Pill, you’re just delaying the inevitable (and ask yourself, was The Pill really helping anyway?).
The breakouts you are having after stopping birth control pills is your body’s reaction to sudden change in hormones. Your body naturally wants (and needs) your hormones to be balanced, so it is working hard to get things right again (but it can take a while).
With that being said, it can take 6-12 months for your body to get back to balance after getting off birth control pills, and in some cases even longer. And this means issues like breakouts and acne can get temporarily worse, before it gets better.
How you can support your body during the transition off The Pill
The best way of supporting your body to get back to balance (which will also help to minimize breakouts), is to take really good care of your self. I can’t stress this enough.
Getting off birth control pills is big. Especially for those of you who have been on it for years. You’ve pretty much been taking synthetic hormones on a daily basis, and as soon as you stop, your body has to start producing it on it’s own, and this takes time.
There are things you can do to make this transition easier:
- Eating nutritious food
- Cut all dairy products out of your diet (animal milk contains naturally occurring hormones which can interfere with your own)
- Cut all processed sugar from your diet (your hormones are connected to your blood sugar and too much sugar contributes to hormone imbalance)
- Cut all junk food and fast food out of your diet
- Make sure to eat foods rich in healthy fats (your body needs healthy fats to produce hormones, so do make sure to eat foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut meat, eggs, wild fatty fish, grass-fed meats, etc)
- Get good quality sleep
- Exercising daily
- Keeping stress to a minimum
- Using safe non-toxic cosmetics & skin care products (many mainstream beauty products contain ingredients known to disrupt your hormones and endocrine system, you want to stay away from that).
- Don’t over-stimulate or tax your body with caffeine, alcohol, or polluted environments
- Create a healthy rhythm in your life – your menstrual cycle is a rhythm itself, and to get that regular again, your body needs a consistent everyday rythme/routine (like waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, being awake during daylight hours, eating regular meals, etc.)
What about cleanses or fasting to detoxify after getting off The Pill?
I am a big fan of juice fasting and dietary cleanses, especially for speeding up the release of medications and harmful substances from your body (including getting off of addictive substances and ingredients like sugar, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, MSG, etc.).
When I was in the throes of trying to reverse PCOS, I did a lot of juice fasting, and the raw food diet. It not only cleaned out my body, but it made my digestive system work more efficiently, strengthen my immune system, and gave my body a chance to really heal (instead of bombarding my body with caffeine, sugar and processed food all the time, I was flooding it with nutrition instead).
So if you’re thinking of doing a juice fast or doing a dietary cleanse like the raw food diet, it can definitely help. If not, just eating a super healthy diet, exercising every day, and drinking plenty of fluids will also support your body’s ability to detoxify and release the medications from your system. Your body is naturally detoxifying 24 hours every day, on it’s own. You don’t necessarily need to do a hard core juice fast to detoxify (unless you want to!).
And if you are on The Pill, how to support your health while taking it
And lastly, I do know some of you reading this article right now are on The Pill, and plan on staying on it. I want to give you some recommendations on how to take extra care of your body while being on The Pill to support your health.
While taking The Pill, it’s so important to take extra care of your health, and treat/protect your body the same way you would while taking any other medication or antibiotics, including:
- Eating nutritious food
- Cut all processed sugar, junk foods and fast food out of your diet
- Abstain from alcohol – the combination of any medications and alcohol is extremely harsh on your liver
- Avoid foods containing naturally occurring hormones (dairy products, soy products, flax seed) – the combination of taking birth control pills and foods high in naturally occurring hormones might adversely affect your hormones, especially if you consume large amounts of these foods daily).
- Take a probiotic daily (or eat fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, nato, tempeh, etc). Taking any medication, including birth control pills interferes with the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract, so replenishing the good bacteria daily is very important for your digestion and strong immunity.
- Using safe non-toxic cosmetics & skin care products (many mainstream beauty products contain ingredients known to disrupt your hormones and endocrine system which can put extra strain on your body, especially while taking birth control pills).
- Exercise daily
- Make sure to keep your weight at a healthy range (if you need to lose or gain weight, make that a priority).
Do you have an experience of using birth control pills to heal acne? Was there anything you did to help support your health while taking them, or anything you did to make the transition off of them easier? (Please post in the comments below).