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).
Hi Natasha, my story is similar to yours. I recently got off the pill after being on it for years. I am struggling with acne (which I never had pre-pill), and went to the doctor where I was diagnosed with PCOS from an ultra-sound and a blood test showing elevated testosterone levels. My doctor told me the condition was not caused from the pill, and suggested I go back on it which I do not want to do, as I am kind of regretting taking it in the first place. Do you have any opinion on pill-induced PCOS? Before being on the pill, I had regular periods, no acne..etc. My doctor made it seem like something I have always had, but I am not so sure..
I’m sorry to hear you have to deal with the PCOS as well. It sound to me your situation similar to mine. I wouldn’t be surprised if taking the Pill is connected to developing PCOS (any time you take any hormones, synthetic or natural, it’ll mess with your own). In my situation I suspect it was a combination of things including being on the Pill for so long, I was also a heavy smoker at the time, I lived on coffee and sugar, and I was eating soy 3 times a day, every day for nearly a decade. All those things combined set me up for some serious hormone issues! One symptom I didn’t have with PCOS was a weight issue. At the time of being diagnosed, I was underweight, which made it even more difficult to treat PCOS (many times if someone with PCOS is overweight, losing 5-10 pounds can drastically improve the symptoms, even reverse them, but with PCOS it can be really hard to lose weight, even a few pounds). Moving forward, what’s most important for you now is to be super healthy, whatever you can do to keep your blood sugar balanced will help PCOS tremendously (avoid all sugar and processed food, exercise daily, reduce stress, etc.) You can beat it, but it does take time (and patience). Do keep in touch and let me know how things go.
Thank you for all the great information you’ve been providing over time.
As a teenager I always suffered from severe acne breakouts all over my face, neck,head, chest and back all the way down to my bottom. Apart from the social problems that brought me (people that didn’t want to kiss me goodbye because of how bad my scars looked),it really hurt a lot.
I had my periods every month but sometimes I had so much pain I would start to change colour and could not stand up.
I was like 15Kg overweight and I ate just pure junk food.
One day my doctor decided I was passed the acne prone age and I should start taking the birth control pill to heal it (Dianne, the one that killed a few women in France some time ago).
My acne didn’t clear up. I decided to search the Internet around, trying to heal it and to lose weight, which was proving to be impossible. I found out that what the birth control pill didn’t do, leaving dairy and refined sugar behind did. So I no longer needed the birth control pill. Once I stopped it I started to improve my mood and my legs felt much lighter. The only problem was now an absent period for more than a year. My doctor prescribed me another birth control pill, which I had for one month but stopped because I had an uncontrollable urge to jump off a bridge.
I found a brasilian recipe and decided to give it a go. In 6 months I had my period back and almost regular (every 40 to 45 days). My exams show that my policistic ovaries are now normal.
On the day my period arives, I start to take half a litter of uncaria tormentosa infusion in the afternoon and half litter of
Endopleura uchi (Huber) Cuatrec, for 7 days.
What do you think of that? Is it bad for me? Like natural occurring hormones?
Sometimes I still have terrible breakouts on my shoulders and chin. Why is that? Hormonal disfunction?
Thanks for your time
I too was on Dianne (around the time all those women died I was taken off of it, probably for that reason). Majority of birth control pills gave me severe depression (except for Dianne and that’s why I was on it for so long), you described it perfectly as “wanting to jump off a bridge,” and for the most part that’s what made me never want to take the pill again. I also got that severe depression from trying natural hormones like wild yam progesterone cream, so I just stay away from all hormone stuff. I’m weary of natural and herbal hormone remedies as much as synthetic.. I couldn’t tell you if it’s safe or not, but what I can recommend is to continue taking extra care of your health and try to eventually wean yourself off of it – which is possible without the PCOS coming back. As for the breakouts on your chin, it’s hormonal, and the breakouts on your back could be coming from cooking oils, so try and reduce that in your diet. Have you tried the infused water with mint yet? (lesson #1 in my free course) – it works great for hormonal breakouts without interfering with your hormones. Do give it a try!
I have a question…can you still do The CLEAR SKIN Diet while on the pill? Will it help keep my skin clear? I have noticed when I forget to take my multi-vitamin and/or add lemon to my water, my skin tends to break out more… I am wondering if I need to change my diet even more…
Yes, you can follow all The CLEAR SKIN Diet Rules while on the pill. It won’t interfere with the pill, and it will clear your skin up! Definitely 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story. I was diagnosed with PCOS at 17. I never had a regular period, sometimes I would go 8-9 months without one, I had acne and an ultra sound confirmed the diagnosis when it came back with both ovaries being covered in cysts. My gynocologist at the time, put my on birth control and spironolcatone and I have been on this treatment ever since (I am now 22). Being 17 at the time, I wasn’t really sure what was going on or what I had been diagnosed with, but I was under the impression the birth control and spironolactone would “cure me”. This treatment seemed to work in the beginning but i started to still have massive break outs for no apparent reason. I went back to my docotor who told me that this is the treatment and nothing more can be done. I have been doing extensive reasesrch and I am now wanting to get off the pill and the spironolactone, as I want to balance my hormones.
I have been reading about bio-identical progesterone therapy to help aid in reestablishing a normal cycle. Do you know anything about this?
I have always been an athlete and very fit, my diet is good, I am not over weight, my thyroid is great and I have no insulin resistance and am not pre diabetic.It’s extremely frustrating to have the continued acne and hair growth and I just want to have some relief.
I have read a lot that diet can aid and possibly cure this condition, as you have proved. I just feel unsure as I am a relatively healthy person and I find that my breakouts are more linked to stress than food.
Any thoughts or opinions you have would be great! Thank you.
I had a similar experience to you. I was diagnosed with PCOS because both my ovaries were covered in cysts, I got a period once every 2-3 years and had acne. I wasn’t overweight (at the time I was underweight) and I was fit. I wasn’t pre-diabetic, but I could tell I was sugar sensitive (if I ate too much sweets I get moody and tired, but at the same time, I was addicted to them!).
I was also recommended by my doctor and endocrinologist to go on the pill, spironolacatone, and progesterone, but was told it won’t cure PCOS, it will just force my body to shed the lining of my uterus every month since I wasn’t getting regular periods and at risk of reproductive cancers (I wasn’t getting a period for 2-3 years at a time which makes a women susceptible to other reproductive conditions).
I chose not to take the medication, and I am very weary of natural bio-identical hormones as well. My personal view is our hormones work synergistically, you raise one, all the other levels are affected too. I also believe that taking hormones weakens your own body’s ability to produce it’s own, so if you can balance your hormones on their own, that’s the best.
Myself to cure PCOS (which I did – my ovaries no longer have cysts on them, I have a regular periods every month, had two babies naturally, and I don’t have acne anymore) – I had to adopt a ‘mega’ healthy diet and lifestyle, and stick with it for a few years to completely reverse all my symptoms. So it is possible.
I would also say stress is also a part of PCOS and hormone related issues, so keeping stress down is also very important.
Thank you for the informative post. I have been struggling with hormonal acne since more than 1.5 years. Before that, I had clear skin all my life (I just turned 29). I took BC pills for 15 days in Jan 2017 and since then I started getting acne, however, it started to worsen after 6 months when I started getting cystic acne. I am still battling with angry, inflamed acne. I had ultrasound and my left ovary is bigger than the right one but the Gyno has ruled out PCOS. BC has triggered this massive chain of acne.
Nuts and flaxseeds break me out right away. I have tried various supplements; berberine quickened my heartbeat and Omega 3 fish oil gave me under the skin bumps on my forehead. Probiotic wasn’t a massive help either.I am now taking zinc and vitamin D, it is helping somewhat but I still get acne. I avoid dairy and sugar for the most part. I have become very depressed because of persistent acne and losing the will to carry out daily acitivities. Is there any way out? Can you suggest anything? I am running out of options to clear this pill-induced acne.
Thank you so much!
I’m sorry to hear of your skin challenges. I know how frustrating and overwhelming it is. Have you tried my mint water remedy? Along with cutting out the dairy and sugar, I also recommend cutting out all coffee and chocolate too. Also, it’s really important to increase your intake of green vegetables – super important. You should try having vegetables at every meal, and an abundance of them. This really helps the skin heal a lot fast and more efficiently (plus it’ll make your skin glow!).
Hope some of these suggestions can help.
This was a really informative read, thank you. I’ve been taking the contraceptive pill since I was 19 and now at 24 I’m considering coming off of it so I can get to know my body properly, especially since I had very irregular periods. In fact, I didn’t have a period for 10 months and my doctor told me I had to go on the pill without really explaining what that would actually mean, I didn’t know my ‘periods’ were just withdrawal bleeds. Anyway, I’ve suffered from what I suspect is hormonal acne since age 12 and over the last 6 months it has improved dramatically but I’m still getting a few spots here and there. My diet is really good, I maintain an optimal weight, take regular activity and I started supplementing 6 months ago so as to prepare my body to come off the pill, however I’m still terrified of doing it! I’m wondering that since I’m on a low dose pill and if anything my skin has worsened since being on the pill, if I come off of it will my skin actually improve? Recently I’ve started to think it’s the pill as my withdrawal week is the time my skin is clearest. I also haven’t experienced any other side effects since being on the pill.
I never realised how big a deal the pill is! I hope I can be brave enough to come off of it soon and really get my body back into balance.
Thanks again for a great article.
Yes it can be really scary to get off the pill, but definitely worth it to see what will happen. As you said, your diet and lifestyle is really good, that’s great, that will make the transition off the pill a lot easier. And you never know, you might not get any side effects from getting off the pill, and your skin might improve right away. The only way of knowing is trying. I’ve known many people who got off the pill without their skin freaking out, and within a few weeks they saw great changes in their skin. Most important, don’t stress about it (cause we know stress makes skin worse!).
Please keep me posted with your progress 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story, I have spent many days searching the internet for testimonials and “cures” to my adult acne. I went on the pill 4 years ago, and 2 years in I started having these huge acne breakouts, mainly cystic acne across my jaw and chin, and some at the top of my head in the corners. I was so ashamed to leave my house, that I only really came out when necessary, losing all my social life that I had before. Now, once a year I get breakouts, with the latest one being a lot more mild than the previous 2, but still not mild enough to make me feel confident. I wondered whether the pill had something to do with this, I’ve seen many contradictory websites but can only think that the pill is behind this because my acne was NEVER this bad before the pill. (I had the occasional teenage acne) but nothing on this level. I am thinking of stopping, but its a difficult decision to make. Would the CLEAR SKIN DIET help me even if I am on the pill ? I am about to start cutting out many foods and taking a few supplements in order to restore a happy and healthy skin. IF you have any comments, I would be very grateful 🙂
Sorry for the late reply, for some reason I missed your comment/question.
You can try making diet changes while on the pill and see if it helps (I would recommend starting with cutting out dairy from your diet). Try it for a couple of weeks and see how it goes. For some people they can stay on the pill and make diet changes and clear up their skin, others need to get off the pill until they can start seeing results. For myself, the pill gave me breakouts, and once I got off of it, my skin improved, but I still needed to change my diet in order to get rid of acne completely. We’re all different and there’s no way of knowing what will work until you try things out to see.