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The deal with hormonal skin after getting off birth control: From why our skin acts up to how to deal with hormonal skin

The deal with hormonal skin after getting off birth control: From why our skin acts up to how to deal with hormonal skin

Stop the pop

Text: Azrin Tan


There are more reasons than one why you might be looking to opt out of the pill: you're actually looking to get preggers; you realize it was affecting your mental health more than you thought possible; or you simply realised a birth control pill prescribed to control all your hormonal mood swings may not be the best option in the long-run. Whatever the situation, the much-lauded pill has proven to be the absolute epitome of two sides of the same coin. With all its prevalent benefits when you're on the pill, comes its equally prevalent side effects — especially when you're just getting off it.

From cystic acne to more severe mood swings, it's a whole new set of issues that perhaps might be better dealt with if you're going in (or out of it) prepared. Whilst we might not be the certified experts to help you with those mood swings, we did talk to the real expert to help us all understand the effects of birth pills on our skin, and what really happens when we decide to stop popping it one fine morning. We speak to Dr. Teo Wan Lin, an accredited dermatologist and founder of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre to dish the dirt on the hormonal effects on our skin when we go off the miracle pill. Uncover it all, below.

How do our hormonal levels affect our skin?

When a female undergoes menstruation, there is a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels just before one's period starts. This can trigger off the oil glands to produce more sebum. Excess oil would result in the increase of clogged pores and hence, acne breakouts. The general fluctuation of hormones in the body would make the environment more conducive to acne-causing bacteria. These fluctuations are commonly associated with our PMS aka pre-menstrual stress, in itself causing a psychological reaction that can worsen acne.

What do birth control pills actually do for our hormone levels?

Birth control pills control adult hormonal acne by manipulating the level of circulating sex hormones. Most oral contraceptive pills contain a derivative of estrogen and a progestine that counteracts the effects of testosterone. If you have higher levels of circulating estrogen — which is physiologically the case for men more than women — you can expect smoother, softer skin. So in the case that one suffers from hormonal acne and you take a birth control pill, you are essentially circulating more estrogen in your system and effectively blocking the effects of testosterone: the main cause for acne flare-ups before one's period.

The TLDR; the pill helps to balance out the levels of estrogen and testosterone in your system giving way to less acne flare-ups and better skin all around.

Why do women who get off birth control pills suddenly suffer from breakouts?

Some women may be used to taking birth control pills for several years, sometimes even decades. So certainly, when these women decide to get off the pill, there is an abrupt withdrawal of the supply of estrogen that the body is so used to, and thus they develop hormonal acne. This is especially the case for those who have a personal history or family history with predisposed cystic acne conditions.

Physiologically, it will settle on its own with care but should it persist, it might be indicative of a more serious underlying condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In this case, Dr. Teo highly advises to look out for symptoms such as increased hair growth, adult onset acne, weight gain and irregular periods. Should you find a cause for worry, it would be advisable to visit a gynaecologist.

What do you suggest for people dealing with troubled skin after getting off the pill?

As Dr. Teo assures most of us, this hormonal roller coaster won't last forever, and can be mitigated. With the help of a clear skincare routine, and some topical medications to help counter the hormonal imbalance, our bodies will begin to get used to our hormonal levels again, and severe breakouts will be better controlled. Of course in certain cases a combination of blue-light treatment, chemical peels, microdermabrasion and even certain types of lasers might be prove to be of more help, and in these cases, a dermatologist is your best bet. But if you're looking for the first steps to take to preparing your skin for the pill stop? Look no further, we've gathered some tips below.

A clear skincare routine

At the end of the day, our skin is susceptible to the environment it is engulfed in, and the skincare routine it is exposed to. By creating a gentle routine that is clean and fuss-free, this will help to reduce the risk of more sensitive breakouts. This might consist of introducing certain products with anti-microbial properties, thus allowing less bacteria on our contact surfaces — keeping your face cleaner overall. Makeup and hair products should also be non-comedogenic, meaning they shouldn't cause blockage of pores.

Topical supplements

Certain topical medicines or ingredients may also be helpful to improve the condition of your cystic or chronic acne from hormonal changes. Some of these include adding prebiotics to your routine — the 'good bacteria' counter to acne. Other ingredients to look out for include niacinamide, certain botanical actives, chlorella vulgaris extracts, and retinoids. Of course, like with any skincare product, err on the side of caution, and do a test swatch before applying it all on your face. But with that being said, we've sourced a couple of products that might be of help when you do decide to stop the pop.