So you stopped taking birth control pills. Reasons for doing so aside, your skin is probably freaking out about it. You suddenly went from having clear skin to breaking out along your chin and jawline with deep, cystic pimples. Go ahead and blame your hormones. Dermatologists will support you in that statement.
When you’re on oral contraceptives, you’re less likely to have cystic acne because hormones — like sebum-stimulating testosterone, as well as progesterone, which gets ovulation going and causes hormonal acne — are suppressed, says New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist Anne Chapas. In fact, studies have shown birth control can be just as effective as taking oral antibiotics for acne. This proves just how much hormones influence acne and how much oil our skin produces, she adds.
Once you stop taking the pill, your body starts producing its own hormones and has to adjust to the spiking levels. As your body tries to balance out your hormones, acne is inevitable. “Think of a teacher leaving a classroom filled with young kids,” says Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine’s department of dermatology. “When you remover the regulator, it is more likely that trouble will ensue.” Even those who have never dealt with breakouts before may start getting them because of this, she adds.
How long can you expect to be dealing with these effects as your hormone levels even out? Dermatologists can’t give an exact timeframe. Age factors in, as well as how long it takes for your period to become regular again. “Some may resolve in three months; others may take a year,” Gohara says. “Everyone’s course is different.”
While you’re waiting for your cycle to regulate itself, Gohara and Chapas have some tips to incorporate into your skin-care routine to make your newfound cystic acne easier to deal with.
Limit the Amount of Product You Use
Keep your skin-care routine as simple and gentle as you possibly can. Consider this your skin fasting moment. All you really need is a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. You can incorporate treatments based on advice from your dermatologist.
“Dumping on products and excessive scrubbing, exfoliating, or peeling can stoke the fire,” Gohara says. “Try not to be seduced by the next shiny object. Stick with what works for you, and change it only if there is an issue.”
Seek Out Salicylic Acid
For your cleansing step, Chapas recommends reaching for a face wash formulated with salicylic acid. To get technical, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), so its oil-soluble structure can penetrate into the pores of your skin to unclog them and clear them out. The Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser or Dr. Jart+’s Teatreement Cleansing Foam are great options.
Many toners, like the Ole Henriksen Balancing Force Oil Control Toner, are spiked with salicylic acid, too. Pat one on to give your skin an extra layer of treatment and nourishment.
Ask Your Dermatologist for Aczone
Although spot treatments formulated with benzoyl peroxide help in a pinch to heal breakouts, your best line of defense is Aczone, according to Chapas. “It is the gold standard,” she says. Known generically as dapsone, the anti-inflammatory gel blocks the hormone receptors on the surface of the skin, targeting and preventing cystic acne along the chin and jawline, Chapas explains. The only caveat is you can’t use it if you got off birth control to try to get pregnant because dapsone is contraindicating with pregnancy.
Something else dermatologists may prescribe for those not trying to get pregnant is spironolactone. The oral medication helps block hormone receptors just like oral contraceptives do without actually taking synthetic hormones.
If prescription topicals aren’t a possibility for you, Gohara suggests over-the-counter retinols like Differin Gel to prevent further acne and acne scarring.
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