5 Ways To Avoid Acne Outbreaks After Going Off Birth Control
For many women, going off the pill can create fear and confusion. Problems like hormonal irregularities, migraines, problem periods, and wild mood swings are all too real during the first year when you stop using birth control. But the big question that looms among many patients when they initially see me: Will I get nightmare-inducing acne that made adolescence a living hell when I go off the pill?
The fear can be real: Some of my patients do develop acne a few months after stopping birth control. In fact, it is one of the top symptoms that drives women right back on birth control.
Sometimes they resort to dermatologists, who often recommend prescription drugs, to solve this problem. Others buy expensive skin care regimens or over-the-counter creams to suppress the acne. But none of these fixes addresses what actually creates that acne, which is why they visit me. Believe me, I know how miserable post-pill acne can be. When I quit birth control, I developed cystic acne for the first time in my life. At the time, I was a fitness instructor teaching big groups every day. If I sweated, I just knew a giant zit would suddenly appear.
Post-birth control syndrome (PBCS) acne can show up anywhere: On your face, of course, but also your chest, your neck, your back, and even your booty. But staying on the pill isn't the solution. I became determined to solve this problem so others wouldn't have to suffer the same skin miseries.
So, I took a step back and examined what actually creates acne. And then I put the puzzle pieces together to fix the problem. As I explain in Beyond the Pill, working on my own situation along with many patients, I've identified five triggers that play a massive role in PBCS acne. Here, I cover each and how to address them naturally.
Problem: Nutrient depletion
The pill depletes nutrients like crazy1, making your skin symptoms worse. In fact, birth control zaps a host of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamins C and E, and the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
Zinc, for example, supports healthy immune function and skin. This mineral can inhibit pimples by stopping the bacteria from growing within your sweat glands. Zinc also helps your body use vitamin A, which supports healthy skin and reduces acne.
Solution: Load up on good food and pop a prenatal.
Amp up those nutrient-dense foods! Some zinc-containing foods include nuts and seeds, and my Quick Start Guide provides sample meal plans and outlines the foods to include whether you're on birth control or coming off. Also, consider a prenatal vitamin to replenish those pill-depleting nutrients. Prenatal vitamins are higher in nutrients to help you get back to optimal levels faster.
Problem: Hormone imbalances
Out-of-balance hormones appear out of nowhere when you go off the pill. Consider testosterone, which comes back like a bad ex you thought had disappeared. As a result, your skin can flare up like crazy. That's because this hormone can increase oil production and contribute to jawline acne.
Solution: Balance your blood sugar levels.
Managing your blood sugar becomes crucial to nix post-birth control acne. Blood-sugar roller coasters can trigger your ovaries and adrenals to increase androgens like testosterone. To steady blood sugar, balance your hormones, and maintain all-day energy, eat regular meals that include protein, fiber, and fat (a few great options can be found here in my piece about what to eat to have a great period).
Problem: Gut imbalances
Birth control can lead to leaky gut, dialing up your risk of food sensitivities, inflammation, infections, hormone imbalances, and even autoimmune disease. That's because the pill messes with your oral, vaginal2, and gut flora. That damage remains when you go off the pill, paving the path for acne. Dairy, especially milk, can aggravate the gut and your skin3, making acne and other problems worse.
Solution: Cut out problem foods and replenish good gut bugs.
When a patient has PBCS acne, I almost always start by fixing the gut. After all, what affects your gut also affects your skin. When you have gut imbalances, that disharmony oftentimes manifests on your skin4. I target food sensitivities that can mess with your gut. In addition to eliminating dairy, I've found that it often helps to eliminate gluten and soy as well.
I also recommend a quality probiotic supplement to support balanced gut bugs. And step up that dietary fiber! I recommend 25 grams daily to keep your bowels regular, eliminate waste including unnecessary estrogen, and support your gut. Foods like artichokes, flaxseeds, chia seeds, avocados, onions, garlic, celery, as well as leafy and cruciferous veggies are your acne-fighting besties.
Problem: An overwhelmed liver
Your liver plays head honcho to process all your hormones and move out what your body doesn't need. When it doesn't function well, those hormones can become unruly and acne can flare up. With the pill, you've got so many hormones hanging out that your brain doesn't bother signaling the ovaries to make more. Talk about communication problems!
Solution: Support your liver's natural detox pathways.
Your liver needs the right nutrients to effectively detox your hormones. And yes, the pill depletes some of those nutrients. To support your liver, I like DIM (diindolylmethane), calcium-D-glucarate, green tea extract, and broccoli seed extract. These nutrient rock stars support natural liver detox pathways that also help your gut eliminate excess estrogen.
Problem: A toxic AF environment
We're inundated with tens of thousands of chemicals daily, most of which we know very little about or how they affect long-term health. They're everywhere (food, water, cosmetics, and household cleaners), and it's difficult to avoid them.
Toxic load means your liver works overtime. Add the pill to that problem and you often overwhelm your detox system. Your skin also helps detoxify. When your liver gets backed up, the repercussions show up as—you guessed it—acne.
Solution: Minimize toxin exposure from food, cosmetics, and household products.
You can't eliminate toxins. They are everywhere. But you can reduce your exposure to them. I love the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which provides some super-helpful guides for helping you find food, household products, and cosmetics with the fewest toxins possible.
- The Dirty Dozen guide to the best and worst choices for buying organic or conventional produce
- The Guide to Healthy Cleaning for natural cleaning products
- The Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database for cleaner makeup and skin care products
Keep in mind, these solutions for dealing with PBCS acne can take time. They aren't always quick fixes. But they get to the root of what causes acne so you can maintain clear, vibrant skin and feel your best.
Jolene Brighten, N.D., is a women’s health expert currently working as the President and Chief Medical Officer at Rubus Health in Portland, Oregon. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine and a bachelor’s in Nutrition Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She is the best-selling author of Beyond the Pill, in which she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. Dr. Brighten has been featured in the New York Post, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, ABC News, and The Guardian.