Unfortunately for many women who stop taking the pill (oral contraceptive pill or OCP) a worrying side effect can occur: post pill acne.
Many women give up the pill for a number of reasons, from coping with difficult side effects, to wanting to return to a natural cycle or perhaps trying to conceive.
For most women giving up the pill can also bring dread - the dread of the skin flare up that follows stopping the pill. For some, the fear can be so much that it can affect them taking control of their own hormonal health.
Every woman’s body is unique and not everyone experiences post pill acne in the same way. Some may only experience a few premenstrual blemishes and others may be faced with very angry inflamed cystic acne on their face and body.
If you have experienced acne prior to starting the pill or have dealt with a new acne flare ups when trying to withdraw, we want you to fully understand there are natural solutions to help you get your hormonal health back on track!
It’s good old fashion hormonal acne with a twist!
Let’s break down what can happen:
The synthetic hormones contained in birth control can derail your entire sex hormone system. While these synthetic hormones are in your body, your own body’s hormone control (or endocrine regulation of sex hormone production) does not occur or regulate itself in the way it was intended to, at all.
Synthetic forms of oestrogen in the pill have the ability to suppress adult sebum production (this is the oily secretion of the sebaceous glands), to a level we only experience during childhood. The pill can also change the contents of the sebum.
Many women feel as though their pores disappear entirely while on the pill, this is not a natural scenario and as your body withdraws from the medication you can experience an excess secretion of sebum.
Retrain the brain
When coming off the pill a main issue is that your ovaries are learning how to communicate with your brain again and vice versa, this can send you back to the dark ages of puberty!
A side effect of this can be the suppression or over production of androgens - androgens are a group of hormones that play a role in reproductive activity.
A transient form of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can also occur for women coming off the pill. This is due to all the confusion from the synthetic forms of sex hormones that rain down on the endocrine system.
Imbalances in progesterone and oestrogens can also be very inflammatory for acne. This acne can take a couple of months or longer to set in, so some women don’t even make the connection between their decision to stop hormonal birth control and their new-found skin trauma.
Generally, the post pill acne presentation has peaked by 3-6 months and can remain like this for 18 months or at times longer if left unchecked.
There are most definitely tools at your disposal to help you navigate this period of hormonal chaos.
Nutrients depleted by taking the pill are some of those very necessary for hormonal regulation, so it’s vital to restore optimal levels.
Magnesium needed for COMT function, this is the enzyme that regulates phase-2 liver detoxification of steroid hormones.
Vitamin B6 that modulates the effects of oestrogen while improving progesterone production.
Vitamin B12 needed in its active form for the methylation pathway for liver detoxification of steroid hormones working in conjunction with the COMT enzyme.
Selenium and zinc are two very functional minerals depleted by the pill, both playing a role in lowering the DHT form of testosterone. DHT being very problematic in many hormonal acne cases.
Zinc is the priority and can be used in preparation for withdrawing from the pill. In addition to DHT lowering effects, zinc also aids acne wound healing, scar preventions and regulates the normal desquamation process of keratinocytes - this essentially means that dead skin cells are shed rather than clog the hair follicle causing blemishes.
Omega-3 is another important nutritional intervention in acne. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, this means your body cannot make it, therefore it must be found from your diet or supplements. The benefits of Omega-3 supplementation in acne stem from its anti-inflammatory effect and an ability to keep sebum fluid. Sebum that is fluid moves easily rather than thickening where it can form stasis, this is clogging the hair follicle causing congestion and acne lesions. It’s important to use good quality Omega-3, as what you pay for is what you get with fish oil!
Dairy is public enemy number one to hormonal acne, it contains a protein called IGF-1 that increases androgens in the female body and is generally inflammatory, not a mechanism that promotes healthy skin.
Sugar and chemically refined oils such as trans fats also exacerbate and inflame so both should be avoided in prevention and management of post pill acne.
Eat plenty of brassica vegetables, this includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale and collard greens. The Brassica family of veggies contains naturally sourced DIM, a phytochemical that promotes healthy oestrogen and androgen clearance in hormonal imbalances.
Drink spearmint tea, this cup of freshness is often used in the middle-east regions as a remedy for hirsutism (excess hair growth) another androgen excess condition. A Turkish study showed that 2 cups per day was enough to lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS, an androgen excess state.
We’ve provided you with a few great natural interventions and first line treatment strategies in hormonal acne.
However, if your skin condition has progressively worsened or is not responding to the above suggestions, we strongly suggest you seek out expert advice and support from our Naturopath Eliisa Roy.
As with hormonal acne in general, there are many herbal and nutritional interventions that can be used to regulate patterns of hormonal imbalance. Specific imbalance can be unique from one hormonal acne case to the next and high-quality hormone testing is often needed to produce the best treatment plans and results.
At Komyuniti our team utilises an evidence-based approach to support you. We have years of experience and pride ourselves on being educated in the very latest research to help guide what we do.
Article written by Elissa Roy