Even though the result was unintended, this week’s meeting of the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee has led to a media blitz that sheds doubt on the effectiveness of birth control pills.
While the FDA has denounced such claims and declared that the true purpose of these meetings “is to discuss clinical trial designs” and that “the newer generation products [birth control pills] are highly effective in preventing pregnancy,” it will be difficult to undo the message of uncertainty already cast upon the reliability of birth control pills.
Besides using birth control as a contraceptive, women also use the pills to treat acne. Now the question arises, “Is the latest generation of birth control pills still reliable acne treatments?”
Doctors prescribe birth control pills to women with mild to moderate acne. The estrogen in the contraceptives help reverse the androgen effects that cause the skin to produce more oils that ultimately clog the pores and provoke acne.
For years, researchers have examined the effectiveness of various oral contraceptives for treating acne. In Denmark, for example, investigators who examined a pool of 186 participants, that included males and females between the ages 15-22, noticed using oral contraceptives was linked with a lower incidence of acne.
Similarly, in Germany investigators tested the efficacy of the contraceptive marketed as Yasmin (contains the estrogen ethinyl estradiol). After nine treatment cycles of Yasmin, about 40 women experienced 62.5% reduction in their acne lesion count. Dermatologists, gynecologists and the patients themselves accessed the level of acne improvements.
In addition to Yasmin, Ortho Tri-Cyclen (contains the hormones norgestimate/ethinyl estradiol) is also used to resolve acne issues. A study issued Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology compared the effectiveness of Ortho Tri-Cyclen versus a placebo in 257 healthy female subjects between the ages of 15 and 49. After six cycles of treatment, patients using the Ortho Tri-Cyclen witness a 62% reduction in acne lesions, while users of the placebo saw a 38% reduction in acne lesion counts.
As the study above and a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology entitled “Selecting an Oral Contraceptive” suggest, often times in contraceptive studies, while the birth control pills proves to be more effective than the placebo, subjects do experience improvements in their acne condition with the placebo. Such findings suggest that in some instances, only time is needed to heal acne prone skin.
Even though studies reveal that birth control pills do combat acne, contraceptives are not ideal for all women with acne. For example, most studies only tested the drugs on women with mild to moderate acne. Women who experience moderate to severe acne should explore acne control options beyond birth control pills- such as antibiotics, topical retinoids, tretinoin or systemic treatments- in order to attain clear skin. retin a uk