Post-pill acne is one of the most common side-effects women experience when quitting the contraceptive pill. It is usually a side effect that takes time to settle in. A small number of women will start seeing acne in the first couple of weeks. However, post-pill acne is at its worse 3-6 months after a woman quits the pill. This will last about a year. If your acne lasts longer than that, it might be a sign that your problem is a hormonal imbalance more severe than the post-pill syndrome.

Why does it happen?

Increase in sebum production

Most contraceptive pills suppress sebum production. This is why they appear to clear your skin while you’re on them. It is also why some women report dry skin, especially with long term use of birth control pills. When you finally ditch the pill, sebum production resumes. Only instead of it being at a normal level for your age, sebum production is much greater than normal, while your body adjusts to this process again. The result? The dreaded acne.

In case you’re wondering, the type of pill you take does make a difference in how bad this is going to be. Yasmin (or Yaz) which contains drospirenone and Diane35, which contains cyproterone, are two of those worst ones at this as they are specifically sebum-suppressing drugs.

Androgen surge

As your body starts to make its hormones again, you might experience an androgen surge. For some women, this is bad enough that they develop post-pill PCOS. Like the increased sebum production, the androgen surge should also be a temporary state. However, in this period, you might see more acne and hair loss. If you’re under a year post-pill, try to resist taking other drugs or going back on the pill. A common anti-androgen medication given to women with PCOS is spironolactone. Its downside is that when you will finally quit it (no, it can’t be taken forever), the androgen surge will be even worse.

Zinc deficiency

It is known that the pill depletes the body of essential nutrients, and zinc is no exception. Now zinc is awesome because it reduces the bacteria that causes acne. So add a deficiency in it to an increase in sebum production and a slight androgen surge, you have a killer combo perfect for post-pill acne.

How to treat post-pill acne

Eliminate dairy

More specifically, as dr. Lara Briden discusses in this post, you should give up A1 casein which is found in cow’s dairy. You can still have butter and sheep and goat’s dairy, which do not contain A1 casein. From experience, I can tell you this makes a huge difference. I can’t say my skin is 100% clear without eating cow’s dairy. But I can tell you I break out horribly when I eat it. Try to eliminate the dairy ASAP. It may seem hard at first, especially when eating out because sheep and goat’s dairy are not as common. But most restaurants have dairy-free options. I usually also steer clear of cow’s dairy even if it is “lactose” free, as I don’t have the certainty the A1 casein is not present. Better safe than sorry!

Eliminate gluten

This one was the hardest for me, I’ll admit it. Especially because replacing it is a lot harder than with dairy. Gluten-free options don’t always exist, don’t taste as good and you end up feeling deprived. Gluten is, however, a huge source of inflammation and can cause cystic acne, among other issues. Its effects are also not as sudden as with dairy. In my experience, it takes longer to see positive effects when eliminating gluten as opposed to dairy. With dairy, many people – myself included – feel the difference in a matter of days. With gluten, it can take a few weeks of completely eliminating it. If you cut out gluten and see no improvements in 1-2 months, then you are probably one of the lucky ones who is not affected by it.

Supplement with zinc

As I said a few paragraphs above, zinc is essential for preventing (or treating) acne.

Heal your gut

I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about gut health. It’s such a mainstream topic. It’s like everything starts in the gut. Well, it does! In this case, in order for all the supplementation to work, you need a healthy gut capable of absorbing all the nutrients. You can use probiotics to help with the process. Eliminate all junk foods for a while (or for good if possible!). Many will also suggest doing a detox. I’m not saying that’s not a good idea. I’m just not a fan. If done wrong, they can do more harm than good. If you do decide to try one, I suggest looking into dr. Brighten’s protocol or FloLiving. Both programs are designed for women’s hormonal health and for helping you come off the pill.

Have a smart skincare routine

When sebum production increases, you see your skin oily and with acne, you might be tempted to go heavy into cleaning your skin. Gommage, masks, cleansing lotions and more, might seem like the perfect idea. Think again! If you start heavily cleaning your skin, its natural answer will be to protect itself by…producing more sebum! Not exactly what you need at this point. Limit this type of heavy cleaning to once a week. Focus instead on using the correct products. Avoid ingredients like phenoxyethanol, parabens, and sodium benzoate because they can irritate your skin and kill good microbiome. Also, do your best to find the correct products for your skin type. Coming off the pill, you might experience a lot of changes, so this might mean experimenting a bit. Once you find the products for you though, your skin will thank you!

Did you experience post-pill acne?

What helped you heal? How long did it last? And if you’re still dealing with it, what are you doing to reduce it? Let us know in the comments below.

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