Birth control is good for a lot of things—clearing up acne and excess oil, lessening heavy periods and PMS symptoms, oh, and preventing pregnancy. For many women, it’s a little miracle pill known to take care of a wide range of life’s little annoyances. But it’s not all good. The very pill that keeps your skin clear and acne-free could be causing an entirely different but equally troublesome skin imperfection—dark spots.
Scroll through to find out if the pill is compromising your skin.
Have you ever heard of the “mask of pregnancy”-an area on the face (usually upper lip to forehead) that's covered in brown spots? It's common in pregnant women, but melasma (as it's more often referred to) affects plenty of women who are not with child. Most of those women are taking birth control pills. The reason is simple: hormones. Melasma occurs when melanocytes (the cells responsible for creating melanin, or pigment, in your skin) are stimulated into over-producing melanin-et voilà: dark spots. As you're probably aware, this happens from sun exposure (hence sunspots). But those melanocytes are also stimulated by the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. When you're taking the pill, those hormone levels change, and the result is hyperpigmentation.
Anyone can get hyperpigmentation, including men. People with naturally more melanin in their skin have a higher likelihood of developing dark spots. It’s also hereditary, so some people are predisposed to the condition thanks to genetics. But melasma on its face is most common in women who are taking contraceptives or who are on hormone replacement therapy. For pregnant women, the condition usually clears up in the months after giving birth. Not surprisingly, women who are taking birth control can expect to see brown patches linger as long as they are using contraceptives. If you can’t part with the pill, talk to your doctor about switching to one with a lower dose of hormones. Better yet, ask about the mini pill. The mini pill (you’ll see it as Micronor, Nora-BE, Nor-QD, or Ovrette) is a progestin-only pill, so it doesn’t contain any estrogen, and it has less progestin than typical combination pills (like Estrostep Fe, Lo Loestrin, Ortho-Novum, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, Yasmin, and Yaz).
Even once your hormones have leveled off, your dark spots may need some extra attention to go away entirely. Keep scrolling for the treatment options!
Talk to your doctor about whether your skin can handle a prescription-strength retinol, like Tretinion.