If you’re on the pill, chances are that you were told about its potential side effects before you started taking it. But a not-so-fun fact you may not be aware of is that ditching the pill also comes with side effects, including – you guessed it – acne.

The good news is, post-pill acne doesn’t last forever and there are things you can do to treat, and even prevent it. Read as Dr Prasanthi Purusothaman, a GP at Software, explains it all.

What is post-pill acne?

“Post-pill acne is the onset of breakouts, pimples or acne (multiple breakouts) after cessation of the oral contraceptive pill,” Dr Prasanthi explains. “It is caused by the skin’s response to the absence of steady hormones from the oral contraceptive pill, and the body adjusting back to its normal hormonal pathways.”

Why does post-pill acne happen?

The contraceptive pill is made up of hormones that can help reduce acne – namely oestrogen. High doses of oestrogen can suppress the circulation of androgens which, in turn, decreases oil production and helps treat not only acne but blackheads and whiteheads as well.

So, what happens when you stop taking the pill?

Well, what goes up, must come down. Ditching the pill means that the high doses of oestrogen in your system will decrease which, put simply, can cause a bit of hormonal chaos.

“The acne breakouts commonly experienced post-stopping the pill are predominantly due to something coined ‘androgen rebound’. As the body re-learns the fluctuations of the natural cycle, there is a temporary imbalance and excess of male hormones that we know can drive sebum production and hence acne lesions or breakouts.”

How long does post-pill acne last?

Honestly, it depends. For some, post-pill acne can last for up to a year, or even longer. However, it usually peaks at the 6-month mark and, after that, it should start to improve.

How do you treat post-pill acne?

Although post-pill acne eventually fades away naturally, having to wait a whole year to get your clear skin back can be frustrating. The secret is in preparing for the transition period that’s to come.

“Having a holistic plan for coming off the pill with your GP, a month or 2 out from planned cessation, can prepare you and your skin for the possibility of skin changes,” Dr Prasanthi explains.

Establish a simple skincare routine

Certain skincare ingredients are particularly helpful when you’re dealing with acne – hormonal or otherwise. According to Dr Prasanthi, barrier-strengthening ingredients like the below-listed are great options, and she recommends using them in the evening:

  • Retinoids. Help stimulate skin cell turnover and prevent build-up that would otherwise clog your pores and cause acne.
  • Niacinamide. Relieves swelling and redness that often comes with post-pill acne, regulates sebum production, and helps fade acne scars.
  • Prescription tretinoin. Encourages cell turnover, exfoliates the skin, and reduces inflammation.

“If you have come off the pill for pregnancy purposes, pregnancy-safe actives like azelaic acid and low-dose alpha hydroxy acids can be helpful,” Dr Prasanthi adds.

Wash your face every day

Washing your face daily is a must-do, no matter what your skin type or concerns are. But when you’re dealing with adult acne, it becomes even more important because it helps eliminate any excess oil and impurities your skin was exposed to throughout the day.

For the best results, we recommend you use lukewarm water and a gentle, non-drying cleanser twice a day, in the morning and before bed.

Choose non-comedogenic skincare products

Non-comedogenic products are developed with ingredients that won’t clog your pores – and as a result, won’t trigger breakouts – making them a particularly good option for those struggling with hormonal acne.

Eat a healthy diet

Dr Prasanthi recommends a balanced diet that is predominantly low GI and includes zinc and omega fatty acid-rich foods.

“We know that high GI foods in some people can trigger breakouts, so opting for nice slower-release carbohydrates, lots of colourful vegetables, fresh fruit (the colours represent great antioxidants) and minimising excess alcohol can be beneficial for maintaining stable sugar levels.

“Zinc has been postulated to help in acne through anti-inflammatory action,” she adds. “Look for food rich in zinc – vegemite, oysters, fortified cereals, and legumes, to name a few – before supplements.”

Reduce your stress levels

“Manage stress, exercise regularly, and get a good amount of sleep,” Dr Prasanthi suggests. “We know these factors can contribute to stress and cortisol in excess can drive hormonal imbalances that drive sebum production, so aiming to control these factors as best you can is helpful.”

Consider oral medications

If you’re really worried about skin side effects, taking a medication like spironolactone to bridge off the pill is an option.

“This is an anti-androgenic that can be used in isolation for a short period of time and weaned to mitigate any excess androgen symptoms,” Dr Prasanthi explains. “It is not suitable for people planning a pregnancy or those with kidney or cardiac issues. If you have an aversion to going onto this medication, you could try a short course of oral antibiotics to provide systemic anti-inflammatory benefits.”

Speaking to a doctor or dermatologist will give you clarity in terms of what your skin needs in order to heal, be it topical products, lifestyle changes, or oral medications. Reach out to them and get your hormones (and skin) back on track.