Plus, the top things you should avoid
Whether you’ve decided to come off the pill because you’re using a new form of contraception, you want to try and start a family or are simply looking to limit the number of synthetic hormones flowing through your body, chances are your skin isn’t too happy about it. Since many of us started taking the pill during our teenage years to curb hormonal acne, coming off it often sees those red and angry blemishes rear their ugly head again. So, what exactly is happening to your skin when you come off the pill? And what should you be doing to prevent these breakouts from forming? To find all this out and more, we spoke to Head of Education and Research and Development for DMK Australia, Debbie Dickson. Here’s what she had to say…
How the pill affects your skin
It’s widely accepted that androgens (male hormones) play a significant role when acne production is considered. Women often start taking the contraceptive pill to tackle their acne because it has the ability to interfere with and block the effect those androgens have on the skin.
However, Dickson notes that because the pill is composed of synthetic hormones, it’s known to cause hormonal imbalances. “Because the body works on a feedback mechanism, it can start to think there is enough of that hormone already present, so natural production declines.” She adds that the natural fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone at certain times during your cycle is also restricted when you’re on the pill, because the pill is “tricking your pituitary gland into making your body think it’s pregnant”.
What happens to your skin when you go off the pill
While the pill is known to improve acne, Dickson notes the benefits tend to only be short term. Acne might improve while someone is on the pill, but when they come off it, it will return with a vengeance and result in “really big blood-filled and sore pimples, especially around the chin, under the jaw line and through the cheek area,” explains Dickson.
Think about it like this: The pill functions as a treatment for acne, not a cure. Essentially, it’s masking any acne that would have otherwise developed if you hadn’t been taking the pill. So, when you stop using the treatment, your skin will likely start behaving in the way it did before use.
The best ways to care for your skin when you come off the pill
Ultimately, the best thing to do when you decide to come off the pill is ensure the skin is in optimal health and is balanced, says Dickson. Ideally, you want to regulate oil production (cleansing your skin twice a day and reaching for treatments formulated with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide will help you do just that) and keep your skin as hydrated as possible. By doing so, “the skin will excrete properly instead of having a lot of sebum plugs stuck down in the excretory ducts,” says Dickson. Also, making sure the skin has great circulation is essential. “A healthy skin that is functioning optimally will have a much better chance of avoiding breakouts,” says Dickson. One of the best ways to boost circulation is to regularly exfoliate the skin. When dead skin cells are removed from the skin’s surface, blood flow is increased to the capillaries that are located near the surface of the skin. Using chemical exfoliants with hydroxy acids (such as glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids) are a gentle yet effective way to rid the skin of dead cells and reveal brighter and healthier skin underneath. Three of our favourites include Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, Sunday Riley Good Genes and Pixi Glow Tonic.
If post-pill breakouts do occur, then adjust your skin care routine to be focused on keeping your skin clean and fresh, while calming inflammation and regulating sebum production. To start, reach for a gentle cleanser like QV Gentle Facial Cleanser and an anti-inflammatory treatment such as DMK’s Beta Gel. We also suggest incorporating an oil-free moisturiser like Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost® Water Gel into your daily regimen. If your acne doesn’t die down after a few months, a trip to a dermatologist (who can prescribe either oral or topical antibiotics) might be necessary.
The top things to avoid after coming off the pill
Sugar, dairy and processed foods are your skin’s enemy generally, but even more so when you’ve just come off the pill. This is because an overconsumption of these foods causes a spike in insulin levels, which increase the production of oils and lead to clogged pores. Additionally, “products that dry the skin out should be avoided,” explains Dickson. She adds, “when people breakout, they think using products that dry the pimples out helps to clear them, but it actually makes the problem worse”. If too much oil is stripped from the skin, it responds by producing more oil. An over-production of sebum is one of the main causes of acne and breakouts.
Did your skin freak out when you came off the pill? Let us know how you tackled your skin issues in the comments below.
Main image credit: @jennadewan
Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.