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Why am I getting acne now that I’ve stopped birth control?

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January 9, 2018
acne birth control, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto

You started birth control years ago to deal with acne. 

Now you’re thinking it’s time to stop for good. 

But you’re worried that you’re going to start breaking out again. 

Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. This is (unfortunately) a common thing that many people struggle with. Let’s figure out why this happens and what you can do about it!

Why does acne happen?

When  we start puberty, a bunch of our hormones get activated – estrogen, progesterone, androgens, etc. Sebum production increases from about 9 years old to 17 years old. Hormones like testosterone can trigger acne because it increases sebum production.

Birth control and testosterone

Birth control pills have a couple of effects on hormones:

  • Decrease androgens like testosterone, DHT and DHEA-S
  • Increases SHBG
  • Decrease serumproduction

The progestins used in birth control are actually pretty structurally similar to testosterone, and can therefore produce androgenic side effects. However the side effects are based on how ‘androgenic’ the progesterone is – this is known as the androgen index.

Progestins with a high androgen index may cause can cause acne, hair loss, weight gain, and insulin resistance. These progestins include: medroxyprogesterone acetate, levonorgestrel, norgestrel, and etonogestrel.

Progestins with a low androgen index may cause depression or anxiety, low libido, and suppress adrenal function. When you stop taking this type of progestin, your body may rebound by producing a lot of androgens because it doesn’t think any are available. These progestins include: drospirenone, norgestimate, cyproterone, and natural progesterone.  

Your skin on birth control

You might have noticed that when you started birth control, your skin became clearer. That’s because the hormones in the pill (estrogen and progestin) suppress androgens (like testosterone) and ultimately sebum. When your sebum levels are low, your skin will make more sebum to compensate. The estrogen and progestin will continue to suppress sebum production, and the cycle will continue on.

You’re probably not worried about this when you’re on the pill, because you’re not noticing any of it. Your skin is clear, your selfie game is strong, and you are able to get throughout the day without any embarrassment or frustration.

Your skin off birth control

At some point you’re going to want to get off the pill. Maybe you’re thinking of starting a family, maybe you want to experience a real period – whatever the reason is, you’re worried about what’s going to happen with your skin.

Because I believe honesty is the best policy – it’s important to know that you’re probably going to get acne once you stop the birth control pill.

Why does this happen?

It happens because sebum is not being suppressed anymore, and you have higher levels now than when you did when you started the pill. And because your ovaries are producing androgens again (another group of hormones that are effectively shutdown when you take birth control).

For the next 6-12 months your body is going to be withdrawing from the effects of the pill, which means that acne may be on the horizon for you.

Prepping your skin before you stop the pill

If you want to stop the pill, then consider prepping your skin about a month before you give the pill up for good.

Dairy-free diet

Cow dairy may cause inflammation and produce chemicals that increase inflammation and sebum production. This is especially seen with skim/non-fat milk products and ice cream. Dairy also contains hormones that can affect the body, by producing more testosterone.

Consider switching to alternative forms of dairy, or even choosing different animal dairy like buffalo (my fave), goat or sheep dairy. 

Sugar-free diet

Refined sugars may increase insulin, which can increase androgen production in the body. Plus let’s be honest, processed foods aren’t great sources of nutrients. If you can do better, choose better. 

Fix your digestion

Acne may pop up with leaky gut and food sensitivities. Normally whatever enters your gut, should (momentarily) stay in your gut. But if you have leaky gut, food from your gut may pass through some cells it shouldn’t, and end up elsewhere in your body. Your immune system will respond by mounting an attack against these food particles and cause a cascade of effects – acne being one of them.

So if you’ve cut the dairy and sugar for a couple of weeks, but are still experiencing acne – you may want to give the elimination diet a try.

Consider supplements

Supplements can be great at quick starting the healing process (especially since the pill depletes a bunch of nutrients). Ultimately, you should consider working with a health professional when supplementing because we make sure you’re taking the best product, dose, form and timing.

Some nutrients to consider are:

  • Zinc
  • Berberine
  • DIM
  • B vitamins

Go deeper

Acne may also be a sign of PCOS. Now before you tell me you don’t have polycystic ovaries (I hear this a lot), you can have PCOS without the cysts.

If you have irregular periods or don’t ovulate and have signs of high androgens (ex. acne), then it’s worthwhile to get some testing done. Check out my in-depth series on PCOS to learn more.

Next Steps

While the prospect of getting acne once you stop the pill is both frightening and frustrating (especially if you’re an adult), there is hope! Starting a skin-care plan before you stop is a step in the right direction.

And working with a professional can help you navigate all the ups and downs –particularly if you’re working with food sensitivities or PCOS. If you have any questions or tips and tricks, please share them below!

My 5 Favourite Health & Wellness Apps

The 5 Health and Wellness apps that should be on every woman's smartphone

Instagram, Twitter, and 1010! (best game ever!) are arguably the most used apps on my smartphone. But considering the leaps and strides that have been made in the tech field (especially the health stream), it’s nice to have some more ‘serious’ apps balance out the fluff. Here’s a list of health and wellness apps that I use most often:

P Tracker Lite. I use this convenient app on a monthly basis to track my period. Yes, I know when my period generally starts – but I have the option of tracking symptoms (ie. migraines, moodiness, tenderness) as well as the characteristics of the actual flow (which becomes very interesting when using a DivaCup). Moreover, it gives you the average length of your cycle, as well as an estimate of when you’re fertile and ovulating. I’ve been using this app for about 2 years now and I love it. From a naturopathic perspective it’s a great learning tool, because so many naturopathic doctors who focus on women’s health ask about the menstrual cycle – and it helps engage and empower women to ask and learn more about their cycle.

Nike Training. I’ve written about my love for this app before. I’m still in love with it. Essentially when I’m not working, I’ll put on a movie or watch TV and workout at the same time. Nike’s workouts range by levels, goal, length, and equipment. Plus you can also create your own program!

Skin Deep. This app was developed by the Environmental Working Group. When you enter in a product’s name or scan its barcode it consults its cosmetics database to determine it’s rating. The app will tell you about any health concerns (cancer, developmental/reprotoxicity, allergy), as well as rank the ingredients by hazard (high, moderate, and low). When I’m out shopping for cosmetics, I typically consult this app when I don’t recognize certain ingredients. Some Canadian products are not on this database, which is something to keep in mind.

Health.  This app came pre-installed on my iPhone. I only use this app for the pedometer (although it does have many other features that presumably sync with the Apple Watch). When I was in Europe, there was one day where my partner and I walked 25km – so naturally for the rest of our trip we would guess how much we walked at the end of the day. Obviously this app wouldn’t be very useful if your phone remains stationary for most of the day (which may be an indication that you should move more), but I’ve found it helpful on the days when I’m out and about.

Flipp. My mom introduced me to this great app! This is a grocery app for those of you who like to price match at the check-out line. What I like to do is plan my meals for the week, determine which ingredients I need to purchase, and enter those into the app – where it brings up various grocery stores that have the same product and the cost. The Superstore near my house allows for price matching, so I simply show them the cheaper price, and they match it. It’s a fantastic way to save money, and it makes eating healthy more attainable.

 Are there any apps that I’m missing out on? What are some of your favourites?

The best DIY natural deodorant recipe

April 2, 2014
natural deodorant

Each week my school features different themes, where students learn about various topics regarding that theme. Women’s Health Week was a few weeks ago – and one of the events was a natural beauty product making workshop. Not one to miss out on events like this, I quickly signed up and anxiously waited for this day to arrive.

I was really happy to discover that we’d be learning how to make a sugar scrub (which I think I’ve mastered), lip balm, and deodorant. I’ll be honest – I was definitely most excited to make a deodorant. My friends have mentioned that finding a good recipe/product is difficult, so I was looking for a recipe that was tried, tested, and true. I wanted to make the switch from an antiperspirant to natural deodorant because I wanted to gradually decrease the amount of chemicals absorbed by my skin (the underarms absorb a lot!) and lessen my toxic burden.

I’ve been wearing this deodorant for a couple of weeks now, and although it has taken some getting used to, it’s done a great job as a deodorizer (it does not prevent your underarms from sweating).

Ingredients (for 1 small mason jar, about 1/2 cup)

  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot powder
  • 2 tbsp baking soda
  • 5 drops of tea tree essential oil (anti-microbial properties)
  • 5 drops of lavender essential oil (because it smells nice)
Directions
  1. Melt the coconut oil, pour into mason jar
  2. Stir arrowroot powder and baking soda into the coconut oil
  3. Add essential oils, and mix well
Note: You can add whichever essential oils you’d like – based on the smell, or botanical actions that you desire.