I had a serious case of post pill acne—here’s how I got rid of it

Yes, coming off the pill can cause changes in the skin

Fashion Editor Penny Goldstone before and after post-pill acne
(Image credit: Future)

You may have heard that taking the pill can be the best acne treatment, and there is some truth in that, primarily because some varieties can help to reduce acne thanks to reducing the number of androgens, which has a knock on effect on every type of acne

Many women who’ve tried a skincare routine for acne and the best spot treatments to no avail will look into this option, and those who try might experience success—but what happens when they come off it?

Facialist and skincare founder Sarah Chapman says that while the pill might help reduce the acne, it's worth considering that it may return with a vengeance when you come off it: "the pill reduces oil and sebum production in your skin, so coming off can send both into overdrive as your hormones readjust."

Because we know just how much first-hand experience helps when it comes to such matters, below, Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK, Penny Goldstone reveals her experience with post-pill acne.

How it started

"Around November 2017, I stopped taking the pill. Although it's quite common to go on the pill for acne treatment, I simply went on it for birth control; I did have acne as a teenager, but no more than average.

"Having been on the contraceptive pill for over a decade (I was on Logynon, FYI), I figured I would possibly see some side effects when I stopped taking it, including spots, which had happened to a few friends of mine. At first, nothing happened, and then... well, shit got real, as they say. I got the dreaded spots and quite a bad case of them."

Marie Claire UK Fashion Editor Penny Goldstone before and after coming off the pill

The emotional effect of post-pill acne

"When my post-pill acne was at its worst, I felt self conscious even popping out to the supermarket without a couple of layers of foundation and felt compelled to justify my skin to whomever glanced at it for a tad too long.

"I even asked my husband to edit my spots out before I put a picture on Instagram. I'm not proud of this, but it serves to illustrate just how much it affected my confidence."

When did my acne return after stopping the pill?

"Experts suggest that it can take months, though for me, it only took about three weeks. For those three glorious weeks, I thought 'heck this whole coming off the pill business isn't so bad, I've seen no changes whatsoever'. What a blissfully ignorant fool I was. It started with a couple of cystic spots just before Christmas, which turned into full-blown acne in the New Year."

How long did my acne last after stopping the pill?

"Again, this will vary in each case, however, I would say that now, seven months after coming off the pill, my skin is almost back to normal - I still get the odd spot, especially before my period. I would stay it started improving dramatically around the 5-month post-pill mark."

How I got rid of acne after stopping the pill

"I went to see the doctor a couple of times in the last few months, and she basically told me what I didn't want to hear: that it was just my body trying to regulate my hormones and that I just needed to be patient, my skin would get back to normal. Eventually.

"She also mentioned eating healthily would help, a strategy backed by facialist Abigail James, who says: 'nutritional and supplement support really is key, as it's the hormones which have gone haywire and they need more support.'"

Marie Claire UK Fashion Editor Penny Goldstone before and after coming off the pill

My go-to post-pill acne treatments

"While people rave about retinol for acne and tea tree oil for acne, it's hard to say whether mine cleared up simply because my hormones simply regulated themselves, or if an acne treatment helped alone. All I can say is I saw a vast improvement in my skin when I started using these products."

Penny Goldstone

Penny Goldstone is the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, covering everything from catwalk trends to royal fashion and the latest high street and Instagram must-haves.

Penny grew up in France and studied languages and law at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris before moving to the UK for her MA in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. She moved to the UK permanently and has never looked back (though she does go back regularly to stock up on cheese and wine).

Although she's always loved fashion - she used to create scrapbooks of her favourite trends and looks, including Sienna Miller and Kate Moss' boho phase - her first job was at MoneySavingExpert.com, sourcing the best deals for everything from restaurants to designer sales.

However she quit after two years to follow her true passion, fashion journalism, and after many years of internships and freelance stints at magazines including Red, Cosmopolitan, Stylist and Good Housekeeping, landed her dream job as the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK.

Her favourite part of the job is discovering new brands and meeting designers, and travelling the world to attend events and fashion shows. Seeing her first Chanel runway IRL at Paris Fashion Week was a true pinch-me moment.