The role of combined oral contraceptives in the management of acne and seborrhea

Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2004 Jun;9(2):107-24. doi: 10.1080/1362518042000221508.


Acne and seborrhea (or facial oiliness) are related androgenic skin disorders which affect a high proportion of women after menarche. They can have a negative effect on psychological well-being and social life. Androgens play an important role in the pathogenesis of acne through the stimulation of sebum secretion, increasing sebaceous gland size and possibly through follicular hyperkeratinization. Conversely, estrogens decrease sebum production by suppressing gonadotropin release and androgen production and increasing sex hormone binding globulin production. One of the treatment options for these conditions is hormonal therapy, especially for women who require contraception. The effect of combined oral contraceptives in androgenic skin disorders depends on their estrogen:progestogen balance and on the antiestrogenic activity of the progestogen component. Improved understanding of what women value about oral contraceptives suggests that the choice of product should be tailored as much as possible to the individual. Several combined oral contraceptives containing new-generation progestogens (e.g. desogestrel, gestodene) or progestational antiandrogens (e.g. cyproterone acetate, chlormadinone acetate) have demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of women with acne, although comparisons between trials are difficult because of differing endpoints. Seborrhea has been less well studied, but the few studies that are available show an improvement in women with this condition using combined oral contraceptives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Acne Vulgaris / physiopathology
  • Contraceptives, Oral / therapeutic use*
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined / therapeutic use
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / drug therapy*
  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic / physiopathology
  • Desogestrel / therapeutic use
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Norgestrel / analogs & derivatives*
  • Norgestrel / therapeutic use
  • Norpregnenes / therapeutic use
  • Safety
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined
  • Norpregnenes
  • Gestodene
  • Norgestrel
  • Ethinyl Estradiol
  • Desogestrel
  • norgestimate