The use of a birth control pill to treat women's acne now has the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.
Ortho Pharmaceutical's Tri-Cyclen birth-control pill was recently approved by the FDA to be prescribed as an acne treatment for girls and women at least 15 years old.
That means that more dermatologists and family physicians will probably start using the pill to help women, especially teen-agers, with skin problems, said Dr. Leo Plouffe, program director for pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Medical College of Georgia.
But he doesn't believe the pill will cause a surge in sexual activity among teens.
"The data doesn't suggest that going on birth control pills will modify sexual habits," he said.
In fighting acne, the pill can be used with topical solutions such as Acutane and Retin-A. Because high-power drugs such as Acutane can produce birth defects, taking Tri-Cyclen helps women using the topical solution to reduce their chance of pregnancy.
Local pharmacists haven't noted a surge in prescriptions since the FDA approval was announced on Dec. 31.
"I haven't seen much of a change," said Tommy Mansfield, pharmacist at Thrifty Rexall Drugs, adding that he expects dermatologists to try the drug on a limited basis first. Previously, it was common for a gynecologist to prescribe such medication.
"They use a lot of birth-control pills during the teen years for acne, so this is not really anything new," said Wayne Pickard, a pharmacist at Revco on Broad Street. "It's not unusual to have a teen-ager prescribed birth control for acne."
But FDA approval puts to rest the debate about birth control pills' ability to reduce acne and makes Tri-Cyclen the only contraceptive that can be advertised as an acne treatment, Dr. Plouffe said.
"Some physicians may feel better about picking the pill," Dr. Plouffe said.
Ortho concluded that Tri-Cyclen, sold as a birth-control aid since 1992, decreased the level of hormones, such as testosterone, that may contribute to acne.
In studies of 462 women with moderate acne, doctors judged that 80 percent who took Tri-Cyclen saw some improvement in skin condition after six months.
For the doctor to prescribe the pill, the patient also must understand that the drug is a contraceptive, must have no health problem that prohibits pill use and must have tried other topical acne treatments that failed, the FDA said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.