Are you considering going on oral birth control? While most people associate oral birth control with the old, singular nickname “the pill,” the massive variety of different birth control pills that are available today can make choosing the right option for you — mainly between combined birth control and progestin-only birth control — surprisingly difficult.
Luckily, choosing the right birth control pills for your health, needs and lifestyle isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Below, we’ve covered the two different types of oral birth control that are available today, from conventional combined birth control pills to progestin-only birth control. We’ve looked at how each type of pill works, as well as the main advantages and disadvantages of each one.
All birth control pills contain female hormones. These hormones allow them to prevent you from becoming pregnant by stopping your ovaries from releasing eggs. With no eggs released, you’ll have a much lower risk of becoming pregnant, no matter how sexually active you are.
When you use birth control, your cervical mucus also becomes thicker, making it more difficult for sperm to enter into your uterus.
Birth control pills are highly effective if used right. If you follow the instructions and take your pill at the same time every day without ever missing a dose, your risk of becoming pregnant falls to less than one percent.
While all birth control pills contain female hormones, not all pills contain the same hormones, or the same combination of hormones. Most birth control pills fit into one of two categories:
The specific progestin hormones used in birth control can vary between brands. Some widely used progestins for birth control are drospirenone (used in Yaz), levonorgestrel (Vienva), norgestimate (Ortho Tri-Cyclen) and norethindrone (Estrostep).
These pills all use a combined formula, meaning each pill contains a combination of the active progestin hormone and ethinyl estradiol.
Progestin-only birth control pills often use the same progestins as combined birth control pills, but without any ethinyl estradiol. For example, norethindrone (the progestin in Estrostep) also works as a form of birth control on its own in medication like Micronor and Sharobel.
Both types of birth control work for their intended purpose, meaning your risk of getting pregnant will decrease significantly regardless of whether you choose a combined birth control pill or a pill that only contains a progestin.
As well as containing different hormones, combined birth control pills and progestin-only pills will usually contain different amounts of each hormone. Normally, the amount of progestins used in progestin-only pills is lower than the amount of progestins used in combined birth control.
For example, Estrostep contains a combination of 1mg of norethindrone acetate and 20mg, 30mg or 35mg of ethinyl estradiol, depending on the cycle week.
Sharobel, a progestin-only birth control that also contains norethindrone, only contains a small 0.35mg dose of the progestin.
This is why progestin-only birth control pills are often called “mini-pills.” Not only do they only contain one hormone, but they also have a significantly lower total amount of hormones than equivalent combined birth control pills.
Combined birth control pills have several unique advantages, such as their effects on your skin and risk of developing acne. However, they also have several disadvantages that might make a progestin-only form of birth control more suitable for you.
Some of the key advantages of combined birth control pills include:
Like all contraceptives, combined birth control pills also have weaknesses. Some of the biggest weaknesses of combined birth control pills include:
Progestin-only birth control pills have several benefits, the biggest of which is that they’re more suitable if you’re sensitive to hormones like estrogen. They’re also a better option if you plan to breastfeed, as they’re less likely to affect milk volume.
Other benefits of progestin-only birth control pills include:
Progestin-only birth control pills also have several weaknesses, several of which aren’t present in combined birth control pills. These weaknesses include:
There’s no “best” birth control pill for everyone. In fact, there’s no “best birth control pill” period. The best birth control pill is subjective, and all depends on you. Combined birth control pills and progestin-only pills both offer a range of unique advantages and disadvantages, meaning that one type of pill could be a better match for your needs, lifestyle and health than the other.
As with anything contraceptive-related, the best tactic is to talk to your doctor about your needs and expectations. They’ll be able to choose a form that offers the protection you need while helping you avoid any health risks and adverse birth control side effects.
Interested in learning about specific birth control pills? Our guides to Yaz, Estrostep and Ortho Tri-Cyclen go into detail on three of the most widely used birth control pills, all of which can be used as treatments for hormonal acne.
Worried about the effects birth control could have on your skin, waistline or heart? Our guide to birth control side effects puts birth control side effects into context, with real scientific data on how uncommon most birth control side effects really are.