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The Lowdown pill ‘groups’ explained

by The Lowdown · Aug 2, 2021

by Dr Melanie Davis-Hall · Nov 17, 2022

What’s the lowdown?

  • Many contraceptive pill brands contain exactly the same hormonal ingredients as each other, but simply have a different brand name
  • To make it easier to understand the differences, we put them into groups

Many contraceptive brands contain exactly the same hormonal ingredients as each other, but are simply branded with a different name. This is because once a contraceptive drug or product has been around for a long time it is made ‘off license’ which means it can be produced and marketed by lots of different companies. So, to help them stand out, all these different companies each give the same drug a different name, which just confuses everyone!

The Lowdown’s combined pill groups

To make it easier to understand the differences between all the combined pills, we put them into groups below. We’ve grouped the brands of combined pill based on the type and level of oestrogen, as well as the type of progestogen. For more information on each of these brands, check out their contraceptive pages, and browse our contraception reviews.

GroupOestrogen typeOestrogen levelProgestogen typeProgestogen androgenicityBrand names
1EthinylestradiolLowLevonorgestrelAndrogenicMicrolite
2EthinylestradiolLowDesogestrelLess androgenicMercilon, Gedarel 20/150
3EthinylestradiolLowGestodeneLess androgenicFemodette, Millinette 20/75, Sunya 20/75
4EthinylestradiolLowDrospirenoneAnti-androgenicEloine
5EthinylestradiolMediumLevonorgestrelAndrogenicLevest, Microgynon 30/75, Microgynon ED, Ovranette, Rigevidon, Maexini
6EthinylestradiolMediumDesogestrelLess androgenicGedarel 30/50, Marvelon, Cimizt
7EthinylestradiolMediumGestodeneLess androgenicFemodene, Femodene ED, Katya 30/75, Millinette 30/75
8EthinylestradiolMediumDrospirenoneAnti-androgenicYasmin, Lucette
9EthinylestradiolHighNorethisterone (1mg)AndrogenicNorimin
10EthinylestradiolHighNorethisterone (0.5mg)AndrogenicBrevinor
11EthinylestradiolHighLevonorgestrelAndrogenicLogynon
12EthinylestradiolHighNorgestimateLess androgenicCilest, Lizinna, Cilique
13EthinylestradiolHighCo-cyprindiolAnti-androgenicDianette
14MestranolCan’t compareNorethisteroneAndrogenicNorinyl-1
15Estradiol valerateCan’t compareDienogestUnknownQlaira
16Estradiol hemihydrateCan’t compareDrospirenoneAnti-androgenicZoely
17Estetrol monohydrateCan’t compareDrospirenoneAnti-androgenicDrovelis

Choose from the widest range of contraceptive pills in the UK | The Lowdown

What does low, medium and high oestrogen mean?

Traditionally every pill used the same type of synthetic oestrogen (ethinylestradiol) in varying concentrations. However, some newer pills contain a different type of oestrogen – the change in side effects from this are still being investigated. Your healthcare provider can change your pill brand according to the concentration of ethinylestradiol (low 15 to 20mcg, medium 30mcg or high 35mcg) based on side effects you may be experiencing. 

For example, a pill with a higher concentration of ethinylestradiol may help control bleeding more effectively and stop breakthrough bleeding. However, if you experience symptoms including bloating, breast pain, nausea, headaches or low libido, you can try to reduce oestrogen content using another brand to see if these improve. You can read more about this in our guide on what ethinylestradiol is and how it works.

What does progestogen androgenicity mean? 

The progestogen part of the combined pill can also cause an individual’s side effects to vary. Progestogen (or progestins) can be classed as “more androgenic” or “less/anti androgenic”. This means they have a greater or lesser effect on the male hormone (testosterone) receptors within the body. More androgenic progestogens can be associated with side effects such as acne and mood change. Anti-androgenic progestogens in combined pills may reduce libido and have a higher risk of blood clots. Check out our guide to androgens to learn more about this.

Brands of pill in the same group have the same hormonal ingredients and should theoretically be no different. You could also switch between brands in different groups and not notice any change in side effects, whereas others may be sensitive to the level of oestrogen or the type of progestogen.

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Gedarel vs Microgynon

BrandOestrogenOestrogen levelProgestogenAndrogenicity
Gedarel 20/150EthinylestradiolLowDesogestrelLess androgenic
Gedarel 30/150EthinylestradiolMediumDesogestrelLess androgenic
MicrogynonEthinylestradiolMediumLevonorgestrelAndrogenic

When it comes to side effects, 69% Lowdown reviewers reported tender breasts when using Gedarel 20/150, compared to 63% on Gedarel 30/150, and 50% on Microgynon.

Our data also shows that Gedarel 30/150 caused 59% of our reviewers to experience vaginal dryness, whereas only 50% of those using Gedarel 20/150, and 38% using Microgynon experienced this.

Buy Gedarel or Microgynon from The Lowdown

Brevinor vs Microgynon

BrandOestrogenOestrogen levelProgestogenAndrogenicity
BrevinorEthinylestradiolHigh oestrogenNorethisteroneAndrogenic
MicrogynonEthinylestradiolMedium oestrogenLevonorgestrelAndrogenic

Lowdown reviewers using the Brevinor combined pill have experienced higher rates of boob-related side effects. Brevinor users reported 71% enlarged breasts, and 71% tender breasts, compared to 43% enlarged breasts and 50% tender breasts by those on Microgynon.

Only 26% of people taking Brevinor experienced lighter periods, compared to 56% of people taking Microgynon.

Brevinor vs Microgynon | Buy Microgynon from The Lowdown

Femodette vs Millinette

BrandOestrogenOestrogen levelProgestogenAndrocentricity
FemodetteEthinylestradiolLow oestrogenGestodeneLess androgenic
Millinette 20/75EthinylestradiolLow oestrogenGestodeneLess androgenic
Millinette 30/75EthinylestradiolMedium oestrogenGestodeneLess androgenic

76% of Lowdown reviewers who have used Millinette 30/75 have reported experiencing increased vaginal discharge, compared to 66% of those on Millinette 20/75 and 39% of Femodette users – so this could potentially be a good option for those who tend to experience vaginal dryness!

In addition to this, 40% of people using Millinette 20/75 experienced no change in their sex drive, whereas 57% of Lowdown reviewers using Femodette have said they lost theirs.

Femodette vs Millinette | Buy Contraception from The Lowdown

What else Lowdown reviewers say?

Below is a snapshot of how Lowdown reviewers have found their experiences with some more of the most popular combined pill brands*, compared with their hormonal properties and which pill group they belong to. You can check out more information or individual reviews on each of the contraception pages for Gedarel 20/150, Gedarel 30/150, Microgynon, Millinette 20/75, Millinette 30/75 and Rigevidon.

Table with side effects of contraceptive pills rigevideon, millinette, microgynon and gedarel | The Lowdown

*These insights are accurate as of 7/11/22

Want to see the differences between even more brands of pill? You can compare any two brands side-by-side using our contraception comparison tool!

The Lowdown’s progestogen-only pill groups

The progestogen-only pill is a little bit simpler than the combined pill. Here we’ve grouped the progestogen-only pills according to the type of progestogen it contains. 

GroupProgestogen typeProgestogen androgenicityBrand names
1DesogestrelLess androgenicCerazette, Cerelle, Zelleta, Desogestrel, Aizea, Desomono, Desorex, Feonolla, Hana, Lovima
2NorethisteroneAndrogenicMicronor, Noriday
3LevonorgestrelAndrogenicNorgeston
4DrospirenoneAnti-androgenicSlynd

There’s a key difference between these groups…

Group 1 mini pills

Group 1 pills contain desogestrel. Desogestrel progestogen-only pills must be taken within 12 hours of the same time every day.

Group 1 pills include mini pills Hana, Cerazette, Cerelle, Zelleta, Desogestrel, Aizea, Desomono, Desorex, Feonolla and Lovima.

Group 2 and 3 mini pills

Group 2 and 3 pills are known as ‘traditional’ progestogen-only pills. They contain either norethisterone or levonorgestrel and must be taken within 3 hours of the same time every day. If taken outside of this time window this counts as a ‘missed pill’. 

Group 4 mini pills

There is soon to be a new type of progestogen-only pill available in the UK called Slynd! This POP contains 4mg of drospirenone, another type of synthetic progestogen, and is taken as 24 daily active pills followed by four hormone-free placebo pills (then repeat).

In contrast to the desogestrel and traditional POPs, the drospirenone POP is considered missed if you’re more than 24 hours late taking it. This means more than 48 hours after the last pill was taken or more than 24 hours after a new packet should have been started after 4 days of sugar pills (the hormone free interval).

Unscheduled and irregular bleeding is a common side effect of all types of mini pill. If you switch between groups of progestogen only pills you may experience different bleeding patterns. Whilst we’re not sure why this is, it is useful to know you could try switching to another group if the bleeding you’re experiencing on one type of pill is problematic.

In summary… 

Whilst this may make contraception confusing for many, it is actually an advantage – having so many brands allows you to try alternatives if you don’t get on with one. It is possible to switch brands, depending on the types and concentrations of the hormones they contain, and ultimately find what’s best for you! See more information on switching your contraceptive here.

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