What’s the lowdown?
- There are different types of progestogen-only pill (also known as the mini pill, or POP)
- Desogestrel POPs must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day, whereas traditional POPs must be taken within 3 hours of the same time each day
- The newer drospirenone POP must be taken within 24 hours of the same time each day
What is the progestogen-only birth control pill?
The progestogen-only pill, better known as the progesterone only pill, mini pill or POP, is a form of contraceptive pill which contains synthetic progestogen, similar to progesterone naturally produced by the female body. It is often used by people who are unable to use combined contraception which contains oestrogen; like during breastfeeding or if you have have a history of migraines with aura.
With so many different types to choose from, it begs the questions – what actually is the difference between the progestogen-only pill brands? Here’s the lowdown…
Progestogen-only pill brand names
There are 12 brands of mini pill in the UK (all of which you can read about on The Lowdown, and almost all you can order directly from us too):
There are also various other mini pill brands in the US and elsewhere across the pond including Heather, Camila and Errin (watch this space for when we go global!).
What’s the difference between mini pill brands?
Not all progestogen-only birth control pills are the same… there are essentially 2 groups of mini pill (POP) in the UK:
- Desogestrel POP – must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day
- Traditional POP – must be taken within 3 hours of the same time each day.
The traditional POP prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm reaching an egg. The desogestrel and drospirenone POPs can also stop ovulation. If taken correctly, it’s more than 99% effective. This means fewer than 1 woman in 100 who uses the mini pill as contraception will get pregnant in 1 year. With “typical use” (the way it’s taken by a lot of women in real life), it’s about 92% effective.
The traditional and desogestrel POPs are taken every day without a break. The drospirenone POP (brand name Slynd) comes in a pack of pills that are different colours. A white (active) pill is taken every day for 24 days in a row, and then a green (inactive) pill for the next 4 days in a row, before repeating with a new pack.³
What are the side effects of progestogen?
Progestogen side effects can include:
- breast tenderness and breast enlargement
- an increased or decreased sex drive
- mood changes
- headache and migraine
- nausea or vomiting
- small fluid-filled sacs (cysts) on your ovaries – these are usually harmless and disappear without treatment
There’s not enough evidence to say these are definitely caused by POP use⁴ but these possible side effects can appear in the first few months of taking the progestogen-only birth control pill. You should contact your GP if they persist or are problematic.
You may also not have regular periods while taking it – your periods may be lighter, more or less frequent, or may stop altogether, and you may get spotting between periods. With the drospirenone POP, ‘scheduled’ bleeding or spotting may also occur on the days you take the inactive pills.⁴
Types of desogestrel pill:
Progestogen only pill brands containing desogestrel 75 micrograms (which therefore all have to be taken within a 12 hour window). We’ve pulled together some of our reviewers’ comments and looked at the data we’ve collected so far at The Lowdown…
Desogestrel is the synthetic progestogen used in the generic mini pill which is also sold under varying brand names as below.
All the following birth control pills have the same hormone type and quantity. There can be differences in people’s experiences using the same brand and doctors are unsure why individuals may experience slight differences between brands.
Cerelle is one brand of mini pill that contains desogestrel. Some of our reviewers have experienced side effects of Cerelle, including headaches and acne. For over 50% of reviewers it stopped their periods altogether.
One reviewer shared:
“I’ve been on the pill for 3 and half years. It’s stopped my periods, helped my skin and prevented pregnancy. But it has made me gain weight, made me have really bad mood swings, and fatigue. I’m coming off the pill to let my body get back to normal.”
Read more Cerelle reviews here.
Similar to Cerelle, Cerazette is a form of mini pill where the main ingredient is desogestrel. Over 50% of our reviewers experienced tender breasts and a reduction in their sex drive.
“I’ve been taking Cerazette for just over a year, when I started taking it I bled for a good few weeks and I felt nauseous for a few weeks too – but after a while I felt fine. This year I’ve only had two periods (one in March and one in July), I’ve also had a few days of spotting in-between. I’ve gained some weight this year but I’m putting it down to lack of exercise and bad diet, but when I have eaten better and exercised I have been able to see the weight shift. My sex drive is quite high anyway, and it hasn’t been affected in any way. Compared to my previous pill Loestrin, I had no migraines with auras, my anxiety decreased dramatically and my skin cleared up.”
Another reviewer said:
“It started off well but after 6/7 months, I had sudden very very heavy bleeding – so heavy that I soaked 4 night time super pads over night. It also made me feel more depressed and I lost my sex drive. It’s a shame as initially other than a little breakthrough bleeding it wasn’t terrible.”
The Zelleta pill also contains desogestrel. Like other progestogen-only pills, it is suitable if you are breastfeeding and may help with pre-menstrual pain or period cramps.
Some of our reviewers reported irregular periods or a change to their mood as a Zelleta side effect.
“I feel depressed, extremely emotional, no motivation. I have tried different contraceptions, from the implant to different pills. I hate going on contraception as it changes my personality and affects my everyday life. I just want to stay in bed everyday. My period has been so heavy. I cry everyday. I have even called in sick to work.”
Hana is a new brand of POP which also contains desogestrel, and was one of the first progestogen-only pills available to buy over the counter or online from a pharmacy in the UK without a prescription from July 2021, along with the Lovima pill.
Types of traditional POP:
Traditional progesterone only pill brands which contain levonorgestrel or norethisterone (which each have to be taken within a 3-hour window):
Norgeston contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of progesterone. Like most other mini pills, Norgeston is taken back to back without a break, and most importantly it needs to be taken every day at the same time (within a three hour window).
Most of our community reported neutral responses when asked about change to moods and body weight, however lots of women experienced irregular periods.
Our users’ reviews report possible side effects including vaginal discharge, spots and tender breasts.
“Had to stop combined pill due to raised blood pressure. Started on cerazette but too much intermittent bleeding. This has stopped that, but as each month goes by I feel more pms (particularly bloating/ swollen breasts & low mood) than I ever had on previous hormonal pills.“
What is the drospirenone mini pill?
There is soon to be a new type of POP available in the UK containing drospirenone which has the brand name Slynd.⁴ It must be taken within 24 hours of the same time each day. It comes in a pack of pills that are different colours. A white (active) pill is taken every day for 24 days in a row, and then a green (inactive) pill for the next 4 days in a row, before repeating with a new pack.³
US mini pill brands 🇺🇸
Our friends in the US have a slightly different range of brands available which include Camila, Errin, Heather, Jencycla, Jolivette, Nora-Be and Ortho Micronor.
These all contain a progestogen called Norethindrone (also known as norethisterone), similar to Noriday and Micronor which we have in the UK. They fit under the heading of traditional progestogen-only birth control pills.
So what is the best mini pill to take?
Different pills work better for different people – and it can be hard to know which is best for you. We have a great team of doctors who are all specially trained in contraception and sexual health to give you advice if you’re stuck in a seemingly endless search for the right mini pill brand for you. Booking an appointment is super easy!
In general, doctors recommend desogestrel pills if you’re trying the mini pill for the first time, because they have a 12 hour window in which you can remember to take them.
For more information, side effects and advantages/disadvantages of other progestogen-only pills including Aizea, Desomono, Feanolla, Lovima and Micronor, get the lowdown on each of their contraceptive pages. Our community reviews will give you the full ins and outs of individual experiences!