The Truth About Accutane
I’ve struggled with acne as long as I can remember — when my first pimple popped up on my face as early as fourth grade, I distinctly remember my mom teaching me how to use Stridex cleansing pads + informing me that I needed to wash my face twice a day. Oh, if only the battle against acne was as easy as this simple advice!
After my first couple of breakouts as a kid, my small breakouts quickly transitioned into painful, cystic acne in my teen years. I remember some days not even wanting to leave my house because I was so embarrassed by my skin — I constantly masked my imperfections with makeup + fake confidence. Throughout the years, I’ve tried almost every type of topical on the market [prescription + non-prescription], birth control for hormonal acne, + not one, but TWO rounds of Accutane.
I decided Accutane was the best option for me when I recognized that the insecurity surrounding my acne taking over my life — every interaction with myself + others was consumed by thoughts surrounding my acne.
Accutane, also known as Isotretinoin, is a retinoid drug that decreases sebum [oil] production in the body. It is typically seen as a last-resort option for patients with severe cystic acne + only used after all other methods of treatment have failed. The pill, which ranges in dosage dependant on height + weight, is taken twice a day for 5-6 months. The most common symptom is dryness of the skin + lips, which typically shows up around a month after treatment has begun. Female patients are heavily monitored on this drug, due to its extreme likelihood for causing intense birth defects. Female patients must go through a program called iPledge, which requires two forms of birth control, a monthly pregnancy test, + monthly comprehension questions. Labs are also drawn monthly to measure liver function + lipid levels.
I started my first round of Accutane the summer after my senior year of high school. I remember hoping that it would cure my acne forever — PLOT TWIST, it didn’t, + my acne actually got a lot worse before it started to get better. The dryness that I experienced was the worst — no matter how much lotion//coconut oil I would slather on my face, my skin continued to flake. Another caveat to Accutane is that your skin actually becomes thinner while on the medication, so it’s super sensitive + susceptible to sunburn — there were a lot of jokes made about my SPF100 sunscreen that summer! The five months of dryness + sunburn were incredibly worth it when my skin looked the best that it ever had… until the acne started to come back.
About 80% of patients remain acne-free after one course of the treatment, so of course I was in the 20% that experiences relapse. Although my cystic acne wasn’t back, I was still breaking out in hormonal regions [my chin + around my mouth], so I went back to my dermatologist to see what my options were — more topicals, antibiotics, or another round of Accutane. *sigh.* I decided to give Accutane another chance.
My second round of Accutane was a completely different experience than my first. Although I was still experiencing dryness, I found better ways to manage it by using facial oils instead of water-based products. This made a worlds of a difference! Even though I was managing the dry skin on my face pretty well, I had dry patches all over my body this time — my ankles, elbows, + even my butt. My second treatment of Accutane stretched over the months of August-December instead of the summer, so I attribute some of my extra dryness on my body to the transition to winter here in Indiana.
My biggest tips for anyone thinking about taking Accutane [or if you’re already taking it!] include —
- Hydrate your skin + cleanse with oils vs. water-based cleansers + moisturizers! They’ll lock in a lot more moisture + they’re more natural, depending on the brand [I love Cocokind!].
- Use sunscreen! Everyday! It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of winter where you live — protect your skin.
- Find a lip balm you love + have 3 or 4 tubes stashed in different places — your backpack, your purse, your car, your bedside table. You’ll need it!
- Stay in tune with your body + your symptoms. Dry skin is the biggest symptoms [with more than 1/10 people experiencing it on Accutane], but other common symptoms include chapped lips, dry nose, + joint pain. This is an intense drug — if it’s affecting you too much physically or mentally, it’s okay to recognize that what might work for someone else might not work for you.
- If you feel symptoms that don’t feel right, trust your body + consult your doc. Headaches, dizziness + blurred vision are a sign that something more serious could be happening.
. . .
A part of me wishes that I would’ve learned how to love myself + my skin enough to accept my acne, but I’m getting there. My skin still isn’t perfect by any means — I still struggle with scarring, redness, + hyperpigmentation, but I’m taking steps everyday to accept these imperfections that make me who I am. I hope that you’ll take steps to accept + love every piece of who you are — even your acne — every single day.
While acne is often viewed as simply a cosmetic issue, it is also an internal health + mental health issue. It’s important to treat our bodies with the respect they deserve, while loving them unconditionally in the process.
Questions or concerns? Contact your doctor or dermatologist! Have an experience with Accutane or learning to love or accept your skin? Share with us on Instagram using #inCHAARG!