While suffering from cystic adult acne, someone once told me, “Maybe you need to wash your face more.” If only it were that easy! Throughout my life, I’ve tried countless over-the-counter treatments, expensive facial scrubs, laser treatments, and several oral antibiotics. Nothing worked until I received a prescription for Accutane, a powerful and high-risk drug.
NOTE TO READER: This article provides general information about medicine, health, and related subjects. My words and other content contained in this article are not intended and should not be used in place of professional medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, please consult with a licensed physician for more information regarding Accutane.
The First Breakout
I was lucky to have a blemish-free face throughout high school. Puberty came and went without a pimple - even on the mornings after falling asleep in my makeup. I was almost 18-years-old when I had my first real breakout. At first, I noticed small bumps forming near my jawline. I was convinced the pimples were from the stress of my first year of college. Unfortunately, the severe breakouts continued long after college graduation.
The Next Four Years Consisted of Countless Dermatologist Appointments
I tried drugstore products, expensive skin creams, celebrity-endorsed medication from popular television commercials, trendy face masks, multiple types of oral antibiotics prescribed by different dermatologists, and even laser treatments that were covered by my health insurance. Nothing cleared my face. As a last resort, I found a new dermatologist who wrote me a prescription for Isotretinoin, the drug more commonly known by its brand name, Accutane.
What is Isotretinoin (Accutane)? Isotretinoin, also known as Accutane, is never a dermatologist’s first method for getting rid of acne. It’s a serious drug given orally in pill form with extreme side effects and high health risks. It's only given to those who have suffered cystic acne and scarring and haven’t found success with any other product or medication. Dermatologists will try everything before they recommend Accutane.
It’s a serious drug given orally in pill form with extreme side effects and high health risks.
Essentially, Accutane works by reducing production of natural oils in your skin, or “completely drying you from the inside out.” Dermatologists usually prescribe it for six months, with the daily dose depending on the weight of the patient.
When taking Accutane, monthly bloodwork is a requirement to ensure the liver and kidneys are still working properly. For women, it gets more complicated. Along with the monthly bloodwork, women must be on two types of birth control for the duration of the medication.
They told me multiple times before, during, and after I completed my course of Accutane, “Do not get pregnant.” The likelihood of a baby born with defects is very high if the mother is taking Isotretinoin.
The likelihood of a baby born with defects is very high if the mother is taking Isotretinoin.
What Are the Side Effects?
Since the drug works by drying you out to reduce the oil in your skin, dryness is the most popular side effect. Dry skin, dry scalp, dry eyes, dry lips. All the above.
There are chances of depression, suicidal ideation, vision and hearing disturbances, and the list goes on and on. There’s a reason this drug is the last resort for those with acne. Choosing this drug is a serious matter and should be discussed intensively with a licensed professional.
There’s a reason this drug is the last resort for those with acne.
The side effects for me were manageable. It didn’t get terrible until the second month. The dry skin was the most frustrating, but I was fine as long as I carried lotion and lip balm with me at all times. (It was impossible to survive more than 15 minutes without hydrating my lips.)
I applied Vaseline in my nose every night to prevent nose bleeds. Thankfully, I didn’t experience the eye dryness or muscle aches they had warned me about. My six months came and went, and I finally had my skin back. I was so happy!
There Is a Chance You May Relapse and Need Another Six Month Course
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to me. After I completed my course, I had a blemish-free face for four beautiful years. Then the acne came back. There was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but day by day, my skin flared up. I knew what had worked in the past for me, and after a few months of a waiting period for test results, I was prescribed Accutane once again.
The second time on this medication was a very different experience. The side effects hit me by the end of the seventh day. Muscle aches, dry eyes, depression, sensitivity to the sun, constant nosebleeds, bleeding dry lips, peeling skin on my face, severe dandruff, and eczema on my arms and legs. I experienced nearly every side effect they warned me about.
I experienced nearly every side effect they warned me about.
I completed the second round in five difficult months, and my skin cleared up. Now I have more acne scars than before, but I don’t mind. I feel relieved to be finished taking such strong medication. I considered laser treatments to remove the scars, but, honestly, I have retired from fighting my body for clear skin.
What I Learned
I look at my skin, and I embrace the scars. I'm not sad to reflect on my difficult journey; I’d rather focus on the fact I have my skin back. Some people may have it worse than I do, and some can look at my story and say, at least I didn’t have it that bad.
After stopping Accutane, I’m enjoying the wonderful things that have returned in my life. I can go out to the gym, the grocery store, and the nail salon without putting makeup on. When I walk, I look straight ahead instead of looking down at the ground. I enjoy taking pictures now, and I don’t hide my face when someone yells out, “Selfie!” These small things aren’t much, but to me, they mean everything.
If you’re experiencing cystic acne, don’t let it stop you from making memories, taking pictures, and smiling. I know it’s so much easier said than done. But trust me, you’ll look back and wish you had taken pictures on that Hawaii vacation with your boyfriend. Seek a licensed medical professional, discuss your options, and figure out what’s the best next step for you.