Accutane: is it worth it?

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Elissa Eaton, Features Editor

Waking up in the morning can be an unpleasant experience. And what makes it worse? Looking in the mirror and seeing a new pimple smack dab in the middle of your forehead. As someone who has struggled with acne since the beginning of middle school, I know how frustrating it can be.

I started seeing a dermatologist about three years ago. I had tried multiple treatments for my acne, including countless variations of pills and creams, but nothing worked. I would have clear skin one week only to break out again the next. Last year, my dermatologist recommended that I start taking isotretinoin, or more commonly known as Accutane. Originally, I was surprised because I thought that Accutane was only for treating severe acne. My dermatologist told me that it’s also useful for people who have mild acne that simply won’t go away. 

Accutane is a pill that is used to treat and, in some cases, permanently get rid of acne. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the catch is that it comes with a slew of possible side effects ranging from dry skin to depression and anxiety. I was on the fence about starting the treatment because of the daunting side effects, but eventually I chose to go for it because I was so sick of having acne. It was impacting my confidence and I figured that the process would be worth it, especially if I could go to college with clear skin.

If you are considering taking Accutane, here are some of the side effects that I have experienced along with some recommendations to help through the process.

 

Dry skin and chapped lips: This is pretty much an unavoidable side effect. Accutane shrinks your sebaceous glands which causes your body to produce less natural oil. This was extremely noticeable throughout my treatment especially since I was taking it during the coldest and driest months of the year. My lips got very chapped and would sometimes crack at the corners. Along with that, my hands got so dry that I had to get a prescription steroid ointment to relieve the severe dryness. My arms and legs were also constantly itchy due to the dryness. 

Sun sensitivity: My dermatologist recommended that I take Accutane starting in the fall and ending in the spring so that I could avoid the intense summer sun. Though I followed her recommendation, the winter months still caused a peeling sunburn on my face. Accutane makes it much easier for your skin to burn. It’s something to keep in mind especially if you are planning on taking it during the summer. 

Back and shoulder pain: Whenever I would first lay down in bed, I would get a jolt of pain in my lower back that would subside after about 30 seconds and my shoulders would ache at times. I really noticed the back and shoulder pain whenever I had to lift anything heavy such as lifting weights for a workout. 

 

My recommendations:

  1. Always have Aquaphor and chapstick on you. I recommend Doctor Dan’s chapstick which includes hydrocortisone. 
  2. Be diligent about putting moisturizer on your arms and legs. I usually did this after showering and it made a huge difference with the itchiness. 
  3. Wear sunscreen! This is not as big of a hassle in the winter but it is still important to apply a high SPF sunscreen to your face every day. It is especially important to reapply while spending a long time outside. 
  4. Sleep with a humidifier in your room. I found that I woke up with lips that were not nearly as chapped whenever I did this. 
  5. Stretch your back and shoulders before and after lifting heavy objects. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that you can do to minimize the joint pain but this definitely helps. 
  6. Eat high-fat foods with your medicine. Most brands of Accutane don’t absorb as well if they are not taken with a lot of fat grams. Ask your dermatologist if this is necessary. I always took my pills with two spoonfuls of peanut butter and it worked great. 
  7. Set reminders on your phone to take your medicine. Skipping days of taking your Accutane does nothing but delay the process. Try and get into the habit of taking it with your meals. 
  8. Be patient! My skin actually got a lot worse before it got better. This was very discouraging at the time, however, it did improve!

Please keep in mind that Accutane must be prescribed by a dermatologist or doctor and that everyone’s body responds differently to the drug. There are other possible side effects that I did not mention. Make sure to be aware of all side effects before deciding to take it. 

Accutane is definitely not the most fun experience while you are on it. Despite this, I believe that the results make the painful side effects worth it. I am not getting breakouts nearly as often and when I do, they are barely noticeable. I am so much happier with my skin which has tremendously boosted my confidence. 

In all honesty, Accutane is not for the faint of heart. My course was six months but some people are on it for shorter or longer periods of time. It comes down to whether or not you are willing to face uncomfortable side effects in the short term for your appearance in the long term. That was a tough question for me to answer, but in the end, I was glad I did it.