For being only an acne medication accutane (Isotretinoin) is some potent stuff. I was first presented with the option to go on it many years ago but denied as the drug comes with an onslaught of side effects. However, after some thought, research, and a few more volcano pimples I decided I was fed up with acne. In December of 2015 I started the process of talking with a dermatologist. Although I didn’t feel my acne was that extreme I had tried SO many other treatments and nothing changed. I consistently had bumps and blackheads covering my face and cystic acne inflammations that frequented my cheeks. Something I learned is that Accutane isn’t only for people who have severe acne but it can also be prescribed if you have chronic milder acne that won’t go away using other methods. I would recommend you make sure you exhaust all your other options first though since, as I’m sure you know by now, Accutane is no joke.
On a scale of 1, no acne and flawless, to 10, constantly enflamed cystic acne, I would put myself around a 7. I took a whole bunch of pictures of my bare skin in the months before Accutane, as I was trying to convince myself that I needed it. I never thought I would need those pictures or be putting them on the internet (lol) so I deleted all of them, with only two survivors. Hopefully these pictures will give you an idea of my skin before Accutane. I would consider these pictures to be from a normal acne day, I’ve had better days, but also worse.
So, here’s a quick run down regarding my personal experience while on Accutane for six months. First, I would like to start by saying that this is my experience alone and everyone will experience the side effects and results of this drug differently. My goal here is to just shed some light for those considering their options. It is very important you talk to your dermatologist because I am far from being a doctor.
Alright, December 2015 I decide to find myself a dermatologist out here in California, I take a recommendation from a friend and make an appointment. This is 4 years after the first time Accutane was originally put on my radar by my dermatologist back home in Connecticut who thought I would be a great candidate for it and pushed for me to start treatment. I decided to decline as I had heard about how negatively Accutane can affect your mood. At the time, I was about to leave for college in a new state and didn’t want to put myself at any higher risk of being ‘unstable’. For the next four years I thought about Accuatne as I settled into my environment. It seemed as if my skin was almost getting better…. eh… kinda…. ok no…. and then back to bad again, on and off. I was over it. I decided to go in for my first appointment and the Doc agreed with me right then that Accutane would be my savior.
Getting Your Prescription
Unfortunately, from the first appointment you can’t just walk out with your prescription in hand and go to the drug store. Once you are prescribed you get set up in a system called iPledge. On here you’ll take monthly tests (they take 2 minutes) that verify that you are being responsible with your medication before you can get the next dose. At the first appointment, if you are a female, you will also have to take a pregnancy test. Following this, you’ll start birth control, if you aren’t already on it, before taking your second pregnancy test, a month later. If you have a negative result on this test you’ll be good to start Accuatane.
The most concerning effect of Accutane is getting pregnant while you’re on it, or in the weeks after. Accutane will cause severe birth defects. This is why you must use two forms of birth control while receiving treatment- this is also the point of iPledge, it forces you to understand the seriousness of this medication. One main concern I had was the lasting effects the drug could have on me wanting to get pregnant, I know one day I wan to be a mom and I didn’t want anything effecting the health of my baby. After asking my doctor an annoying amount of times I finally believed him that Accutane shows no effects on the developing fetus once it has left your system (one month after last pill).
Months 1- 3
OK WOOOO, we have our prescription and we just picked it up from the drug store- now what happens?!! The first month, nothing, at least for me, the dose starts low so your body can acclimate and I didn’t notice any symptoms or changes to my skin. During month one, I’m thinking, is this even going to work for me? I decided to give month two a try. Here’s an important thing to know, at the end of every month you have to get your blood work done and revisit your doctor. Like I said, very serious drug. The blood isn’t so bad as they only take a small amount but I can’t say I loved getting stabbed with a needle every month. The point of getting blood work is to check how your liver and body are reacting to the medicine and double check you haven’t become pregnant. Then, you head to the doctor, he makes sure everything is ok with you as Accutane side effects include mood changes, depression, suicidal thoughts ect., if it all checks out we get our next month.
Month two and here comes the dryness, the main symptom of Accutane, and it’s only going to get worse as the months pass- way worse. I also start noticing my skin getting a little better, very little, as I’m having a few less new breakouts but I’m still not impressed. Luckily, as I’ve seen some report, my skin didn’t break out extremely bad at the start of Accutane. I’ve read that some people experience a purge of sorts where all their acne surfaces before disappearing for good. Again that didn’t happen to me, maybe it’s just a myth. Current dose 2 40mg pills a day.
Month 3 rolling in now, time to increase the dose, and I am SO dry. My lips and skin begin peeling really bad, my nose feels constantly crusty and I pretty much never have to wash my hair because I’m producing zero oil. Vasoline, Aquafore, Burt’s Bees and Cetaphil become my BFF’s. I had nights through out treatment where I put straight vasoline over my whole face (yep!!), don’t use your good pillowcases! I tried many lotions during my time on Accutane, from expensive to drug store, and found Cetaphil to be the best, I would lay it on thick every night, every morning, and just about any chance I could get. It’s really not a cute sight as your sticking vasoline filled cotton swaps up your nose and lathering your lips in Aquafore but you gotta do it! As you may be thinking, how did I not break out from all this?!!! Well, thats the magic of Accutane, your skin may be peeling and your nose may be bleeding because it so dry but as the end of month 3 rolls around you skin is clear.
Then, as we move into months four and five, my skin went from not only being clear but flawless, seriously I couldn’t see my pores, not one tiny bump, NOTHNG. Month six and your in the home stretch and my dermatologist has me back to a lower dose (1 40mg pill a day). As I temper off the drug my skin remains perfect. The dryness did get a little better for me towards the end, mainly because I knew how to handle it. However, this didn’t mean I was a master of the drug. It’s very important to take your skins sensitivity seriously until the very last pill. Here’s why: in my last month my boyfriend and I went on a day cruise around San Diego and we forgot sunscreen, yikes, I insisted that I would be fine sitting in a half sun/ shade area as I was almost done with treatment. Yeah, I was wrong. As we came of the boat that day I noticed some redness on my shoulder that was in the sun which later turned into a blistering sun burn that even left a scar! So, my message is: always wear sunscreen and don’t ever think you are smarter than the drug.
Now, Post Accutane and my skin isn’t perfect but it’s perfect for me. I love it. It may have some bumps and blackheads but I will never complain because I know how much worse it can get. My skin makes me more confident now.
One residual side effect I have had from the Accutane is dry nose, it’s been almost 6 months since I’ve finished treatment and my nose still gets crusty and I find myself putting vasoline up there frequently.
Was it all Worth it?
So, was it all worth it? My answer, YES X 1000000000000. The dryness and skin sensitivity sucked sometimes but to deal with that for six months in exchange for a lifetime of no more pimples is something I would do any day. When I had acne I was extremely self conscious, I hated having the most exposed part of my body feel so flawed.
Since middle school I started having breakouts on my face and back. I hated the back breakouts the most, face pimples are pretty normal but people saw ‘backne’ as much more taboo. When everyone would wear cute strapless and spaghetti straps in the summer I would be so nervous trying to always keep my hair in the perfect position to cover my pimples. When I would talk to people all I could think was ‘I hope my pimples are still covered’ or, ‘holy crap what if it’s oozing’, and even if I knew my pimple was concealed all I could think was they have to be starring at it. Thinking so self consciously made me look or shy away from people. I even remember times where I’d try to be smooth and use my hand or phone to cover a pimple on my chin while I talked. In retrospect I probably looked extremely awkward.
I would never go out of the house without makeup on and if people were over who I didn’t know well I would hide in my room. That has all changed for me now because of Accutane. A few months post Accuatne and my skin isn’t as flawless as when I was on it, I do have a few minor bumps and you can see the pores on my nose again. I also get the occasional pin sized white head but this is nothing compared to what it was. I love wearing/doing makeup especially now since I can use it to accentuate rather then cover. Therefore, I do always wear it to work or when I’m going out. However, I’m now confident enough to leave the house on errand without it or stay bare faced while friends are over hanging out and that is a massive accomplishment for me. It’s so refreshing now to wear makeup because I like it and not because I have to. To prove how much more comfortable I am in my skin, here is something I would have never done a year ago, a picture of me with no makeup on the internet…..
My final message is be happy and confident in who you are! Acne is a part of life and it will most likely pass. Wearing makeup or not is your choice and either way you are beautiful because you are more than just your skin. If you are happy in who you are and how you look that is power. However, I know it is unrealistic to be able to feel 100% all the time, if something is getting you down then change it and don’t let other people tell you what is right or wrong or standard, do what you need to do to be happy with yourself because that is all that matters. Going on a severe drug like this isn’t going to be for everyone but don’t give up there is something for you out there.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS?
Can you drink on Accutane?
- Yes, but keep it in moderation as this drug and alcohol are both very taxing on the liver. Also, be prepared to get drunk fast and have wicked hangovers.
How much does Accutane cost?
- I spent about 60$ a month for Accutane, but it really depends on your insurance, it can add up if they won’t cover the blood work. The monthly doctor visits are what cost me the most, I payed a 50$ copay at each visit. The Accutane itself only cost me about 10$.
What products did you use while on Accutane?
- As I mentioned above Cetaphil lotion worked the best for me. For face wash I used St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Green Tea Scrub. I had used this before starting Accutane so I just stuck with it. It does have a mild exfoliant in it so if your skin is so sensitive that it hurts I wouldn’t use a product with an exfoliate everyday. However, you should every once and awhile as it helps remove the dry skin that’s peeling off. I wouldn’t recommend using any masks or peels while on Accutane because your skin is too dry and sensitive.
Would you recommend Accutane?
- Yes, BUT only after you’ve tried everything else. Also, unless you have it real bad, try and get through those teen years, chances are your acne will go away when you’re less hormonal.
When is the best time to go on Accutane?
- I would say this really depends on your climate. In San Diego we don’t get really cold, dry winters, I couldn’t imagine being on Accutane in a climate like that because you would just be adding to the already extreme dryness your experiencing from the medicine. On the flip side, its always sunny here and if you refer back to my sun burn story you have to be really careful that you’re always covered in sunscreen or in the shade. I pretty much just avoided the beach the whole time I was on it. So it’s up to you to pick your poison.