Note: This is my personal experience on the medication Isotretinoin (Accutane). I am not a medical professional.
Throughout middle and high school, I never struggled too much with acne. Of course I had breakouts here and there, like every teenage girl, but with plenty of face wash and concealer it never became a significant issue in my life. When I graduated high school, I thought about how lucky I was that I never had to deal with serious acne.
Then, freshman year of college hit.
My face was covered in not only pimples, but scars and irritated red skin. I was very self conscious of how it looked, but more importantly, it really, really hurt. I couldn’t touch my face; if anything accidentally brushed against it, I would be in so much pain. I had no idea what caused the flare-up, especially as an older teenager/20-year-old who thought that the worst of acne was behind me. I bought as many skincare products as I could find, but nothing worked. Desperate for something to change, I visited a dermatologist who prescribed me Accutane.
Accutane is a medication for severe acne, and it is more powerful than the face washes or creams that you find at the pharmacy. Accutane decreases the size of sebaceous glands in your skin, which are the glands that produce oil. When oil can’t be produced, your skin dries up, and the breakouts stop. Sounds great, right? It is, but the side effects are no joke.
I was on Accutane for about seven months, and I saw a huge difference in my acne in that time. However, simply being on that medication gave me a whole list of other problems. I am definitely glad I went on Accutane, and if I had to, I would do it again, but here are some of the things that I wish I had known beforehand.
**As with any prescription medication, please ONLY take Accutane with guidance and observation from a licensed professional!**
- prepare for your skin to be as dry as the sahara desert.
I’m not joking. I’ve dealt with dry skin my whole life, but Accutane was a whole other monster. Invest in plenty of lotion, Vaseline, and chapstick (seriously–do not go anywhere without chapstick, or you will regret it). Accutane dries out your skin on purpose, to keep more pimples from popping up, but that unfortunately means the rest of your face and body will suffer as well.
- never leave the house without sunscreen.
I usually tan in the sun, but when I was on Accutane, I would burn in as little as ten minutes outside. Accutane not only makes your skin dry, it makes it super sensitive, so you may have to limit the time you spend outside. My doctor suggested I take Vitamin E supplements while on Accutane to counteract the harmful effects of dryness and sunburns, so be sure to check if that is a good option for you.
- do not get pregnant!
I know this one sounds weird. Your doctor may seem like an old-fashioned stickler with how much they’ll lecture you about not getting pregnant, but it’s for a good reason. Getting pregnant on this medication is extremely dangerous and can lead to life-threatening birth defects, so doctors will prevent this at all costs. You need to be on two different birth control methods on Accutane, or commit to abstinence for the duration (seriously–they make you sign a contract and everything).
- no tattoos or piercings.
Because of how dry and sensitive your skin gets on the medication, you can’t get tattoos or piercings while you’re taking Accutane or for at least six months after. Getting a tattoo or piercing while on Accutane could not only be painful, but lead to permanent scarring, so don’t be tempted to get one done too soon. That tattoo shop will still be there once your acne clears up!
- be cautious if you have a history with depression.
Depression is a rare side effect of Accutane, but it was one that I experienced, and it was not fun. Let your doctor know if you have a history of depression, because they can monitor your dosage to make sure it doesn’t trigger any additional negative feelings while you’re on the medication.
- it really will help.
It probably sounds like Accutane made my life a living hell–which it kind of did–but it was so worth it. My skin cleared up beautifully and I haven’t had any major flare-ups in over a year. I still have some minor scarring, but I cared way more about the pain than how my skin looked, and luckily that has disappeared. The side effects were no fun, but I would gladly take them over the pain and discomfort of severe acne.
If you struggle with acne as an adult, you are definitely not alone, and you are beautiful inside and out no matter what. That being said, severe acne is incredibly painful and you deserve to feel happy and comfortable! Accutane is a great option, but it is not the only one. There are plenty of options for you and plenty of doctors who are happy to help you out to keep you feeling good in your own skin.