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Accu-Do or Accu-Don’t: Deciding if Accutane is Right for You

Isotretinoin, most commonly known as Accutane, is a powerful dermatological drug that is used for the treatment of moderate to severe acne. Accutane is known as the “last resort” method for trying to obtain clear skin. To break it down, Accutane is a pill that contains an extremely high dose of Vitamin A that works to shut down sebaceous glands which rids the skin of acne—permanently. However, there is much controversy regarding this medication because of several side effects and government regulated steps that are required in order to take the drug. The side effects and regulations generally dissuade potential patients from taking Accutane, but as a former patient who took two cycles of it, I want to set record straight. 

Most people can agree that puberty is probably one of the least fun times while growing up. For me, this new stage of life ushered in stubborn acne that did not want to go away. I have used many different over-the-counter acne products ranging from face washes to topical lotions. All of which worked for a few weeks and allowed my skin to clear somewhat, but to my surprise my acne would return over and over again. Seeing my frustration, my mom told me she was taking me to see a dermatologist. The first dermatologist that I saw prescribed countless washes, anti-inflammatories, and lotions, none of which truly cleared my skin. After getting frustrated with this doctor, I switched to another one. My second dermatologist was hesitant to prescribe me stronger medications due to my small frame, but decided to anyway. He explained that if he was more aggressive my skin would respond positively and clear. After even more washes and medications, the doctor, my mom, and myself realized that these prescriptions weren’t working. The doctor then offered a final and permanent solution—Accutane.

Once he said that, I burst into tears. In addition to regularly seeing a dermatologist, I tried to find my own ways to try and achieve clear skin. After doing some research, I found that diet played a major roll in acne development. I changed my diet countless times. I eliminated processed foods, went gluten and dairy free, and even became a vegetarian. While I was essentially depriving myself from all different kinds of food, I watched a TV special on Accutane. After watching this special episode, I was petrified about the medication and prayed that my doctor would never mention this option. I was wrongly informed about Accutane and there was no chance I was going to take it. I flat out refused and that was the last time I saw that dermatologist.

Since Accutane works to permanently rid skin of acne, there are side effects and health warnings, something that should be understandable. Accutane is only for people who suffer from moderate to severe acne—it’s not intended for people who get the “here and there” pimples. People, like myself, go on this drug because the acne is non-responsive to the prescribed medications. Accutane is a government-regulated medication, so there are certain requirements that every patient must complete while on the drug. These requirements can be tedious and annoying, but are extremely important to follow.

Male and female patients have different requirements that must be met in order to be on the medication. Girls who decide and get approved by a dermatologist to take this medication must be on two forms of birth control. There may be some eyebrows raised at this fact. Accutane causes severe birth defects in unborn babies. If a baby is conceived while a female is on Accutane, the baby will not make it to term. This way, if a woman on this medication are sexually active, they are protected from a potential pregnancy. Women on this drug must also provide a urine pregnancy test each month and must test negative to continue taking Accutane.

Now, the side effects of this medication are where the main controversy stems from. The most common side effects include dry skin, chapped lips, joint pain, dry eyes, vision changes, fatigue, hair loss, headaches, muscle aches. The side effects that made me afraid to take Accutane however, are depression and thoughts of suicide. But, I went to my third and final dermatologist who finally gave me all the information I needed to know about making a decision. My doctor explained to me that the pharmaceutical companies are required to list every single possible side effect in a drug. The side effects listed are there because while the drug was created and tested, the study group displayed some of these symptoms. She also told me that the warnings are to make potential patients aware of what can happen to their body and from a legal standpoint, to avoid lawsuits.

The most important thing to address is the potential for depression and suicide. Dermatologists determine whether or not a patient will be prescribed Accutane. Potential patients who have suffered from depression in the past will generally not be prescribed this medication. But, if a patient who was cleared by the prescribing doctor begins to experience signs of depression or suicidal thoughts they are required to stop the medication and tell their doctor immediately. For this reason, close monitoring of a patient is done by the doctor.

Since I was afraid of the side effects, my dermatologist started me off on a low dose because a lower dose of this medication tends to lessen the severity of the side effects. The only side effects I ended up suffering from were chapped lips and dryer skin. During the first month of treatment, I suffered from joint pain in my knees, but it was simply relieved with Ibuprofen. These side effects did not deter me from the continuing the medication and it wasn’t a big deal that I had to use more lip balm and body lotion.

I began to see improvements almost immediately. By the end of my first week on Accutane, the inflammation and my raised bumps decreased by over 90%. It was a miracle! Again, due to my small frame, my doctor was hesitant about prescribing higher doses of Accutane to me and that is why I took two cycles of the medication. These two cycles were the best thing that I could have done for my skin.

Not every person who takes Accutane is going to have a relatively easy time like I did, but the fear of developing side effects shouldn’t make a potential patient afraid to take this medication. In my opinion, Accutane is a miracle drug. Accutane gave me my self-confidence and self-esteem back. After being properly informed about this drug, I knew that Accutane was my chance at clear skin. Some may think that Accutane is only used for vanity, but acne sufferers can understand how restrictive acne can be.

If you believe that you are ready to take Accutane to clear your skin for good, then scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss the important details about this drug is something that you definitely should do. If you are still on the fence like I once was, don’t just take my word for it— go talk to a dermatologist who can give medical and professional answers. It’s only up to you whether or not Accutane is an accu-do or an accu-don’t. 

I dream of eating waffles with Amy Poehler and climbing to the top of Corporate America specifically in the fashion industry. Amy P hasn't responded to my emails, so in the meantime, I'm your typical college student who is majoring in Accounting. I'm a self-proclaimed Diet Coke and Twitter addict and I will never go a day without them. I hate the gym so don't look for me there. Finally, follow me on Twitter @gabbyycapello or Instagram @gabbycapello!
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