Should You Get Accutane? We’ve Weighed The Pros & Cons

One of the rites of passage for every girl going through her teenage years and even into her collegiate career is almost always (and unfortunately) the struggle with acne. From cringe-worthy seventh grade school photos to spending all your allowance on different types of concealers and facial masks, living with acne is a universal problem that countless girls have to endure. It’s frustrating, impedes upon social comfort and self-esteem, and can even be financially and medically stressful.

There are thousands of different types of treatments available for skin care, each boasting their own unique formulas and methods for success, that it can be overwhelming when trying to decide which option is best for you and your dermatological health. Accutane has been a prominent player in the “let’s-get-rid-of-acne-forever-and-enjoy-life game,” but it’s important to know the basic facts and both positives and negatives of all medications for reducing acne before selecting a form of treatment. Here, we break them down for you!

Medicine must-knows

First of all – what even is Accutane? Accutane, or the brand name for the drug "isotretinoin", is a medication derived from Vitamin A used to treat almost all forms of skin acne. We spoke with Dr. Kenneth Mark, dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU Department of Dermatology to get the important basics.

According to Dr. Mark, Accutane is widely used and sometimes the only successful option for those with severe acne and permanent scarring; users of Accutane have usually tried other drugs or antibiotics that proved ineffective in combating serious breakouts. It is most often administered in pill form with an initial “5 to 6 month course”, Dr. Mark explains, helping with the shrinking of oil glands, reduction of inflammation and acne bacteria, and prevention of clogged pores. The treatment can be continued in a second course if a patient has not yet seen a full cure. 

The pros

1. It’s biologically the best:

It’s not hard to understand why Accutane is such a popular acne treatment! The sebaceous, or oil, glands in your skin are semi-permanently shrunk when taking Accutane, halting oil production and contributing to less-visible pores and future outbreaks. Dr. Mark says “when tolerated well, Accutane is a miraculous drug and likely the only option to offer a potential cure for those who suffer from severe, cystic acne.”

2. It heals history

Accutane also counters difficult cysts and residual scarring from past acne, essentially leading to faster regeneration of skin and a permanent elimination of acne. You can finally say goodbye to those painful reminders of middle school skin struggles!

3. It’s easy

Accutane is taken in pill form, so there’s no need for time-consuming and annoying multiple-stage medications or three-part face washes. Wash it down with your morning coffee and you’re done!

4. Say goodbye forever

Dr. Mark goes on to note that Accutane differs from other medications in that recurrences are extremely less likely when a patient stops treatment; if taking a second course of appropriate dosage, there is a 90 percent chance of a cure. Any recurrences that do arise have been reported to be less frequent and less concentrated and deep. 

Wow! Sounds pretty magical, right? Total clearing of acne from past, present, and future just by popping a pill every morning with breakfast – why doesn't everyone take this miracle medicine? As with nearly every good thing in this world, it has its downsides, and these cons should be comprehensively discussed in a consultation with your doctor when considering beginning treatment with Accutane.

The cons

1. The less severe risks

Dr. Mark lists some of the minor side effects that arise from taking Accutane. Common ones include chapped lips and dry skin, mild nosebleeds and irritation due to dry eyes, “especially exacerbated in dry climates”, he says. These might not sound bad, but the course treatment spans several months, and such symptoms can quickly become annoying.

2. ...And the bigger risks 

The potential downsides to Accutane are much greater than needing to buy extra Chapstick; Dr. Mark says “less common, but not unheard of side effects include increased cholesterol, liver issues, mood changes, and muscle, bone, and joint issues” that are aggravated more so by exercise. Some of these issues like with cholesterol and liver, since they are so serious to personal health, have to be monitored on a monthly basis with blood tests that patients must submit to.

3. Problem of pregnancy

The most severe effects of Accutane occur if the medication is taken during pregnancy, due to the extreme birth defects that the baby would be born with. He states that very strict guidelines have been put in place to prevent this, such as proof of a negative pregnancy test verified both online and in-person at a physician’s office, as well as online documentation of each filling of the prescription by pharmacies.

4. Potential financial cost

Coverage of medications by insurance varies by companies and policies, so possible financial expenses, which can reach up to several hundred dollars depending on dosage, should also be factored into one’s decision to start Accutane.

Accutane, though tempting in its incredible ability to wipe out acne in its tracks, has been called the “last resort drug,” and for good reason; a patient must carefully evaluate how seriously they want to combat their acne, and how much they value a clear face over other health conditions when deciding if Accutane is worth all of its downsides. Make sure to speak with your dermatologist before beginning Accutane or any form of medication – the right treatment is out there for you, and there are people (and treatments) that can help you get the glowing skin you deserve in a safe and effective way!