This is a guest post from Facing Acne.
In the history of acne treatments, there has never been a medication that has caused more controversy than Accutane. There is also no treatment that has ever produced such startling results. For this reason, Accutane has both its passionate defenders and its equally passionate detractors. The choice of whether to try Accutane is a very difficult one. All the factors must be properly weighed, and if you are considering this option, you should be fully aware of all of the possible side effects as well as the nearly miraculous efficacy of this drug in clearing even the most severe cases of acne.
A hyperaggressive treatment like Accutane should only be considered when other, more conventional treatments have been exhausted with unsatisfactory results. With so many options on the market, it is likely that one of them will fit your skin type and help give you relief from acne. (Related: Does Proactiv really work?) Many people have questions about the more common treatments and it can be overwhelming trying to sort through all of the options. But if you are a long-time acne sufferer, it is worth the effort. Here we take a closer look at Accutane and answer at least some of the most common questions in relation to this well-known, highly debated, and very controversial acne treatment solution.
How Does Accutane Work?
First of all, what is Accutane? Accutane is the brand name of the drug isotretinoin, which is a derivative of vitamin A. It is administered in pill form, usually for somewhere between 15 and 20 weeks. It works primarily by reducing the amount of sebum your skin produces and by helping your skin regenerate faster, thus healing existing lesions and evening out skin tone by eliminating any residual redness.
Different dosages are used depending on the severity of the condition. Higher dosages have a greater rate of effectiveness and a lower relapse rate, but also come with a heightened risk of side effects.
Several things stand out as remarkable (in a positive way) about Accutane. First, it is effective in combating even the most severe cases of acne, including those that have not responded to any other treatment. It’s effectiveness is often found to be above 90%, a rate unheard of from any other treatment option. Also remarkable is the fact that many people (perhaps above 50%) never have a relapse, meaning that one round of Accutane erases their acne for good. Of those that do relapse, a second round often achieves the permanent effect they are looking for.
Side Effects and Dangers
For all of these amazing results, Accutane is not a miracle drug. The side effects can be equally as potent and worthy of consideration as the positive effects.
Many of the ongoing side effects experienced while on the drug relate to the drying effect that it has on your system. Extreme dryness of the skin is quite common, especially of the lips. Many people find they have to apply moisturizer and lip balm almost continuously to combat this effect. Many people even experience extreme drying of the eyes and accompanying irritation. On a more serious note, there have also been reports of extreme depression and suicidal thoughts, though these are rare and thought to occur in less than 1% of cases.
Because Accutane is a systemic drug (it affects much more than just your skin), there are a variety of markers that must be monitored over the course of the treatment. Regular blood tests must be performed to monitor liver function and triglyceride levels, among other things. Because of the high risk of very severe birth defects, women who take Accutane must consent to using two forms of birth control (hormonal pills along with another manual form) and submitting to monthly pregnancy tests.
Accutane exits your system within nine days of ending treatment, so there is no risk of it affecting future pregnancies. If you search the internet, you will find a wide range of long term effects being reported by individual Accutane users, but it is difficult if not impossible to say whether these issues are genuine side effects of the medication or just coincidence.
Is Accutane Worth the Risk?
Nobody can answer this question but you. A comprehensive discussion with your doctor can help you weigh the benefits along with the possible negatives of the drug. A lot of it depends on the severity of your acne and how much emotional pain and anxiety it causes you. Many people underestimate this factor, especially if they do not suffer from acne themselves. Acne and the scarring that can result from more severe cases are major contributors to depression and even suicidal thoughts, especially among teenagers. As with any potent drug, there are two sides to be considered. The important thing is to be certain you are making a fully informed choice.
I. A. Vallerand et al., Efficacy and Adverse Events of Oral Isotretinoin for Acne: A Systematic Review, Br J Dermatol 2017.
YC Huang & YC Cheng, Isotretinoin treatment for acne and risk of depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis, J Am Acad Dermatol 2017, 76, 1068-1076.
AS Karadag et al., Isotretinoin in retrospect, Clin Dermatol 2017, 35, 335-339.
This is a guest post from Facing Acne.