Beauty | November 7th 2016

Accutane 101: The Risks and Rewards


If you’re considering Accutane, chances are you’ve already tried everything else to get rid of your acne. Accutane is a last-resort solution, but it’s the last-resort solution. Still, a heavy duty anti-acne drug is worth reading about before diving in head first; with anything this powerful, you’ll need to weigh the risks and the rewards.

Before jumping in, let’s understand what exactly acne is, so your decision can be the best informed. Acne is a skin disorder occurring primarily during puberty caused by infection and inflammation of the skin glands and hair follicles.

So, why is this important? Whether your first or second time through it, puberty is only temporary, even if the scars your acne leaves behind often aren’t; this means that the intensity of your current acne isn’t permanent! However, it may take years for the intensity of your acne to lessen, as puberty takes years to transition through, so do consider this in making your decision around Accutane.

The Rewards

The rewards of Accutane are simple — clear skin. People who have been dealing with acne for years — if not decades — swear by its “life-changing” effects. Accutane is a widely used drug, so there are pretty trustworthy stats around its successes and failures; doctors generally find that out of 20 patients, 18 or 19 will find Accutane an all-in-one solution to their acne. Accutane works, it’s just a rough road to get there.

The drug we call Accutane is actually the brand-name version of a drug called isotretinoin. It’s derived naturally from vitamin A, of the same sort that occurs normally in the human body, and it works by dramatically reducing the amount of oil in your glands and speeding up the skin’s healing. This means that patients might experience worse acne while in the early stages of Accutane treatment, because the drug is pushing all of that acne-causing bacterial gunk out of your pores. This is what leads to the incredible success of Accutane to clear up your pores longterm, along with the rest of your acne, with most blemishes disappearing without a trace.

But for all the beneficial results, Accutane isn’t without its negatives. There’s a reason that it’s only prescribed for serious conditions — such as severe or scarring acne, or more moderate cases that have proven themselves consistently antibiotic resistant.

The Risks

The downside is that without natural oil production at work, Accutane leaves your skin dry as a bone. Doctors recommend frequent moisturizing throughout the day. You’ll need something heavy duty enough to work wonders, but portable and convenient enough that you can apply it at the drop of a hat. As far as drugstore brands go, CeraVe’s Moisturizing Cream is a hydrating powerhouse. For a 24-hour option, Clinique’s Moisture Surge Extended Thirst Relief goes on smooth without leaving your skin feeling greasy. And because Accutane increases sun sensitivity, a moisturizer with SPF like the Shea Butter Ultra-Rich Comforting Cream from L’Occitane might be another great fit for your skin.

Vitamin A is unsafe in high quantities since it builds up in tissue, and Accutane runs the same risks. Sore muscles, headaches, gut pain, and joint pain are all potential problems, though most side effects cease after finishing Accutane use. Some people connect Accutane with depression, but doctors widely doubt the scientific basis behind drawing a line between the drug and the condition.

For those able to and interested in giving birth, the most concerning and real lasting risk of Accutane is its propensity for serious, debilitating birth defects. To elaborate, Accutane is so dangerous for fetal health that you’ll need to provide proof of multiple birth control methods before getting a prescription.

The Results

Will Accutane ruin your skin? No. Will it sometimes feel that way? Yes. Your skin’s safety is a question of how willing you are to moisturize five times a day — a comparatively low cost for clear skin. The light at the end of the tunnel is bright and brilliant; the journey, however, is less than ideal.