I have had a longtime struggle with my skin. Pretty much since I went through puberty, my skin has just thrown me nothing but nonsense. It started in middle school with an irritation all around my nose. I tried all the face washes, all the creams, all the astringents, and of course, visited a dermatologist. I don’t even remember what made the irritation go away, honestly. It hung around for a while. Top off my blotchy, red face with a terrible haircut, and you’ll understand a little bit about why I was insecure in my appearance as a middle schooler.
In high school, it was the zits above and in between my eyebrows. From age 19-21 I began to get zits all around my lips, and also on my chest. Around 23, I started to develop vicious cystic and hormonal acne. Benzoyl Peroxide and Salycilic Acid (the most popular acne-fighting ingredients in over-the-counter products) made my skin irritated and raw. I don’t have any close-up, barefaced pictures, because honestly I couldn’t bring myself to photograph any of it. Hormonal acne came into my life at one of the hardest seasons I’d experienced at that point. My life was a slow, sad country song.
After about a year of full-coverage foundation and over-exfoliation, I went to my dermatologist yet again. My file was a record of numerous topical gels and pills meant to help clear up my skin. There was only one route I had yet to take.
I had heard terrifying stories about Accutane from the beauty community on YouTube. I was under the impression it was no longer on the market. It is, and it is heavily monitored by the government. Basically, this drug is the machine gun of skin meds. It’s the last resort drug for difficult skin. “I can almost promise you that you’ll never have issues with acne ever again,” my dermatologist informed me. He shared that he had been prescribing the drug for multiple decades and that he had full faith that this would work for me.
Obtaining a prescription as a woman was a journey itself. I had to pass two pregnancy tests that were taken a month apart from each other. If you get pregnant on Accutane, serious birth defects could occur for your child. Because of this, the government is involved in the administering of this drug and you have to pass a test based off information in a workbook you receive from your dermatologist. You have to pledge two forms of contraception, one of which may be abstinence. You may be subjected to random pregnancy tests, as you must check in with your doctor each month and review blood work you are to take. There are strict rules on what day you must recieve bloodwork and what day you need to follow up with a doctor. The pharmacy side of things is sometimes just as complicated, as you have to present an ID card upon picking up your prescription.
The side effects were unreal.
Two days into taking Accutane, my lips dried out. This drug worked lightning fast. Eighteen days into taking the drug, the side effects I noticed were:
- Dry, cracked lips (cheilitis)
- Itchy, dry scalp. Scalp flakes out of control. Entire scalp seemed to flake over.
- Hair felt thinner.
- Scalp didn’t produce much oil. Only needed to wash hair every three days.
- Acne worsened. More cysts than before. I had a couple cysts on my lips.
- Very sensitive, achey joints.
- Itchy skin on my forearms.
- Painful headaches.
- Drier eyes.
That was just eighteen days in. I took Accutane from September 2017-February 2018. The joints ached more and more, and my hair felt thinner and thinner. The amount of time I spent dedicated to just obtaining my prescriptions was insane. In December, I was informed I was no longer eligible for my insurance through my parents (military things), and hopped on to my employer’s insurance. This made everything Accutane-related more expensive, as the drug itself is stupid expensive. A month of Isotretinoin out of pocket is about $489 currently. The following month, my employer switched insurance providers, and things remained ridiculously expensive. I stopped Accutane out of financial necessity, but truthfully, it was a relief.
Here we are now, about eight months off of Accutane, and my skin is generally drier. My hair is not as oily as it was before, but not as dry as when I was taking the pills. I get occasional cystic acne now, but did not for about three months off of the drug. The acne has only briefly been severe and that, I believe, was brought on by severe stress. My hair still feels very thin and that very well may be permanent, unfortunately. That’s the biggest downside, I feel, although I don’t know what the long-term effects internally are.
I love holistic options and natural remedies. For some, those work for their cystic acne. I certainly gave holistic options a try and found no such luck. Do I regret taking Accutane? At this point, no. Did I enjoy it? Never once. If you are thinking about talking to your doctor about this drug and have tried every other option, make the decision yourself. Decide if this is worth it to you. I can only recommend that you consider this a last resort.
What about you guys? Have any of you taken Accutane? Share your story below.