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If you’re someone (or you know someone) who’s been struggling with severe acne that fails to respond to other treatments, such as prescription-based retinoids or topical/oral antibiotics, it might be time to give Accutane a try.
Often a “last resort” option for those with relentless acne that affects their daily life, Accutane (isotretinoin) is a powerful and effective treatment for acne unresponsive to other treatments. To help you get a better understanding of what Accutane is, how it works to clear acne, it’s side effects, and more, take a look at our Accutane guide below.
All About Accutane (Isotretinoin)
What is Accutane?
Isotretinoin, which is often better known as its brand name Accutane, is a prescribed medication primarily used to treat severe cases of acne that hasn’t responded to other forms of treatment.
It’s a derivative of vitamin A (retinoid) taken orally and is only prescribed by a physician when the patient has tried multiple types of acne treatments, including oral antibiotics and topical treatments like creams and cleansers.
Nowadays, the original brand Accutane isn’t on the market, but isotretinoin is available in a variety of brand names, including Absorica, Amnesteem, Claravis, Myorisan, and Sotret.
How does Accutane work?
The main ingredient of Accutane — isotretinoin — works by increasing cell turnover and the shedding of dead skin cells, resulting in less build-up and pore-clogging. It also reduces oil gland size and production by up to 90%, which is why dry skin is such a common side effect.
Additionally, isotretinoin has recently been found to change the skin’s microbiome, otherwise known as the collection of good and bad bacteria (yes, you’ll find your gut isn’t the only place where a variety of bacteria live!).
Over the course of isotretinoin treatment, the skin’s microbiome mimics that of someone who doesn’t have inflammatory acne, which helps clear up existing acne and reduce the bacteria that causes breakouts. Furthermore, isotretinoin helps to calm down inflammation.
What are the side effects of Accutane (isotretinoin)?
Some common side effects of this acne treatment include:
- Red, chapped lips.
- Dry skin (may see peeling skin).
- Skin itchiness and increased sensitivity.
- Increased sensitivity to sun exposure.
- Nasal passage dryness (possible nose bleeds).
- Irritation of the eyes, eyelids, and surrounding area.
- Aches and pains in the joints and muscles.
- Hair thinning, which is temporary.
- Gastrointestinal and urinary tract symptoms.
- Potential for mood changes.
However, there are a few more serious side effects to be aware of:
- Vision problems.
- Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
More importantly, isotretinoin poses a high risk of birth defects, which is why there is a very strict protocol to prevent pregnancy among females taking the drug.
While the side effects of isotretinoin are sometimes severe, they are rare and many dermatologists still recommend this form of acne medication as a safe and effective alternative when nothing else has worked for stubborn, cystic acne.
What can you expect when using an isotretinoin-based acne treatment?
Regular Testing — As you can see from the information above, isotretinoin is taken very seriously. This is why before and throughout your journey using it, you’ll go in for routine lab tests and monthly follow-up visits. The typical course of treatment is 5-6 months, but this can vary depending on a patient’s response to therapy.
Initial Acne Flare — With many acne treatments, including Accutane and other isotretinoin-based medications, the skin can go through a sort of “purging” phase where acne may get worse. Rest assured, should this happen to you, your skin will improve once this phase subsides.
Mood Changes — Many people taking isotretinoin report feeling more negative and depressive. However, many also report this side effect is not nearly as bad as the negative impact acne may have had on their mental health.
Better Skin — While your skin might not be completely perfect after taking isotretinoin, you will no doubt see a dramatic improvement. Many of our female patients report feeling confident enough to finally go out into public without concealer or foundation, which our board-certified dermatologists love to hear!
The iPledge Program
At the Center for Surgical Dermatology, we follow the iPledge Program when prescribing isotretinoin to female patients.
Designed to further the public health goal of eliminating fetal exposure to isotretinoin, this program requires our female patients to commit to using two methods of effective contraception simultaneously for one month before, during, and for one month after isotretinoin therapy. Our board-certified dermatologists strictly follow this program to ensure the health and wellness of patients!
Ready to take the next step to treating acne with isotretinoin?
If you’re frustrated with cystic or nodular acne and are ready to turn to a more effective treatment, our board-certified dermatologists are here to help. Sometimes, it’s best to seek out an experienced professional to get you on the right treatment plan for clearer skin!
The Center for Surgical Dermatology is passionate about skin health, and we’re ready to help you get your acne under control. We have been operating in Central Ohio since 2007 and have offices in Westerville, Gahanna, Columbus, Lancaster, Granville, and Pickerington, OH. Please get in touch today to learn more about our services. You can call (614) 847-4100 to schedule your first appointment.