Recently, health professionals gave us acne-prone people the holy grail: Accutane. It’s the cure for acne in a pill -something that was seemingly impossible for the longest time. Being on Accutane is either one’s personal hell or the biggest blessing ever. Fortunately for me, it was the latter. For eight months during my junior year of high school, I took large red pills every day. I transformed from an insecure, red-faced teen to a confident, glowy young adult. Of course, such a powerful medication doesn’t go without its side effects and precautions. In these eight months, I learned a lot about skincare. If you’re starting Accutane or considering starting it, keep reading!
What is Accutane?
So maybe you’ve never heard of Accutane. In short terms, Accutane, or Isotretinoin, is a pill taken by mouth that reduces your body’s oil production and clears acne. Without this oil, your body will become a DESERT; I’m talking dry lips, eyes, nose, and scalp. One word: DRY! My dermatologist told me this dryness is not a side effect; it’s simply what the medicine is supposed to do.
How to Combat Dryness
If you’re taking Accutane, start getting into the habit of hydrating your body. Starting at the top, your scalp (and hair) will become very dry. Personally, this was a hidden gem. I have naturally oily hair, so Accutane allowed me to keep my normal shampoo and conditioner, but I only had to use it once a week instead of 2-3 times per week. If you usually have dry hair, invest in a hydrating shampoo or a serum for your scalp. No one likes itching their head all day. Next up: your eyes. An over-the-counter bottle of eye drops is a simple fix to dry eyes but beware: irritation does not stop at dry eyes. On Accutane, I frequently experienced styes. These can usually be fixed with a warm compress, but if you’re experiencing severe irritation, reach out to your dermatologist. The biggest mistake you can make on Accutane is disregarding the dry irritation. Last, your lips. Every Accutane-veteran you’ll meet will have a strange obsession with chapstick. This isn’t because we want luscious lips 24/7 (but who wouldn’t). More so that Accutane will rip your lips apart if you don’t lubricate them regularly. No matter what, always keep some form of chapstick on you. Here’s a guide to some products to look into when you start Accutane:
Products to Stay Away From
Because Accutane is so strong, your dermatologist will likely tell you to stay away from strong substances on your skin. This means ditching the intense acne-clearing face wash and switching to a gentle cleanser. The most popular options are Cerave and Cetaphil. Personally, I switched from the Neutrogena Salicylic Acid face wash to the Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser. Not only face wash but face lotion, too. Lastly, put away all those skincare products. Yes, I know they’re expensive, but the point of Accutane is that you don’t need them. In fact, you shouldn’t be using them while your skin is in such a sensitive state. So, say goodbye to Mario Badescu, The Ordinary, Drunk Elephant, and any other products you have for your acne. (Side Note: This is what my derm told me. If you have any products you stand by, check with your derm to see if they’re Accutane-safe). After taking two separate antibiotic pills and more topical treatments than I can count, it was hard not to spread a layer of spot treatment on my face every night, but you MUST stick to gentle, hydrating products only.
When you get on Accutane, your dermatologist will stress all the side effects. If that and the dozens of reminders on the packaging weren’t enough, let me tell you one more time…DO NOT GET PREGNANT! While Accutane is great for acne, it is infamous for causing congenital disabilities. So, you will likely be asked to pledge to abstinence. Or, you can pledge to use at least two forms of birth control every time you have sex; this includes a hormonal form, such as the pill or patch, and then a physical barrier. So, make sure you’re very careful about implementing these because you will be required to take a pregnancy test each month. After getting a negative test, you will be given a week to pass an assessment to refill your prescription, and if you fail to do so, you will have to take another pregnancy test. So, setting reminders to prevent pregnancy and to stay caught up on your assessments will allow you to smoothly take the pills on schedule.
Your Physician is Your Friend!
Even though you are required to visit your dermatologist every month, a month is a long time! Between February and March of 2021, my acne cleared up faster than ever before. Similarly, you can be fine one day and experience intense irritation the next. Also, while I had no other side effects, some people may experience depression, stomach pains, bleeding, fatigue, and more. It’s very important to contact your dermatologist if this is happening consistently or to voice any concerns you have during your monthly visits.
Featured image via Byrdie.