Before Starting Accutane: What You Should Know

If you’ve been suffering from severe acne for an extended period of time, you have likely reached a point of desperation in your search for a solution.  By the time most patients arrive at Accutane, they’ve tried it all from infomercial products to prescription ointments to homeopathic therapies.  And, after each one fails, they are left feeling more hopeless than before. 

Accutane is a powerful, prescription drug that is reserved for the treatment of either severe, scarring acne or persistent acne that has not responded to other treatment options over a course of many years.  In most cases, patients quickly note an improvement in their acne which continues over the course of a 4-6 month treatment.  And for about half of these, acne will never again be a problem. 

Undoubtedly, Accutane is the most powerful and effective acne treatment option available.  However, there are definitely some facts to consider before requesting this prescription from your dermatologist.

Accutane and Birth Defects

This is the number one concern associated with Accutane and for good reason.  Accutane is a derivative of vitamin A which is known to lead to severe birth defects when taken in large amounts during pregnancy.  In fact, there is a “100 percent certainty” that either taking Accutane while pregnant or becoming pregnant while on the drug will result in birth defects that may affect the face, brain, heart, and intellectual capabilities. 

For this reason, all Accutane patients, physicians, and pharmacists must register for and use the iPLEDGE system.  Through this system, female patients commit to using two effective forms of birth control simultaneously from one month prior to beginning Accutane to one month after stopping.  There must also be two negative urine or blood pregnancy tests prior to the prescription and one negative pregnancy test during each month of therapy. 

While this information may sound frightening, understanding the potential side effects of Accutane on a fetus is of critical importance.  However, it is also important to note that after one month of stopping the medication, the risk of birth defects in any subsequent pregnancy is virtually non-existent. 

Your Acne may get Worse before it gets Better

For most patients, the positive results of Accutane appear very quickly after the start of treatment.  However, for 1 in 5 acne will get worse before it improves.  While seeing your acne take a turn, albeit temporary, for the worse can be upsetting, don’t be disheartened.  For those who continue to use the medication as prescribed by their physician, positive results will eventually appear.  In most cases, 4-6 months of treatment is required, with some patients eventually needing a subsequent round.

There are Many Common Accutane Side Effects

The vast majority of side effects associated with Accutane are mild.  However, there are many potential changes that patients may notice while on the medication, of which the most commonly noted is dry skin and lips.  To combat this, dermatologists recommend frequent moisturizing and the use of Aquaphor or Vaseline as a lip balm throughout the duration of treatment.  Additionally, Accutane may increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, making sunburns and associated skin damage more likely.  While daily SPF is always important, it is especially so for patients taking Accutane.   

Other notable but less common reported side effects include eye irritation, joint and muscle pain, temporary thinning of the hair, headache, and intestinal disturbances such as IBS. 

For those who suffer from severe or long-term acne, Accutane can be a miracle drug, offering a chance at clear skin that they haven’t had before.  However, it is also a powerful medication and cannot be used by just anyone with a breakout.  Precautions must be taken to ensure the health and safety of all involved, particularly women of child-bearing age. 

If you are considering Accutane, a knowledgeable dermatologist is your greatest resource.  To determine if you are in fact a candidate and what your treatment may entail, contact our Baton Rouge or Lafayette dermatology offices, and request an appointment with one of our board-certified physicians.