If you have ever struggled with acne, you know it’s a long, brutal, frustrating process. Dermatologist after dermatologist, everyone tells you different solutions for adult acne.
Try cutting out dairy and gluten.
Here’s a topical cream.
You want this pill?
Let’s put you on birth control.
I used to get so angry about my acne because it felt like a battle I was never going to win. I would try one solution—say the most recent topical cream recommended by a dermatologist—and it would take two to six months to determine if it worked. If the treatment was unsuccessful, that’s another half-year under my belt with cystic acne on my face. This went on for years.
Isotretinoin, formerly marketed under the name Accutane, is the known “last resort” for clearing acne due to its intense side effects. Doctors were practically willing to try witchcraft before prescribing Isotretinoin, but when my insecurities were just too much to bear, I had to advocate for myself.
Skin. Your skin gets unbearably dry, then starts to peel and flake—an experience I wouldn’t grant on my worst enemy. My lips were severely chapped all the time, and no amount of balm could change that. The acne also got worse before it got better.
Body. On the drug, your muscles and joints will get sore. I’ve heard horror stories of having to sleep with ice bags—that wasn’t the case for me, although I did feel a slight, yet persistent, discomfort a lot of days.
Liver. Isotretinoin makes your liver work really, really hard. This was definitely something I had to be aware of as a freshly-21-year-old college student. You have to get blood tests once a month to check your liver enzyme levels.
Mental Health. Although I did not experience this personally, there is a black box warning on the prescription about the potential for depression, anxiety, or mood changes. In my case, it improved my mental health because I was more confident.
iPledge. Another pain of Isotretinoin is all the paperwork and testing. For someone like me who already spreads themselves thin between school, internships, and everything in between—I despised making time to go to the Student Health Center each month. Part of Isotretinoin is enrolling in iPledge, a risk-management program mandated by the FDA to make sure women don’t get pregnant on the drug: Isotretinoin can lead to serious birth defects for a fetus.
Also, going to the Student Health Center and whispering the taboo words “pregnancy test” to the front desk lady, in front of a waiting room of my classmates, was definitely not my favorite routine.
The acne has completely gone away, and the texture and scaring have significantly improved. I’m able to go without foundation on most days, and when I do wear makeup, it’s because I want to—not for social survival. Isotretinoin may not be for everyone, but the side effects were worth it for me on my skincare journey. I feel so much more confident in my skin!
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