You’ve definitely heard of the word Accutane, whether or not you know what it is. For those that fall into the latter group, it’s an acne medication with an interesting reputation. It’s powerful, but it’s also a little scary to jump into as a solution to persistent breakouts, given the mixed reviews on its efficacy (and potential side effects).
So in this edition of Mythbusters, we went to a pro to get a breakdown on exactly what Accutane is and does, plus a few more facts on curing acne as a whole.
"Accutane is an oral form of vitamin A, and what sets it apart from other acne medications is that Accutane is the only acne medication that has the potential to CURE, not just control, acne,” says NYC Celebrity Dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe of the treatment that's generally known as Isotretinoin. Depending on your prescription, you take it once or twice a day.
Cure is a very strong word. Can you imagine if you never had to deal with the aggravating and sometimes emotional-taxing skin issue every again? But remember, it’s important you realize Dr. Bowe said it has the potential to cure.
"Some patients will not have any acne after they conclude their course of Accutane, for example, a six-month course of medication,” she says. "Although that doesn't happen in everyone, when it does, it's miraculous. All other acne medications can keep the symptoms under control, but they require maintenance treatments or else you get a flare of the acne, at least until you ‘outgrow' the acne, which in many cases can take years. For example, if you are using a topical form of retin A and you stop, your acne will likely come back within a matter of weeks. But if you take Accutane for the full dose (full duration of therapy), there is a possibility that you never have to take or use any acne medication ever again. Not in everyone, but in many fortunate people,” she says.
OK, so that’s the best case scenario. Dr. Bowe says she recommends it for emotional or physical scarring, or when "a patient's self-esteem is being significantly impacted by the acne" on all skin types, as well as for skin of color.
And all the talk on side effects? That's real. Of the worst, Dr. Bowe says that it could cause birth defects if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant in the near future. "As with other acne medications, the most potentially dangerous side effects are to those women who are trying to become pregnant. The risk of a baby being born with severe birth defects is high when a pregnant mother uses this type of acne medication," she says.
"Accutane is a form of oral vitamin A. Vitamin A has to do with the ability for cells to divide. Consequently, during fetal development if you impact the ability of cells to divide appropriately, you can have severe physical anomalies. Drugs fall into certain pregnancy categories of safety and this one is well-studied and known to result in severe birth defects if taken during any time of pregnancy," she says.
Some other side effects include mood disorders, depression, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, skin problems, stomach problems, hearing issues, vision problems, allergic reactions, and dry skin, among others.
Because it's a serious prescription medication, your MD will have to get you the go-ahead to get it. But if you're interested, definitely sit down with a derm to talk about the pros and cons, and they'll give you their professional opinion on if it's a fit.