How Exactly Does Accutane Work?

Over 85% of people experience acne during their life and 15% experience severe acne that can result in scarring. To treat moderate to severe acne, many dermatologists recommend Accutane, especially when other treatments aren’t effective.

Accutane is a proven medication that can clear chronic and/or severe acne, but patients should understand the risks and side effects before starting treatment. We’ll explain how Accutane works and its more common side effects.

What Exactly Is Accutane?

Accutane is a brand name of a medication called isotretinoin. A Vitamin A-derived medication, Isotretinoin is a highly effective treatment for moderate to severe acne. Accutane is not an antibiotic, so it won’t disrupt the bacterial balance in your GI tract.

While isotretinoin helps clear acne in a number of ways, the biggest reason is that it decreases the size and production of the sebaceous glands. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which help the glands, and has the added anti-inflammatory benefit of stopping big red pimples. Treatment generally lasts between 24 to 28 weeks.

How Does Accutane Help With Moderate to Severe Cases of Acne?

What makes Accutane so effective is its ability to work for all causes of moderate to severe acne. Accutane shrinks the size of your sebaceous glands, decreasing the oil production flowing into your pores. Your oil production plays a significant role in inflammatory acne.

Accutane helps clear the dead skin cells at the pore’s opening by reducing the stickiness of the cells, unclogging the follicle, and preventing acne from building up in your pores. This makes it difficult for blackheads and whiteheads to form on the skin’s surface. Isotretinoin also decreases the bacteria count in the follicle, which will help decrease the inflammation occurring in the pore.

Need to see an experienced dermatologist now to treat your acne? Book with us for same-day or next-day appointments.

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Are There Side Effects You Should Worry About?

Accutane is a powerful medication that’s extremely effective at clearing your skin but has many side effects. You should consider each side effect before deciding if treatment is right for you:

Birth Defects and Pregnancy Complications

Accutane should not be taken during pregnancy, as it will harm the fetus. This is the most severe side effect that can cause birth defects or death for the fetus. Women who want to become pregnant should not start Accutane or any other Isotretinoin medication.

The FDA requires serious pregnancy prevention steps before taking the medication. Those who can get pregnant must take a pregnancy test one month before, during, and after treatment to ensure they are not pregnant. The patient must use two forms of birth control or abstinence during treatment.

Chapped Lips and Dry Skin

A more common side effect of Accutane is chapped lips and dry skin. Doctors may recommend lowering your dose to manage your levels and decrease symptoms.

We recommend using Aquaphor Healing Ointment Lip Repair to restore moisture to your lips and our Honeydew facial moisturizer to manage dry, flaky skin during treatment. You’ll want to apply liberally throughout the day to manage symptoms.

You May Develop Retinoid Dermatitis

Retinoid dermatitis, which is the clinical term for inflamed, dry skin, can appear on the arms, especially in colder winter months. Not to worry, it can be easily treated with topical cortisone and moisturizer.

Sensitivity to the Sun

Isotretinoin also weakens your skin barrier, making it more sensitive to the sun and more susceptible to scarring. While taking Accutane, you should protect your skin with sunscreen. We recommend a mineral sunscreen with SPF 50 with zinc oxide +/- titanium dioxide.

The FDA recommends avoiding hair removal treatments, waxing, dermabrasion, and laser treatments while your skin is fragile. Of course, you should never go indoor tanning, whether you are on Accutane or not.

Possibility of Getting More Acne Initially

Unfortunately, a small percentage of people may get more acne in the first few weeks of therapy. The acne may become more red and painful, but only briefly. This phenomenon is known as purging, which results from your pores clearing out, meaning your medication is working. The good news for your skin is that most people start seeing improvement in 4-6 weeks.

Can Honeydew treat my moderate-to-severe acne? Learn more about our dermatology services.

Mental Issues and Accutane

Depression has never been directly linked to Accutane. In fact, a recent study shows no difference in the prevalence of depression between people on Accutane and people on other treatments. Having severe acne and being a teenager are independent factors that can cause depression.

Another study shows a significantly lower prevalence of depressive symptoms after concluding a course of Accutane relative to other treatments. However, care should be taken to monitor symptoms properly. And patients should alert their clinicians if they notice any changes in their mental status.

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How Can You Prevent These Complications From Happening to You?

Some side effects can be prevented, like birth defects, but many of the side effects can be minimized or managed with skin care ointments, sunscreens, and lotions. Side effects from Accutane tend to be more severe with higher-dose treatments. If you are experiencing more side effects, talk to your dermatologist about lowering your dosage.

Here are some products that can help manage the common side effects of Accutane:

  • Vaseline or Aquaphor lip moisturizer for dry, cracked lips or nostrils
  • Facial moisturizer for dry, itchy skin
  • Advil or Tylenol for headaches

Want to have long-term, clear skin? Get started with Honeydew’s affordable treatment plans.

Should You Use Accutane To Help Prevent Acne?

People with chronic or moderate-to-severe acne who don’t show improvement on other medications should consider Accutane. Likewise, if you have cystic, nodular acne with scarring potential, Accutane is the ideal medication for you.

With close supervision and follow-up by your Honeydew provider and the Accutane team at Honeydew, this is an extremely safe and effective way to clear your skin. Honeydew provides access to experienced dermatologists for as little as $25/month (if paid annually) on specific plans. We can customize a personal plan to treat your moderate-to-severe acne.

Related Link: Frequently Asked Questions