Isotretinoin: Get the Facts

So– isotretinoin– what is it?   Is it harmful?  Is it going to cure your acne forever?   Here’s what we know, and hopefully this will help you make an informed decision about whether to take it.

Isotretinoin is the medical (pharmaceutical) name for a drug that is basically extremely high-dose Vitamin A, manufactured to treat cystic pimples.  In case you’re curious, vitamin A is the vitamin you’d normally find in things like carrots, liver (yuuuck), sweet potatoes, kale, and cod liver oil (again, yuck), and other foods.  Vitamin A in food and vitamin form (like you’d buy at the drugstore) is good for you, for the most part.   In case you’re wondering, no, there is no way for you to eat a large enough amount of carrots to equal the Vitamin A dosage found in prescription isotretinoin, plus it has to be synthesized by a lab, which your body can’t do anyway.

Isotretinoin comes in different dosages and is known by different names.  Until 2009 (when it was pulled off the market because of lawsuits), it was primarily known as Accutane.   Now it’s called Roaccutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, Absorica, Isotroin, or Epuris.   This is basically the last treatment option dermatologists will usually go for after they’ve tried topical treatments (like Duac/ Differin) and antibiotics (like erythromycin or doxycyline).

How do I know so much about this?

Well, it’s because I had treatment-resistant cystic (nodular) acne, and I was put on Accutane THREE TIMES.   Not once, not twice, but three times. Considering the fact that isotretinoin is supposed to cure your acne FOR GOOD, I would say this should be a pretty good indicator to you that it is actually not the cure-all some doctors think it is.

Here are some good things to know if you’re considering taking it:

1.  It causes birth defects, so you have to use two different types of birth control while you’re on it.   You can’t just say “I don’t have sex” anymore, because doctors don’t want to risk the liability.   Now, in fact, you actually have to sign a bunch of stuff saying that a) you won’t get pregnant, and b) you won’t hold the doctor responsible for what happens if you do.   That part was kind of hard-core, I thought, but I wasn’t planning on getting pregnant during the THREE times I was on it, so I was fine with it.

2.  It dries out everything.   For me, the most common thing I got was super dry, cracking lips, super dry eyes, and just an overall dry, cracking skin.  Isotretinoin reduces the amount of sebum in your whole body, I guess?   Several times, I would have someone (at work or while I was out) point out to me that my lips were bleeding.

3.   It can give you headaches and can be really hard on your stomach.    I had both of these lovely side effects as well, though apparently not to the point that others did.

4.  It can cause depression.   This one I find iffy, because you know what’s depressing?  Out of control cystic/ nodular acne.    Anyone who has struggled with cystic acne would probably say the same.  I didn’t have this side effect, mostly because I was happy that something was finally clearing up my skin problem.


5.  Results are NOT always permanent.   Like I said, I went on it three different times, and my acne problem came back each time.  Yes, it was a little less aggro than when I was in high school, but still.   If you’re going to take toxic levels of a vitamin (which is essentially what this is), you kind of want it to be a guaranteed cure.   With that in mind, I can’t really recommend that you try it, because it can make you really sick, and the results are not guaranteed.   Not worth it (in my opinion).


Oh, also!  Very important.   If you are determined to take some form of isotretinoin, PLEASE go to a doctor and get a prescription.  DO NOT BUY IT ONLINE.    It is not worth risking your life/ your health!

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