Accutane: The Truth

Accutane has been touted as an acne cure-all but we have to know, is it safe?

Photo+provided+by+Morgan+Fitzgerald

Photo provided by Morgan Fitzgerald


Accutane, sometimes referred to as Isotretinoin, has been used by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the years as a treatment for chronic acne. It is widely believed to be some sort of cure-all for all acne, with many people seeing success after use. But with a list of side effects long enough to put you to sleep it’s time to answer the question, is it safe for teens to use?

“The first side effect I noticed was back pain, and it was in my lower back … It felt like I had some genuine joint pain. That was probably the first thing I noticed before the rest of the side effects came.”

First, let’s go over a little history. Isotretinoin was first discovered and studied by Roche Laboratories, a swiss pharmaceutical company, during the ’60s and ’70s. The drug was originally studied as a cure for skin cancer of all things. In 1971 it was concluded that while Isotretinoin was ineffective against skin cancer, it was extremely effective against acne. However, due to the realization that the drug caused very serious birth defects, Roche abandoned the drug until 1975 when official testing began in which subjects were specifically chosen so no women who were pregnant or very likely to become pregnant would be included in the study. The trials went on for several years before the drug was finally approved by the FDA for the public in 1982. 

However, throughout the years there have been many debates on the ethics of this treatment as the birth defects that it causes were among the most reported side effects. To combat this problem, many warnings are present when getting your prescription of Accutane about the possible side effects that may occur regarding pregnancy. Today the FDA requires what’s called the IPledge program, where any female who takes Isotretinoin must sign an agreement to take two forms of birth control for a month before they start taking the medication until a month after. But these are the precautions that are taken for only one of many side effects.

“I can definitely see how during the first four months, or however long it’s making your acne worse, It’s really easy to fall into that mindset that this is never going to get better.”

To better understand how Accutane really affects patients, a podcast interview was done with seniors Morgan Fitzgerald and Dylan Cassyare, both of whom have completed a full treatment of Accutane. One of the side effects felt the most by patients is joint pain, and Dylan is no stranger to that. during a podcast interview, he expressed, “The first side effect I noticed was back pain, and it was in my lower back … It felt like I had some genuine joint pain. That was probably the first thing I noticed before the rest of the side effects came.”

But for most, the most painfully obvious side effect was dry skin. For many, it seemed as if the medicine just absorbed all the water from your body. Morgan felt this stronger than most, stating in her interview, “The dryness was the most prominent side effect so it was probably the first that I noticed because I had chapped lips and just really dry skin. For me, my hands would get so dry that I would have rashes on the back of my hands because my hands were just super super dry. And that was the most frustrating part because you can only put on so much lotion or Aquaphor or do so much to help your skin because at the end of the day you’re still going to have dry skin.”

While there are many physical side effects that affect a majority of people, one major thing is the mental aspect of this drug. Many patients report new or increased anxiety, depression or mood swings. In some cases, full-blown psychosis has been reported. Whether this comes as a result of a loss of self-confidence or an actual chemical change due to medicine is still up for debate in the medical community, but the fact of the matter is for many people Accutane has caused mental health problems. And for teens, a group already very susceptible to poor mental health, this can be extremely detrimental to their overall well-being. Dylan, while being fortunate enough to not suffer from poor mental health due to Accutane, knows people who weren’t as lucky. He admitted that, “One of the things I was kinda concerned about was the potential side effect for mood and things like that because I’ve known people who’ve been on Accutane and have had serious side effects with chronic headaches and besides from the regular side effects they became depressed and had serious mental health problems because of Accutane.”

Similarly, Morgan said that, “I can definitely see how during the first four months, or however long it’s making your acne worse, It’s really easy to fall into that mindset that this is never going to get better.”

But it’s time to answer the question, should you take it? When asked if others should take Accutane Dylan had this to say, “I would recommend it to someone who’s ready… It has to be at a point where you really want to get rid of the acne. So if you’re ready, take it, it works. If you’re not, wait.”

So after doing research and interviewing people who have gone through the struggles of Accutane, it is clear that people should ask themselves several questions before considering it as an option. The first one being “have I tried everything else and is nothing else working?” Accutane is one of the most extreme acne medications made available to consumers and is a big step up from alternatives like Proactive or Curology.

Secondly, people should reflect on whether they are willing to give up everything required. While on Accutane, there are a ton of substances and activities you cannot do. Some of those include both drinking alcohol and smoking weed. While both are illegal for teens to do, many are still active users of these substances. So patients must be willing to give up these things for the opportunity at better skin.

And lastly, consumers have to ask themselves, “am I ready for this both mentally and physically?” Not only does it take a toll on the human body, with chronic pain and extremely dry skin being very common side effects, but so has been shown to worsen mental health. And not all teens can handle these changes, so Accutane may not be an option for everyone.

If a potential consumer has gone through all these steps and decided they’re ready, then it’s time to see a dermatologist and see what the options are. While Accutane may not have the greatest side effects, it has been proven to work. So the question of whether someone is ready to take the dose lies nowhere else other than with that person.