Accutane: The Serious Acne Solution

Accutane (Isotretinoin) is a potent prescription-strength acne medication recognized as being extremely effective in treating moderate to severe acne. Patients often turn to Accutane when other forms of treatment prove ineffective.

That’s because Accutane is serious business. As a treatment, it requires dedication and commitment from patients. But there are also serious rewards. After six months of taking Accutane, most patients report completely clear, acne-free skin.

Not Your Father’s Accutane

 Well, actually it is – it just has lots of different names. Back in the 1980s, Accutane was a brand name for Isotretinoin and it revolutionized treatment of severe cystic acne – the kind that causes terrible facial scarring.

The brand name drug Accutane is no longer produced, but it’s still the popular name to describe the many generic forms of Isotretinoin on the market today (Absorica, Clavaris, Mysorian, Zenatane, to name just a few). These new drugs contain the same great medicine and produce the same great results, often for less money, if your insurance company is on board.

When Should You Consider Accutane

 Remember, Accutane isn’t right for everyone. The rule of thumb is that you have to have a pretty tough case of acne before trying such a strong medication. Ideal Accutane candidates:

  • Have tried other forms of treatment without successfully clearing of acne.
  • Have been diagnosed with moderate to severe acne, including breaking out with nodular lesions on the face, chest and back or acne cysts.
  • Have acne that can lead to serious, permanent scarring.
  • Have had Accutane recommended by their Midwest Dermatology physician.

So What Are You Committing To?

 While the results achieved with Accutane are nothing short of miraculous, treatment does take commitment and dedication. Accutane must be taken as directed by your doctor during the entire six month regimen. People who have taken Accutane – and who subsequently rave about the results – describe it as a process. Initially, some patients go through what they describe as a “the purge.” In other words, it gets worse before it gets better.

Accutane is a form of Vitamin A called a retinoid, and as such it has many different effects on the skin – and some of those we don’t fully understand. But we do know that Accutane has effects at the cell level within the skin pores where acne develops. In some people this can cause the acne-prone pores to temporarily lose control and become even more inflamed.  The cells that line the pores begin to function abnormally and produce chemicals that create even more inflammation, leading to a more intense acne breakout – ergo the “purge” reference. This phase of treatment effects up to 20% of patients and lasts four to six weeks on average. Patients need to remember that there is calm at the end of the storm and not give up before they reach that point.

 Accutane’s side effects are tolerable but they may require a lifestyle change by patients. The treatment’s side effects include:

  • Severe dryness of the skin, lips and eyes. Expect to stock up on moisturizer, eye drops and a good lip balm.
  • Increased sensitivity to the sun – increasing your likelihood for severe sunburn. It is important to educate yourself on sun safety, stay inside during the sun’s “power zone” (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and find yourself a good broad spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF.
  • Waxing complications – Because skin is easily “stripped” where waxing is concerned, you’ll have to gently shave unwanted hair while taking Accutane.
  • Increased blood lipids that can increase risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke – Accutane can cause increased lipids in the blood so you’ll be required to have blood drawn during a very short window each month before you can fill your Accutane prescriptons.

In a small number of patients, there may be additional side effects, including joint and muscle aches. One percent of patients may experience mood changes and suicidal ideation. The most serious concern is the high risk of severe birth defects if a person becomes pregnant while taking Accutane. Thus, you will be asked to take measures to prevent pregnancy during your course of medication.

Accutane’s Measurable Outcomes

 Accutane has a well-earned reputation for results, but those results do vary from person to person. The biggest reason for the variances are due to patient compliance. When patients follow their Accutane regimen, 85% are clear from acne breakouts at the end of a six-month course of treatment.

For some patients, the skin actually continues to improve in the months after treatment. In rare cases, patients may continue to experience breakouts which are usually less severe. One lesser known but added bonus is that after Accutane treatment the skin often reacts more positively to more conventional acne treatments.  Or, your doctor may prescribe a second six-month course of treatment with isotretinoin.

One thing is for sure, Accutane is a dermatology success story and it can help acne sufferers be one, too. If you think Accutane treatment might be right for your moderate to severe acne, book an appointment with one of our board certified dermatologists today online or at (402) 933-0800.


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