Isotretinoin, which was originally introduced as a treatment for acne under the brand name Accutane, is an effective, short-term treatment option for moderate to severe acne that has proven resistant to other therapies. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation around what this treatment is and how it can help. According to Dr. Bobbak “Bobby” Mansouri of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Tyler, Texas, “Accutane has been used to treat acne since the 1980s, but there is a lot of misinformation about it on the internet. All dermatologists would agree that, if used correctly, isotretinoin is the most effective acne treatment. I know how effective and beneficial Accutane can be for people who suffer from severe acne, and I hope they’ll take the time to seek out information from a dermatologist and make a fully informed decision about using this acne treatment.” In this blog, Dr. Mansouri walks through some of the most important things people should know when determining whether or not Accutane is the right acne treatment for them.
What is Accutane?
Dr. Mansouri says, “I know many patients who have struggled with acne that simply won’t clear up, even though they’ve tried every treatment. They perform daily maintenance skin care, and they even change their diet or other routines in order to help their skin. It can be extremely frustrating to struggle with acne, especially for those who have more painful cystic or nodular acne. Accutane is a good option for these treatment-resistant patients, and it offers them long term results and relief.”
1 – Accutane is a Derivative of Vitamin A
The main ingredient in Accutane is derived from vitamin A, which is naturally produced in our bodies and consumed through our diets. Vitamin A is a key nutrient in the development and maintenance of healthy skin. It also plays a vital role in organ function, healthy immune response, and clear vision.
2 – Accutane is a Short-Term Acne Solution
According to Dr. Mansouri, “Isotretinoin is not usually taken for very long. In most cases, people only need one course of medication that is completed within six to nine months and will offer a lifetime of skin improvement for people who struggle with acne.” Many people with moderate to severe cystic or nodular acne are dependent upon long term oral and topical medications to manage their breakouts. Long term use of oral antibiotics, birth control pills, and other medications used to address acne can have adverse side effects long term and may not be the most optimal treatment for acne. So, for this reason, the short-term Accutane treatment completed in less than a year is often a better solution.
3 – Most People Only Need One Course of Accutane Treatment
According to Dr. Mansouri, “After completing the course of medication, the vast majority of people will not need any additional rounds of Accutane treatment. While they may see a few pimples or mild breakouts, most never have flareups that are ever as severe again.”
4 – Accutane is Safe for Most People
The potential for adverse health risks is a concern for many people before they begin a new medication regimen like Accutane. After years of offering this treatment, we are now able to understand what the risks of taking isotretinoin are and how to mitigate them through careful observation and treatment planning. Specifically, you will be required to meet with your dermatologist at least once each month. During these checkups, we’ll be monitoring you for signs of concern and adjusting your treatment plan accordingly. On the possible side effects of isotretinoin use, Dr. Mansouri says, “Because we have gained decades of knowledge on the way that Accutane impacts a person’s health, we are well equipped to monitor and adjust treatment, meaning isotretinoin is perfectly safe for the vast majority of people when appropriately administered by a trained professional.”
5 – Accutane is NOT Safe During Pregnancy
While the majority of health risks can be mitigated with appropriate monitoring during treatment, this medication is never safe for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant because there are high risks for birth defects, low birth weight, and pre-term delivery. For these reasons, women will be asked to submit to monthly pregnancy testing throughout the course of their treatment as well as affirming their use of birth control.
6 – Even Cystic & Nodular Acne are Treatable with Accutane
While cystic and nodular acne are difficult to manage, finding an effective treatment is very important with these skin conditions because they have the highest risk for scarring compared to other types of acne. In many cases, individuals who struggle with cystic and nodular acne do not see good results from traditional acne treatments, like topical medications and oral antibiotics. However, these very severe forms of acne do respond well to treatment with Accutane.
7 – Most Accutane Side Effects are Minimal
According to Dr. Mansouri, “People may hear scary stories about the adverse effects of isotretinoin treatment, but these effects are actually minimized significantly by attending checkups throughout treatment and managing the dose of the medication properly. The rest of the side effects of isotretinoin treatment are mild and will clear up on their own once treatment is completed.” Some of the common, mild side effects of treatment include:
- Chapped lips
- Dry skin (may see peeling skin)
- Skin itchiness and increased sensitivity (rashes may develop)
- Increased photosensitivity (sun exposure sensitivity)
- Nasal passage dryness (possibly leading to nose bleeds)
- Irritation of the eyes, eyelids, and surrounding area
- Aches and pains in the joints and muscles
- Dry mouth
- Hair thinning (temporary)
- Gastrointestinal and urinary tract symptoms
Keep in mind that if you do experience any of these symptoms, your dermatologist can help you manage the side effects, so you’re not uncomfortable during treatment.
8 – You May Experience a Flare in Acne When You First Start Treatment
Dr. Mansouri says, “It is common to see a small flare in your acne once initiating treatment with Accutane. This flare is common and is a result of the Accutane working to start bringing everything out of the patient’s pores. Once the initial flare is over, the patient will start to see improvement, with the most improvement usually seen around month 3 or 4 of treatment.”
9 – One Course of Accutane Treatment May Take up to Nine Months
The treatment time depends on your individual plan created in partnership with your dermatologist. The amount of isotretinoin you can take in a given day is determined based on your body weight. During your treatment planning, a dermatologist will guide you through a gradual introduction to the medication. This planning helps to reduce the risk for a flareup that can happen shortly after you begin taking Accutane. Then, you take the recommended daily amount of isotretinoin until you achieve the appropriate total dosage. Most people complete their course of treatment in less than nine months.
10 – Accutane – Isn’t Actually What the Treatment is Called Anymore
According to Dr. Mansouri, “Like the way that we call all facial tissue ‘Kleenex,’ Accutane is actually the original brand name of isotretinoin treatment. Today, Accutane isn’t even a brand that is available in the U.S. Instead, you will likely get a prescription for one of the other brand names like Asorica®, Claravis®, Sotret®, Amnesteem®, Myorisan®, and Zenatane®.”
Visit U.S. Dermatology Partners for Accutane Treatment
When you’re ready to learn more about Accutane and other medications and skincare tips for managing acne, we are here to help! You can get started by scheduling a visit at any of the U.S. Dermatology Partners locations by completing our simple request form.
In light of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and to provide greater access to care for our patients, U.S. Dermatology Partners also offers virtual appointments, using a HIPAA compliant video chat platform. You can request teledermatology appointments using our online form. We look forward to hearing from you soon!
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