26 Sep Roaccutane: A Rebuttal to the Haters

I distinctly remember returning to school after the holidays and realising that my face looked different than my peers. I was 13 and before that point I had never really noticed how bad my acne actually was. As I looked around and envied the clear skin of my classmates, I had an internal freak out and bought every Clean & Clear product under the sun. When that didn’t work, I was sent to a dermatologist who prescribed me various topical treatments and antibiotics. My skin gradually improved, but the idea of being on a steady stream of antibiotics for years never sat right. As soon as I stopped taking them, blemishes would come back with a vengeance. Birth control pills helped but they turned me into a full blown psycho with more mood swings than Britney Spears in 2007. So I stopped, the pimples came back, more antibiotics.

If I was given a dollar for every skin care consultant or facialist that claimed to have the cure to my acne, I wouldn’t be refilling my expensive hand wash bottles with home brand. Trust me, I’ve tried it all. Especially the all-natural acne cures, which I wanted more than anything to be the answer, but sometimes things are more complicated than tea tree oil and clay masks.

Mention Roaccutane to a stranger and 9 times out of 10 you will get a negative response. It has a terrible reputation, which is the reason I always avoided it. Two years ago a dermatologist suggested the treatment to me, and being in a Yolo mindset at the time, I gave it a shot.

Looking back, I wish I tried it earlier. Roaccutane has some nasty side effects and has been linked to depression with some people who take it, but if you suffer from severe acne it can be life changing. After an initial eruption during the first month, my skin began to clear and kept getting better each day. By the end of my treatment I was practically pore less! I finally had the privilege of being one of those girls who only needed tinted moisturiser, sans concealer.

Roaccutane is a hectic drug that should not be taken lightly, but it works. Lately I’ve had a few mild breakouts and after a trip back to the derm I made the decision to do a second course to completely cure my acne. This happens sometimes, but most people will be never have to worry about pimples again after one course of treatment. Although I tolerated the drug fine the first time, just mentioning that you are going on Roaccutane has literally had people telling me that they will be ‘praying’ for me. It’s still scary.

So for anyone who has been thinking about roaccutane and is terrified (hint: do not Google ‘Roaccutane side effects’), here is some helpful, and more importantly positive advice from someone who’s been there.

Roaccutane (Isotretinoin) is a vitamin A derivative for acne that has not responded to other treatments. Before starting treatment you need to have a blood test to check your cholesterol, lipid levels, and make sure you’re not pregnant. Roaccutane can cause birth defects so it’s crucial that you do not get pregnant whilst taking it. Some dermatologists won’t even give you a prescription unless you are on birth control. You are usually required to have blood tests every few months. You will have to make some temporary lifestyle changes whilst taking the drug. For example, Roaccutane can affect your liver so it is advised to limit drinking to one or two drinks a week. It helps to think of it like one of Gwyneth’s prestigious Goop cleanses. You must avoid waxing, laser hair removal and other laser treatments, facials, piercings, peels and hot showers. You are also going to pretty much be allergic to the sun, as Roaccutane increases sun sensitivity, so it’s SPF 50+ at all times. Thank god for fake tanning.

The side effects are the main reason why people are so hesitant to try it. The list includes dry skin, lips, nostrils and eyes, muscle aches, headaches, mood changes, temporary hair loss and conversely, excessive hairiness. A quick Google search will find you a million horror stories and a whole lot of finger pointing. Although there has been no established link between depression and Roaccutane, there have been a number of suicides and reported symptoms of depression whilst taking it. The good news is that all side effects are pretty much reversible once you stop taking the drug. After a dramatic monologue to my dermatologist where I recited all of the reasons why I shouldn’t take Roaccutane, she patiently reminded me that if my worst case scenarios came true I could simply stop taking it and move on with my life.

As is true with most medications, everyone responds differently so you will never know how your body responds until you take the damn thing. In my experience, the only side effects I had were dry skin, especially dry lips, and dry hair (which meant I only had to wash my hair once a week). With good skincare, the dryness issue isn’t that bad. It’s important to stick to oil-free products that won’t aggravate your skin. Here are the products I swore by:

Cetaphil Cleanser: Simple but effective.

Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Moisturiser: I still go back to this if my skin is breaking out or feeling sensitive.

SunSense Daily Face SPF 50+: Light, high-protection and a great makeup base.

Clinique Moisture Surge Overnight Mask: THE BEST! I love this product and recently repurchased to prepare for my second round of treatment. I used every night over my moisturiser to prevent dryness. On days when my skin was extremely dry I would put this on underneath my makeup as well. It’s also a great post-flight mask when travelling.

Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer: A great oil-free primer that makes your base look flawless.

Estee Lauder Double Wear: I still use this foundation regularly. Apply with a damp beauty blender to hide the look of blemishes and dry skin.

Blistex Medicated Relief: This is hands down the most effective lip balm for dry lips. Trust me, I’ve tried them all. It also has SPF which is important during treatment.

Dior Addict Lip Glow: Lipstick and dry lips do not mix. Use this instead.

Most cases of acne will vanish for good after one course of Roaccutane. For a small percentage (aka me) another course will be required. As someone who used to wince at the thought of this misunderstood drug, I hope that my experience has been somewhat helpful to anyone facing the decision to try Roaccutane. It’s scary, but the road to clear skin probably isn’t as bad as you think.

Written by Sophie Howe