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Accutane Side Effects You Haven't Heard of Before

Accutane, the previous brand name of isotretinoin, is often prescribed to treat acne. But Accutane's adverse effects on the skin, mind, and body can be severe enough to cause long-term problems.

Side effects like mental health problems, damage to the skin, joint pain, and even severe birth defects are all associated with Accutane, making it a risky treatment option. Because of this, Accutane should only be used to treat the most severe acne, and only after the acne has failed to respond to other treatment options.

The brand name Accutane was discontinued in the United States, only to come back again very recently. Many generic versions of isotretinoin are also still on the market. Being informed about the side effects of isotretinoin is an important step if you're considering using it, or developing an acne-fighting routine in general. The risk of Accutane is not worth the potential reward. Normally, acne responds to less aggressive and safer treatments that you can purchase yourself.

Woman wearing face cream.
Products like Accutane most likely are not necessary to treat your acne.

What is Accutane?

Accutane is a powerful derivative of vitamin A. It was first used to treat moderate to severe acne, particularly acne that has been unresponsive to other treatment methods like topical treatments or antibiotics.

Accutane carries a significant number of side effects, some of which can be severe. Although the original discontinuation of Accutane is attributed to business reasons, there have been many personal injury lawsuits associated with it.

What Does Accutane Do to Your Face?

Accutane, alongside other retinoids (which are also derivatives of vitamin A), decreases the size of oil glands and alters their function. Retinoids can also help lower inflammation, thereby preventing future breakouts and lessening the severity of pre-existing ones.

Dry skin.
Accutane is strong and aggressive enough to cause irritation, dry skin, and more.

Though some people have good results with Accutane, it's likely to cause adverse reactions for most, which makes it a poor treatment option for most cases of acne.

Don't Blow Up the Donut Machine

Sometimes the oil glands on our face become over-active, whether it be from puberty, the menstrual cycle, certain medications, genetics, or something else.

The changes in your body that cause over-active oil glands are completely normal and natural. And if you don't want the excess oil to cause acne, simply clear off the excess oil with a gentle cleanser that includes a balance of acne-fighting ingredients.

Picture a machine that makes donuts on a conveyor belt. One day you realize that the machine is making too many donuts, and causing a traffic jam on the conveyor belt.

Using an acne-fighting cleanser would be the equivalent of simply lifting up the donuts and clearing the clog so that the machine can work properly again.

Using Accutane is like noticing the clog, so you blow up the donut machine with dynamite.

Isotretinoin is a very powerful drug, and while we completely understand the frustration and hopelessness that acne can cause, blowing up the donut machine is not the answer.

Is Accutane Safe?

Despite Accutane being discontinued for more than ten years, isotretinoin is still often referred to as Accutane due to its former popularity. Other names could be Absorica, Claravis, or Zenatane.

The side effects of Accutane can make acne worse or cause other health issues that end up harming you more than helping you.

Accutane is not entirely safe, and many modern dermatologists speak out against it. Medications that are entirely safe do not have full Reddit threads of people sharing their worrisome experiences.

All About Accutane Side Effects

The side effects of this powerful retinoid will vary significantly and can affect all areas of the body. From irritated skin and worsened acne to gastrointestinal conditions, birth defects, and even manic psychosis, there are many risks to be aware of.

A woman holds her hand to her head.
Side effects are very common when using Accutane.

The side effects of Accutane can vary in their severity, and some people may be more likely to experience them than others (if you have sensitive skin, for instance).

Let's take a closer look at some common side effects and how they can change your hair, skin, and overall health.

Side Effects of Accutane: Skin and Hair

Even though Accutane's main use is to treat severe acne, it still commonly affects the look and feel of the skin. Taking Accutane may also impact the health and vibrancy of your hair.

Side effects of Accutane that tend to affect the skin and hair include:

  • Dry skin, or brittle and flaky skin

  • Peeling skin

  • Hair loss, hair thinning, or hair removal

  • Inflammation of the lips

  • Allergic reaction (rash, hives, etc.)

  • Increased sensitivity to the sun

How Accutane Affects the Body

The potential negative reactions to Accutane don't stop at the surface; your body can feel the effects as well.

Side effects that tend to affect the body when using Accutane include:

  • Intestinal symptoms (cramping, gas, diarrhea, etc.)

  • Headache

  • Urinary symptoms

  • Dry nose and nosebleed

  • Irritated eyes and eyelids

  • Joint pain

  • Muscle pain

  • Decreased night vision

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases

Please talk to a healthcare professional and ask to stop taking isotretinoin if you experience any of these symptoms. 

Long-Term Risks of Side Effects from Accutane

Alongside the more acute physical symptoms of Accutane's side effects, it's possible to experience lingering side effects, including mental health problems. Read on for additional information.

Studies on the use of Accutane reveal reports of depression, anxiety, hypertension, and suicidal thoughts among some users. These effects may be most common in those who tend to struggle with these sorts of symptoms in general.

Cell Death

A little-known fact about isotretinoin treatment is that it is also considered a chemotherapy drug. It is classified as such because Accutane has an apoptotic effect on cells, meaning it causes cell death. That is why isotretinoin is effective in treating cancer as it can kill off cancerous cells. 

Cell death is normal, and your body is constantly killing off cells that are unhealthy or that developed incorrectly. Accutane even works against acne in part because of its apoptotic properties. The only issue is that Accutane can’t target your face and lead to cell death only in overactive oil glands. It instead affects your whole body, leading to an increased rate of cell death in other areas as well.

This is why you cannot take Accutane when you’re pregnant. In fact, before you take Accutane as a woman you usually have to take various pregnancy tests to medically review if you can take the drug. The cell-killing attributes can kill too many of the neural cells in the developing fetus, thus causing malformations.

This 2011 study found that isotretinoin "exerts apoptotic [cell-killing] effects in multiple cell types like the muscle, the bone, and the brain."

This study may reveal, in part, why Accutane's side effects are so varied. The drug may be leading to cell death all across your body, even in the brain.

Does Accutane Get Rid of Acne?

Research suggests that powerful and risky medications like Accutane are most effective for severe acne that has resisted other treatment options since the intensity of Accutane can dry out and irritate the skin enough to cause problems.

It's unlikely that you need Accutane to get rid of your acne. Typically, topical treatments are enough to significantly improve acne without the assistance of a dermatologist, you just need to find the right treatment.

My Acne is Coming Back After Accutane: What to Do

If you do use Accutane and notice your acne beginning to return, there are many others like you who have had the same experience. Acne returning after Accutane is uncommon but possible. Men seem to be more likely to experience a relapse of acne symptoms post-Accutane than women.

Stubborn, returning acne may respond best to topical treatments that can target the causes of acne right from the get-go.

Healthy Accutane Alternatives for Promoting Clear Skin

Because Accutane carries so many risks and can be ineffective for some, it's best to turn to other options and see how your skin responds.

Most acne will respond well to a comprehensive and acne-fighting skincare regimen designed to reduce bacteria on the skin, control oil production, and manage inflammation.

Clear skin.
Clear skin is possible even without the use of Accutane; some topical treatments are usually very successful.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Great for keeping "bad bacteria" at bay, benzoyl peroxide is a wonderful addition to your routine and can help prevent future breakouts. Try our Acne Treatment Serum to take advantage of benzoyl peroxide alongside natural ingredients like tea tree oil to soothe your irritated skin.

Salicylic Acid

One of the primary mechanisms of Accutane, according to some research, is to limit the size and function of oil-producing sebaceous glands on the skin.

Salicylic acid can also accomplish this goal by absorbing excess oil from and thoroughly cleansing your pores, thus helping you keep your skin's oil levels under control.

That's why we've created our Clear Pore Serum, which also features green tea extract for oil control and licorice root extract to brighten the skin, alongside our Facial Cleanser, which is an essential first step for any skincare routine.

Azelaic Acid

Keeping irritants away and the skin calm and healthy is a vital part of treating acne. Azelaic acid helps you do just that; our Clearing Tonic uses azelaic acid to prevent the build-up of bad bacteria alongside the healing properties of passion flower and green tea extract to help your skin look its best.

Similar to retinoids, azelaic acid increases cell turnover but it does so without causing photosensitivity, which is a sensitivity to the sun, and in general, it has a much better safety profile.

Vitamin A

Because retinoids come from vitamin A, you could just jump right to the source and use vitamin A for its healthy effects without the risk associated with retinoids.

Consuming vitamin A, whether it be through a balanced diet or through supplements, has been proven to have acne-reducing effects.

Vitamin A is just one of the helpful ingredients that we include in our Probiotic Complex.

A Consistent Skincare Routine

Be very wary of any ingredient that claims to be a cure-all. Acne has various causes, and as such it requires various solutions. There simply is not one single product or ingredient that can get rid of your acne on its own. To treat your acne, instead, depend on a full skincare routine that includes ingredients that treat all of the varied causes of acne.

Our Ultimate Kit includes the following products:

  • Cleanser

  • Acne-clearing tonic

  • Acne treatment serum

  • Moisturizer

  • Pro-biotics

  • Clear pore serum

  • A Microderm scrub

  • A clarifying mask

These products also come with instructions regarding when and how to use your skincare routine, and they arrive at your door each month with a subscription.

Now, we know what you’re thinking.

People who turn to Accutane have often tried other options, and they may feel exhausted and hopeless about curing their acne. Perhaps you’ve even tried some of the ingredients above.

But there are many products out there that don’t use these ingredients correctly, and perhaps they don’t combine them so that they can all strengthen each other. There are also, unfortunately, many acne products that promise to clear your acne, even while knowing that it won't work.

At Exposed, we chose our ingredients specifically based on modern, peer-reviewed research, and we’ve done it so that we can guarantee that Exposed Skincare will get rid of your acne.

With a consistent skincare routine that targets all of acne’s causes, you can get rid of your acne, and you can do so without worrying about the powerful side effects of Accutane.

Before-after picture of Exposed customer.
Rachelle Crouse is just one of many who has cleared up her severe, painful acne by using the Exposed Skincare kits