Isotretinoin (Accutane, Roaccutane) & Acne


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Isotretinoin is often known it by its trade names, Accutane and Roaccutane. It is usually prescribed if you are suffering from moderate-to-severe active acne. It comes in both an oral capsule and a topical cream though the oral form is the most common.

How Isotretinoin Works

This medication works to decease the size of your sebaceous glands. This means that your glands produce less sebum (natural skin oil) that the acne bacteria, Propionbacterium Acnes, feed upon. Your pores are less likely to become clogged and the Propionbacterium Acnes that feed on your sebum are starved. This means fewer inflamed acne-causing bacteria live on your skin. The drug also encourages your skin to shed its dead skin cells more effectively, which helps to avoid clogged pores.

How to Use Isotretinoin

Your doctor or dermatologist should have instructed you about how to use Isotretinoin. The medication itself should come with instructions. Read these thoroughly and if you are at all unsure about how to use the treatment contact your doctor.

If you have been given the oral form of the drug you will probably be expected to take the prescribed dosage once a day after a meal. You should swallow the dose using a non-alcoholic drink.

Can I Use Isotretinoin to treat my Acne?

Isotretinoin is effective at treating severe acne. It is also used to treat patients with moderate acne who have had no success with other medicines. If you suffer from persistent acne, or an adult acne condition, you will also be a good candidate for Isotretinoin use.

There are a number of circumstances, however, in which the use of Isotretinoin may not be suitable for you. You should not take Isotretinoin if you are:

  • Pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the next year
  • Breastfeeding
  • Allergic to peanuts or soya products
  • Prone to depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • Obese
  • Asthmatic
  • Diabetic
  • Suffering from kidney/liver/metabolic problems
  • A contact lens wearer
  • Suffering from hyperlipidaemia

These are just a few of the conditions that are not compatible with Isotretinoin use. Make sure your doctor or dermatologist knows your full medical history before prescribing the drug.

Side Effects and Dangers of Isotretinoin

Among acne sufferers there is quite a lot of concern about the side effects of Isotretinoin. The drug does have long list of unusual and unpleasant side effects including nosebleeds, increased cholesterol, bleeding gums and depression. It should be noted that these do not affect everyone and that in many cases Isotretinoin is very effective. As long as you are closely monitored by your doctor or dermatologist while using the drug, you should be safe. Other, more common side effects include:

  • Dry skin, eyes, lips, nose and genitals
  • Bleeding during bowel movements
  • Eczema
  • Sunburn
  • Excessive sweating and facial reddening
  • Impetigo
  • Night blindness

Isotretinoin and Pregnancy

Isotretinoin is known to cause severe birth defects in unborn children and should absolutely not be used during pregnancy. It is extremely dangerous if taken by pregnant women or women planning on becoming pregnant in the next year. If you are taking Isotretinoin you must also be taking all possible birth control.

Cost of Isotretinoin Treatment

Isotretinoin is generally covered by the NHS or by health insurance in the US. Without health insurance the treatment can be very expensive, around $500-$1500 a month. With insurance the average cost is around $30-$50 a month but you will also need to pay for regular blood tests and appointments to monitor your treatment. On the NHS you should expect to just pay the usual amount for a prescription.

How effective is Isotretinoin on Acne?

Isotretinoin can be an extremely effective treatment for severe acne. It can take around three months to start to see the full effect of the treatment but, with persistence, the treatment can dramatically improve even cystic acne. It is also very effective as a treatment in cases where other medications have failed.


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