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Accutane can provide skin care solution for acne, boosts self-esteem

Art by Rachel Lee

Accutane has been used for 40 years to clear cystic acne. But this strong medication is also popular with many teens who experience any form of acne.

Senior Rachel North said she has been using Accutane for about four months and seen lasting results. 

“I was mostly diagnosed for mild acne on my face, but I also got pretty bad acne on my back from soccer and constant exercise,” North said. 

Dermatologist Roger Lee said he considers several factors before prescribing the medication to his patients. The first is understanding the brand of medication. 

“Accutane is actually, technically, a brand product,” Lee said. “Accutane is actually isotretinoin, that is the generic chemical name of it, and there are several generic brands of it.” 

Beyond the brands of isotretinoin and its basic chemical name, isotretinoin is vitamin A, which has been found to lessen the oil production in glands which commonly leads to acne during adolescence. 

“With every hair follicle, your body has an associated oil, and that’s why your skin doesn’t dry out,” Lee said. ”The oil lubricates our skin to keep moisture.”

North began using isotretinoin after several years of struggling with consistent mild acne.

“I tried several different treatments and prescriptions for years and nothing worked,” North said. “So after about two years, I decided to go on Accutane.”

Junior Eliza Gaither has used Accutane for five months to treat her hormonal acne, an overproduction of sebum caused by adolescent hormones. Gaither said she started using isotretinoin because no other medication would work for her skin. 

 “I finally got on it after trying several over-the-counter creams because nothing seemed to be working,” she said.

And while the medication is effective in treating acne for many, some medical experts say those who use any form of isotretinoin should be aware of the side effects, including worsening mental health, dry skin, birth defects if someone becomes pregnant while using the medication and joint issues.

 And Gaither said she had several of these side effects. 

“I (dealt) with back pain, dry skin and more stress on my heart when doing cardio,” Gaither said. 

Dr. Lee said the most notorious side effect of isotretinoin is what is called a teratogen. 

“That means if you were someone who could get pregnant, and you were on the medicine when you got pregnant, there’s a significant risk that your baby could have a birth defect of some sort,” Lee said.

And while worsening mental health can be a side effect of using the medication, Lee said severe acne can create the same effect.

“There was one study that said, ironically, patients who take (isotretinoin) are in better mental health because they feel better about their acne,” Lee said. 

Gaither agrees and said the medication helped her self-esteem.

  “I was extremely self-conscious about my skin and didn’t want to leave my house without something to cover my skin up … My acne got to a point where I just didn’t really like looking in the mirror,” Gaither said.

Accutane is taken via a pill and takes about six weeks for results to show.

Despite the concern over side effects, North said going on the medication was a good decision for her, and her acne has shown significant positive change. 

“Accutane is totally worth the process,” North said. “I would 100% recommend it to anyone whose acne has made an impact on how they feel about themself or their appearance.” 

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