Acne and I go way back. Like most teenagers, I experienced acne, but it was never out of control. I would get a random pimple every week or so, and perhaps one to two cystic pimples every two months. The only problem? Almost every single pimple, big or small, left brown marks on my tanned skin, which is predisposed to hyperpigmentation. Even when I didn’t pop them, leaving them to heal on their own, the marks still surfaced. By the time I was 19, my cheeks were pretty much covered with post-acne hyperpigmentation.
Dealing with adult acne
Unfortunately, my teenage acne continued and worsened way into my twenties. I would always have at least 3-4 active pimples on each cheek, and the marks left behind by previous pimples made my skin look even worse.
I did everything I could to ensure my skin was clean; I changed my bed sheets and pillow cases 3 times a week, I didn’t touch my face unnecessarily, kept my hair out of my face and always removed my makeup before bed, but nothing worked. The pimples kept coming, and the marks just got worse. I even tried drinking up to 3 litres of water a day, with no result, except for more visits to the restroom.
Once I reached the age of 22, I decided to seek medical help. I saw numerous dermatologists, tried chemical peels, topical Vitamin A, oral and topical antibiotics and even birth control, which all helped to a certain degree, but they never stopped the pimples completely. My complexion was still riddled with dark marks and spots. The only thing that made me feel better about my skin was makeup, which I relied upon heavily to cover up all the brown spots on my skin.
The last resort
After 4 years of dealing with recurring acne, my dermatologist (who honestly seemed just as exasperated as I was), told me to consider taking isotretinoin (also known as Accutane) orally. At that point, I had been in and out of her clinic for years: Get treated for acne. Acne subsides. Get chemical peel. Marks subside. Pimples reappear after 2 months. Repeat.
Of course, I had heard of Accutane before, while scrolling through various online forums looking for the latest “acne cure” available. It worked by reducing sebum production and preventing clogged pores. The main reason I had avoided it was because Accutane came with a lengthy list of mild to serious side effects, ranging from dryness and lethargy, to depression and birth deformities in unborn children.
Due to this, Accutane is often only prescribed as a last resort for skin that has extreme or recurring acne.
Making an informed decision
My dermatologist explained everything I needed to know: I would need to get my blood tested monthly for the first 3 months to make sure the medication was not affecting my blood count, liver function and serum lipids. Additionally, I would also need to sign a form that stated I was not pregnant and was using some form of birth control.
She also provided me with reading material to ensure I was familiar with all the possible side effects, and gave me a week to think about it. Once I was ready, I made an appointment to have my first blood test (this is used as a baseline to compare the results from later blood tests to) and got my first prescription.
My 6-month Accutane journey
I started off on a dose of 20mg daily, which was gradually increased to 30mg after 2 months. I spent about $150 a month on the medication, not including blood tests and consultation fees.
The side effects I noticed almost immediately were extremely dry lips and eyes. I invested in a nourishing lip balm, and carried eye drops everywhere. As I wear contact lenses, the eye dryness was particularly difficult to deal with. I had to limit my daily usage of contact lenses to 8 hours, or my eyes would become unbearably uncomfortable.
Then, there was the lethargy. When I started on the medication, I would take my pills at night, after dinner. This led to me feeling extremely exhausted every morning. To combat this, I started taking my medication right after lunch. That improved the morning lethargy slightly.
Of course, I noticed positive effects too. My skin was much less oily, and most of my pimples subsided completely around the 2-month mark. By the 4th month, my skin was clearer than it had ever been and I started getting compliments on how good it looked. By the time my course ended, my skin looked radiant, even and almost pore-less. For the first time in years, I woke up without worrying about whether a new pimple had sprouted out during the night.
After my course ended, I started using brightening skincare to fade any remaining dark spots. Since the medication made my skin slightly drier as well, I invested in facial oils too, to keep my skin plump and hydrated. Now, exactly a year after my course ended, my skin still looks good. It’s luminous, pimple-free and smooth. I even get regular compliments on my skin now, which is something that rarely happened before I went on Accutane.
All in all, it was worth it for me. I no longer feel insecure about my skin, and I don’t feel the need to slap on a ton of makeup every time I leave the house, which is something I never thought I would ever experience!
Writer’s note: Accutane is a drug that can only by administered by a doctor, and its side effects vary from person to person. This story does not replace a medical consultation with a qualified medical professional.