Roaccutane & Acne | Advice & My Experiences.

It really frustrates me when people (who have probably never been on Roaccutane) are advising people NOT to go on it because of the negative side effects is ‘can’ have, along with any severe medication. Roaccutane is not something anyone just goes on…this is a last resort medication. Yes, the side effects CAN (but rarely) be extreme including depression and suicide thoughts but the only feelings I ever had of suicide was if my rank horrid skin didn’t clear up. Other people I know who have been on it have said the same, when you suffer with acne, 6 months or so of your life having peeling skin, soreness, dry lips etc really isn’t nothing in comparison to living with an acne-ridden face. I would do it again in a heartbeat and advise anyone who is living with acne (ACTUAL acne not spots) to do the same. If you have any mental health issues, these will and should be picked up by your doctor in the long lead-up to being perscribed this medication.

I always hear and see people using the term acne so loosely ;  ‘I have acne’ does not equate to having a few spots …..and it kind of annoys me… because I have had acne, and it’s not a few hormonal spots on your chin once a month, it’s a life-changing , horrible , confidence-crushing thing that is really difficult to overcome and get rid of. 

 

Roaccutane : What is does & How it works

Roaccutane (Isotretinoin) treats acne by supressing the sebaceous glands in your skin, these produce oil, thus less oil will be produced in your skin.  Bacteria that causes acne thrive and feed off sebum. Overproduction of sebum blocks the sebum glands, and combined with and the increase of bacteria, these glands swell and form spots.


As the drug doesn’t just target these sebaceous glands in your face, other areas will also become very dry / fragile / sensitive.  Initial treatment typically will be a 12-week course. Roaccutane are pills that are taken orally on a daily basis and the mg you are perscribed will be down to your condition, weight and acne severity.


My story

I started getting spots when I was 13, I remember as I was in my last year at junior school and a boy (I remember your name and always will motherfu*ker!)  used to always point it out and bully me. I had them all across my forehead. At this time I had a pony and a keen horse-rider and these spots across my forehead were attributed to my riding hat and the sweat/dirt that was produced from that. My mum bought me some face wash and a special facial sponge to wash with, and I also had these oxy blemish pads I used religiously. It made me feel cleaner and I saw a mild improvment initially but it was just going to get worse.

At secondary school, my forehead blemishes were now full-blown acne ; sore, red, constant and all over my face. I think and still feel I was quite lucky to go to an all-girls school as I wasn’t the target of bullies because of my skin, this made it obviously a little easier, but going out and about I had zero confidence and it was the *only* thing on my mind, and I was constantly trying to clean my skin, cover my skin and thinking of ways and haircuts to make it look better when I was out. I went to the school doctor and we started the lengthy process of trial & error of different acne treatments.

Acne Medication I tried, topical (creams/lotions) & Antibiotics

Oxytetracycline

Zineryt

Dalacin T

Benzoyl Peroxide

Erythromycin

Minocin

Dianette (contraceptive pill)

With each treatment, I was advised to use for at least 3 months before I would see any improvement, in none of them I really did, so as you can imagine, the amount of medication I have been on times by on average 5-6 months of trying it, it was a lengthy and frustrating process. I just wanted it gone and being a 15/16 year old teenager with acne really effects everything about your life.

After a lot of years and being on everything that a doctor could prescribe..I went to a Dermatologist and got put on a course of Roaccutane. This was when I was 16. I went on a three month course which was the norm then for your first batch of Roaccutane, and I think it still is. My skin slowly cleared up and after I came off it I saw a constant improvement for a few months after. My skin finally cleared up and I was happy……for around a year. Then back it came. I struggled on over the years after and just got in to applying makeup to cover it, still trying all types of skincare that promised to improve it….nope.

I was at University, aged 20 when I decided to try a course of Roaccutane again, and got the same results as above.

Next up, London….aged 25 and my skin not only was acne ridden again, the change in the water also made my skin really red. Probably the worst it had been, and as a single girl in London, it wasn’t great for meeting guys. I could never step out of the house without heavy foundation and concealer. My makeup routine would be Estée Lauder maximum cover all over (see more on this here), then Laura Mercier Secret camouflage as concealer over this, I would then set this with estee Lauder doublewear foundation powder. No joke.

Above: My good friend during acne ; Estee Lauder Maximum cover.

Everyday things you wouldn’t even think about can become a problem when you have acne. Things like fake tanning….on your face the tan just sticks onto dry spots so looks awful. I had to think about even the clothes I was wearing in case it showed off the spots on my chest and back. I had acne here too.

I would never tie my hair up, and continuously wore extensions so it would half hide my face like a security blanket. Going out at night would mean taking a whole supply of makeup to keep topping up my makeup and keeping the shine and spots at bay. God forbid if I stayed at a boys house, I could NOT take off my thick makeup before I went to bed, then would lay awake worrying about getting my makeup all over their pillows. I would also be conscious of things like curtains/blinds and if there was loads of light in the bedroom in the morning aaaarrggg a killer! I would run out & put more makeup on over my makeup in the morning as soon as I got a chance so boyfriends would not see the true state of my face.  I felt so ugly.

I tried a lot of different skincare brands, thinking that something would finally work. Well, if you are in a similar position to this, skip all the trouble and just go straight to a dermatologist. If you have severe acne, no skincare will really clear it long term. It needs to be treated professionally. So after another couple of years, I realised and accepted my acne had come back again and went back to my Doctor, who referred me onto the hospital Dermatoligist.

ROACCUTANE ROUND III DING-DING!

The first two times clearly wasn’t long enough. Both times I was put on the standard 12-wk treatment, and due to me moving around and changing doctors etc, it wasn’t followed up properly. This last course of Roaccutane, I was on for nearly a YEAR AND A HALF which is pretty much unheard of. Thats how bad it was.
 

It also needs to be mentioned that Roaccutane is a last resort, Doctors and Dermatoligists (unless private) are not going to perscribe you this whimsically as this treatment costs A LOT of money (around £600/month). Don’t expect to trot to your doctors after your first breakout and get Roaccutane on the NHS. They will put you on lots of meds first to see if it can be cleared up with not less severe method, and quite rightly so.

It’s also not just a ‘there you go, good luck, see you in 3 months’ treatment. You will have rigourous medical checks prior to going on Roaccutane, and it is monitored carefully during treatment. You only get one month worth of treatment at a time, so you need to go back to the hospital (yes, hospital, not doctors) every month to get your next month’s load of pills. Prior to getting your next month’s prescription, you have to go to the hosptial and have a preganany test (gurrls obvs). Once every 2/3 months, you will also need to have a blood test. So lots of hospital visits…annoying and time consuming and I hated my bi-monthly visits to Ealing hospital but it was all about the end result.

My dose was pretty high initially but this was reduced gradually. My skin was clearing up after a few months, as it had when I had previously on it and nearly all clear by the time I was taken off it.  It also carried on improving after I had stopped taking is as the drug is still very much active in your body.

My Side effects during Roaccutane

If you are going to go on Roaccutane, it isn’t going to be your favourite few months, the full side effects, I have listed at the bottom of this page. I suffered from were dryness on my skin and peeling/redness.  Lip peeling was the worst thing for me…as in peeling off the lip area and up onto the face, very red, re-applying lip balm literally every 15 mins to relieve soreness. I couldn’t really wear lip colours as the surrounding lip area was red…like I had smudged red lipstick over my face! (this won’t be as extreme for everyone, I was on this for a lengthy amount of time)

Not just your skin on your face dries up….. everything dries up. My nostrils became dryer and a little red. Even my hair became drier..actually a godsend for me as I have to wash my greasy hair daily, on Roaccutane, it was like every 3/4 days…silver linings and all that. I developed small rashes on the back of both hands which became a little irritable.

My eyes also became dry…..by the end of my last course I even had to put eye drops and eye spray on my lids in the morning as my eyes would dry up overnight.

I didn’t go on any holidays during this time, as it’s best to avoid the sunlight. It just made it easier. During the english summer I would just make sure I had on a good SPF and no sunbathing.These were the main things that I can remember when I look back to being on the treament, the worst thing for me was the sore, dry lips.

After My Treatment

After coming off the last batch of Roacc, my skin was pretty dry and red, the same it had been during treatment. Gradually it became more ‘normal’, but not normal as I knew it , I no longer had oily skin which I had had all my life, it was just……normal. Nice but unusual, I had to completely change my skincare routine. The feeling of putting on just tinted moistursier and a dot of concealer here and there over my acne scarring was the most liberating and amazing feeling ever. If you’ve been there you will understand….doing makeup all of a sudden was so quick. My skin gradually turned back to combination-oily but has never been how oily it used to be.

Above: A recent-ish photo of me, I wish I had a before to compare but I really didn’t have photos taken without makeup when I had acne, am trying to hunt one down from school friends, so if I get one, I will put it up…with anguish!

The one annoying thing that I really noticed afterwards was how sun sensitive my skin was, even a year after….I would go out in the sun for 10mins and have a huge itchy heat rash across my chest. This may be normal for some of you but I was the kind of girl who could go out in the sun in Jamaica with a zero spf oil (I’m not proud, it happened) for half a day and just go brown. So this has been a huge change in my skin for me…. and life.  My first beach holiday after this caused me to have quite bad pigmentation patches over my face, and I think this is from the Roaccutane. Even Now, nearly 5 years on, my skin is not how it used to be with the sun, although gradually getting better.

Above: I had a look through my blog photos and found this where you can see a few pigmentation patches. Most have cleared up over the last few years but these two are always around, and get darker in the sun.

 My skin now, 2013


So , currently, well over the last 6 months I would say my skin has been getting a little spotty. This could be attributed to stress I’ve had a few personal things going on, but really this should have cleared by now. I keep thinking it will go away, but if my skin gets worse over the next few months I will go back to the doctors. The thought of going back on Roaccutane is a little disheartening, but it definately is not at that stage yet.
 {UPDATE 2016: My skin was just having a rough patch from stress , it’s now back to clear and wonderful-ness!}

Above: How my skin looks without makeup, light pigmentation and blemishes

I have very light acne scarring, it’s more discolouration, not pitted areas fortunately so everything can be covered with makeup. I did use some great brightening / evening out skintone products after my roaccutane treatment which helped even out the scarring. I would reccommend this post-treatment too.

Products to help you through Roaccutane

Body: The doctor gave me a steroid-based cream for my dry hands (I had rashes all over my hands for some reason & a few pacthes on my body) so you can ask your doc for something similar. I also got a really rich and soothing bath milk to relieve my dry body, Oilatum from Boots. I also used (a more £££ option) Elemis skin nourishing bath soak.  I still used my same shower gel/ shampoos etc but in hindsight, I would now switch to SLS free and more natural products.

Face: I remember using Eve Lom TLC cream a lot, anything rich was good. REN hydra-calm was also a great one for just soothing and hydrating. Also, I would highly reccommend getting a oil-free hydrating serum, something with hyaluronic acid / sodium hyaluronate in it so it really penetrates and hydrates deeply. Makeup was a nightmare as foundation was not sitting on flaky skin very well, so a really richly hydrating foundation would be a huge benefit. I stuck with my doublewear & Max cover but would rarely look good on flakey skin.

Eyes: I bought Optrex Actimist, the eye spray which you spray on closed eyes…was not cheap but was really good for my dry eyes in the morning. I also just used standard eye drops in my eyes too.


Lips: Dry lips were my least favourite side effect. I tried pretty much every lip balm in the world (it felt like) and I found one which really worked. Throw out your vaseline, your creme de la mer, your whatever, whatever……the only balm which made a huge difference was Dr.Lipp. My saviour. I’m not just saying this, they have never sent me products and I’ve never worked with their PR, but this was AMAZING guys. Not too expensive either. A must product for anyone going on Roaccutane.

Full Side effects:

These are the most common, although you may only get a few side effects.

– Hair loss (some cases….hair thickening)

– Skin rashes / itchiness

– Skin peeling

– Dryness of the nose / mouth / eyes

– Mood changes (depression/anxiety/agression)

– Muscle pain

– Anaemia

Things to avoid during treatment:

– Sunlight (!)

– Going on holiday (see above)

– Any Retinol / Vitamin A products

– Microdemabrasion / facials / peels

– Cannot wax for up to 6 months after treatment

– Cannot get pregnant (causes major birth defects, hence why women are pregnancy tested throughout)

– Cannot give blood during treatment

I can understand why people may have concerns going onto this treatment but if your skin is terrible, it isn’t even questionable for me. No side effect was even a remote worry when I decided to go on this course. The goal of having clear skin was such a huge incentive, I really didn’t care. Acne made my life hell and this medication improved it. If my acne comes back….I would not think twice about taking this again.

I wrote a small post last year about a few products that are good for blemish-prone /acne skins here. My personal belief is that Acne is actually something that must be treated by medication, not simply skincare. Skincare helps spots and balances oil, it won’t *cure* acne.

Have you been on Roaccutane or thinking about it? I hope this is helpful for you! Maybe you have a negative experience of Roaccutane? Please leave comments or questions below.