When I was in high school, I took Accutane (generic name: Isotretinoin) pills for my severe cystic acne. I knew there would be side effects while taking the drug. Yet I didn’t think I’d still be dealing with Accutane long term side effects 12 years later!
Read on to learn what side effects I still suffer from, and how I manage them. If you are considering taking Accutane, read my experience before starting on it.
What Is Accutane?
For a quick rundown on Accutane, let me tell you the basics. Accutane is a drug to treat acne breakouts. The generic name for Accutane is isotretinoin. In my treatment, I took a different brand of isotretinoin pills.
Accutane itself is actually discontinued and there are about 5 other brands of isotretinoin that are prescribed. Still, people generally refer to isotretinoin as Accutane.
Isotretinoin is a form of retinoic acid (metabolite of Vitamin K).
When taken in the body, it works by
Basically, it reduces the oil grands and oil production in the skin.
Accutane Side Effects While Taking The Drug
While studies have said that Accutane is safe, and even though it’s been around 40 years, it’s a strong drug. There are actually a lot of side serious effects that can be experienced.
According to Mayo Clinic,
More Common Side Effects that require you to contact your doctor are:
- Bone or joint pain
- burning, redness, itching, or other signs of eye inflammation
- difficulty with moving
- scaling, redness, burning, pain, or other signs of inflammation of the lips
- skin infection or rash
Rare Side Effects that you also need to contact your doctor for:
- Attempts at suicide or thoughts of suicide (usually stops after medicine is stopped)
- back pain
- bleeding or inflammation of the gums
- blurred vision or other changes in vision
- changes in behavior
- decreased vision after sunset or before sunrise (sudden or may continue after medicine is stopped)
- diarrhea (severe)
- headache (severe or continuing)
- mental depression
- pain or tenderness of the eyes
- pain, tenderness, or stiffness in the muscles (long-term treatment)
- rectal bleeding
- stomach pain (severe)
- yellow eyes or skin
These side effects are also more common, but typically go away after you take the medication:
- Crusting of the skin
- difficulty in wearing contact lenses (may continue after medicine is stopped)
- dryness of the eyes, mouth, or nose (may continue after treatment is stopped)
- itching or dryness of the skin
- headache (mild)
- increased sensitivity of the skin to sunlight
- peeling of the skin on palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- stomach upset
- thinning of the hair (may continue after treatment is stopped)
Get the full list in this Mayo Clinic article. All side effects listed above are from the article.
My Accutane Background
As I mentioned above, I went on Accutane in high school. It was probably 12 or so years ago as I can’t remember exactly what grade I was in. I also cannot remember my specific brand of isotretinoin I took or the dosage. I do believe that I took it for 6 months.
Accutane is actually something that has been life-changing for me. I believed it helped me get the confidence I didn’t have with acne. As a young teen, I hadn’t realized the power of loving and accepting myself yet. Having clear skin, and being “normal” was all I wanted.
I am thankful though that it cleared up my skin and stopped the self-loathing.
Now that I am more invested in skincare and health, there are 5 alternatives I do wish I tried before taking the deep dive into Accutane which is a “last resort” drug.
Here is an article you can read if you would like to know what they are and try them out. It might help you on your journey before you start Accutane, if that’s something you are considering.
Read More: Is Accutane Worth It? 5 Accutane Alternatives I Wish I Tried
Now on to the long term Accutane side effects I still experience 12 years later.
My Accutane Long Term Side Effects 12 Years Later
I am pretty grateful that from all the major side effects I could have experienced, I didn’t suffer from any major ones. While taking the medication I was constantly worried if I’d get depression and suicide.
At the time of taking Accutane, I had developed dry skin. Since my skin was being dried out, my scalp was also affected. Dandruff was another battle. I also experienced extremely chapped lips and nosebleeds. Last but not least, my digestion on Accutane became worse than it ever had been.
I mention these as they are actually, as of today, the Accutane long term side effects I still (for the most part) experience daily.
Extremely Chapped Lips
(I’m starting off with this one to scare you.)
This is my NUMBER ONE COMPLAINT, and MOST HATED post Accutane long term side effect.
The extremely chapped lips that I developed while taking Accutange (it is actually a very common side effect) have never gone away.
For most, this side effect will stop after you stop taking Accutane. But it didn’t for me.
Here is a picture of my flaky, dry, tight and scabby lips. They bleed really easily as well.
My lips look old and lined due to the flakiness and me picking at them.
I have tried every lip balm and treatment under the sun. Yes, Aquaphor helped make my lips more comfortable when I took the medication, but I don’t want to have to use this for the rest of my life.
My lips are in such a bad state, and nothing seems to HEAL them. Currently, I am on the hunt for products that will help my lips that are not lip balms, as I have learned that those actually contain many ingredients that will dry out lips even more.
Now, I have dry flaky lips that just get covered with a balm or Aquaphor, but doesn’t actually cause the skin to heal. When the lip balms wear off, the dry terrible lips come right back.
Don’t even get me started on wearing any lipstick really – it all seems to just dry out the skin and highlights the chapped lips.
I have noticed on Reddit that a lot of post Accutane users are in the same boat as me, so I plan in the future to do a little research and ask others the best remedies they have found. Then I will test them and combine them in one article for you! Stay tuned.
Accutane works by decreasing the size of oil glands in the skin and suppressing oil production. Since taking the medication, my skin has been super dry. I definitely cannot go without using moisturizer on my face. If I don’t my face feels tight and uncomfortable.
In the winter, I usually always have to use a body lotion or my skin will be itchy, dry, and bleed/scab easily after scratching.
I believe my scalp was also affected, and became very dry. I have always struggled with having powdery dandruff. Typically, after letting my hair air dry after showering, the scalp becomes super itchy. It is almost impossible to not scratch it. When I do scratch it, the powdery dandruff shows up at my roots and becomes very noticeable.
Because of this, I don’t feel comfortable unless I shower the next day to wash out the powdery dandruff. This in turn creates a cycle where my scalp continues to be over-washed and dried out even more.
I have tried many dandruff shampoos, and different types of shampoos as well but nothing has helped. Recently, I found a scalp treatment that has really helped me get moisture back into my scalp and take away the itchiness. In doing so, I don’t create powdery dandruff and can go many days in between without shampooing.
My digestion has always been bad because of a terrible diet as a teen. As I have grown up and learned the importance of health, I eat better than I ever have with real foods and less processed/sugar-laden/fast food. Still, I will have a hard time going to the bathroom regularly. Bloating and gas are common for me always. It is a huge inconvenience and something that doesn’t make me feel my best or healthiest.
Sometimes I find that my nosebleeds from a super dry nose can be triggered and then become hard to stop for a few days. After the “floodgates” have opened, the slightest bump even can start my nose bleeds up again. It is obviously worse in the winter with drier air but sometimes it can happen in the warmer months too.
I remember stuffing Aquaphor up in my nostrils while taking Accutane to get relief from the dryness. Sometimes I still have to do that now.
My Overall Accutane Long Term Side Effects Review
Of course, this is my review and what happened to me. Everyone’s body is different, so what I experienced might not happen to you. I just wasn’t aware that some things might stick around longer after taking Accutane.
I am not sure if these symptoms will go away. Them going away naturally, on their own seems very unlikely to me. Supplementing with products to heal these side effects might have to be my reality forever. I just want to find cures that will do their best to heal everything at the root of the problem.
So far, not much has been able to do that.
My hope is that this article informs you of what might happen if you take Accutane. It was worth it to me to have clear skin, and I am grateful for that. I am also thankful that I haven’t suffered from worse side effects than others have.
These side effects don’t completely uproot my life, but are pretty annoying.
Please connect with me if you have any questions, or suggestions on things you might think will help!
This content is for informational purposes only, and what has worked for me personally based on my own opinions. I am not a professional/medical doctor, and you should always consult your doctor or dermatologist on what will work best for you. The information presented here is not legitimate, official advice from a professional. If you choose to rely on any information from this blog, you do so at your own risk. Please refer to the “Blog Disclaimer” tab in the menu bar to read more information and the official disclaimer statement.