DermBlog

The Truth About Acne and Accutane

Craig Kraffert, MD

Accutane, or isotretinoin, is an FDA approved prescription medicine used to treat severe cystic acne. The difference between Accutane and conventional acne treatment is that Accutane induces a predictable and durable remission from acne. In layman's terms, this means that Accutane is frequently a 'curative' treatment for acne sufferers who are reasonable candidates for a course of Accutane therapy.

While other acne treatments may control acne signs and symptoms, they do not arrest underlying acne tendencies. This difference helps explain Accutane’s value in the treatment of acne. But Accutane doesn’t come without criticism. Over the years, Accutane has received a bad reputation through publicity that is frequently exaggerated, inaccurate and even outright false. Few medications have received the inappropriate vilification of this incredibly effective and reasonably safe therapy.

To help you get a clear picture of what Accutane is and what it isn’t, we’ve developed a list of 19 common misconceptions followed by the truth about Accutane:

1) “I heard that people on Accutane get really depressed and sometimes kill themselves.”

• Accutane does not cause suicide or depression.

• Kids on Accutane are happier than kids not on Accutane.

• Kids on Accutane are less likely to commit suicide than kids not on Accutane.

2) “Accutane can make both men and women permanently infertile.”

• Accutane doesn’t make people infertile.

3) “Accutane can ruin women’s eggs and destroy men’s sperm.”

• Accutane won’t harm a woman’s eggs or a man’s sperm.

4) “Accutane is totally toxic. The stuff can kill a grown man.”

• Accutane is a naturally occurring body chemical, not a toxic substance.

5) “I knew this kid who once took Accutane. He ended up being really short.”

• Accutane won’t stunt your growth.

6) “My friend took Accutane in college and now he’s totally bald, just like his dad.”

• Accutane won’t make your hair fall out.

7) “I saw some lawyer ad on TV that said Accutane can ruin your guts.”

• Accutane doesn’t cause intestine problems.

8) “Once you take Accutane, it stays in your body forever.”

• Accutane is gone from the body 10 days after stopping.

9) “If you take Accutane you will suffer from permanent side effects.”

• Accutane side effects go away when treatment is over.

10) “Accutane is an antibiotic for acne, just like tetracycline.”

• Accutane is not an antibiotic.

11) “There are lots of ways to cure acne including antibiotics and a product I saw on TV.”

• Accutane is the only medicine that makes acne go away and stay away.

12) “I saw a ProActiv® TV ad where a cute girl said that Accutane didn’t work for her but ProActiv® has worked phenomenally.”

• ProActiv® does not work better than Accutane – not even close.

13) “My friend was joining going to join the Army but he couldn’t. I think it was because he took Accutane.”

• Taking Accutane doesn’t prevent you from joining the military.

14) “Dude, I heard Accutane can fry your liver. Worse than alcohol’s what I heard.”

• Accutane does not cause liver damage.

15) “I heard that Accutane can really mess up your heart. Something about cholesterol or blood fats.”

• Accutane does not cause heart disease.

16) “I heard if you are an athlete and take Accutane your bones can break super easy.”

• Accutane will not cause broken bones.

17) “I once knew this girl who took Accutane. She became really weird with it though.”

• Accutane does not cause personality disorders.

18) “I’ve heard that antibiotics are way safer to take for acne than Accutane.”

• Accutane is a naturally occurring body chemical, so it is somewhat safer than antibiotics which are foreign substances.

19) “I knew this girl who got busted by the cops for having pills in her purse. Rumor was that the pills were Accutane.”

• Taking Accutane is not a crime.

Does Accutane have side effects? Yes. Accutane therapy is not fun as it causes side effects such as dry lips and dry skin. It takes five months of treatment to see best results and often the results don’t really show up until near the end of treatment. Monthly visits are required as are two finger-stick blood tests. Still, for those with potentially scarring or chronic acne, Accutane is often the best choice overall.  Accutane is best thought of as the most effective treatment for acne that is not an ideal candidate for or responding well to conventional treatment.   It is an annoying, inconvenient, and frequently unpleasant therapy but it typically yields miraculous results.  Contrary to modern mythology, properly administered Accutane therapy is generally safe and virtually always effective.

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