New Year, New Skin! My Journey With Accutane

If you’re like me, you know the pain of Cystic Acne and the lovely scars (both physical and emotional) that it can leave behind. It eventually becomes your loyal companion, your trusty steed, your frenemy, or that annoying cousin who won’t leave you alone during family holidays. Now, if you’re also like me, then you’ve tried just about everything imaginable to rid yourself of this companion. You’ve researched doctors, facials, at home and natural remedies, you’ve given up dairy (RIP cheese), meat, and junk food. And you’ve probably had to reign in your own anger and frustration on more than one occasion when someone tells you to try yoga or to drink more water. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. It didn’t work. We’re moving on. Thanks for the unsolicited advice.

So after years of battling cystic acne, dealing with its residual ice pick scars, and going through dozens of painful extraction facials, I began to look internally to find out what could be causing my relentless acne. After doing some research, I made an appointment with an Endocrinologist and was told that I had something called Polycystic-Ovarian Syndrome– a permanent hormonal imbalance. My diagnosis completely changed my outlook on acne, I no longer viewed it as having a simple-miracle-over-the-counter-fix. Instead, I viewed it as something that was going to take a lot of care, effort, and time if I truly wanted to heal it.

This past December (with two of my best friends weddings looming in the future), I finally decided to take the plunge and speak to my dermatologist about Accutane. Finding the right Doctor for your needs is a story for another time but I highly recommended doing your research and speaking to friends, family, and exploring online forums. This was my fourth dermatologist and to put it simply: she has been a godsend.

If you’ve struggled with Acne, you’ve probably come across Accutane in your exhaustive research, read about the side effects, or even talked to doctors about it. With that being said, I will skip over the scary stories that the Internet (and people around us) have presented and tell you about my “not so scary” experience.

 

“Type A” Natalia’s First Appointment Prep:

  1. I had my blood work done to check all my hormone levels. If you are interested in Accutane, I would recommend getting your cholesterol and liver function checked, as doctors will need a baseline to monitor you.
  2. Leading up to my appointment, I began taking pictures of my skin just in case my face decided to have a “good day.” Your skin might also be different depending on your hormonal cycle.
  3. I created an acne timeline starting with when my acne began. I made clear notes on when my acne actively progressed and when I have my “better” days.
  4. I jotted down all the common stressors in my life ( i.g. school, work, family, etc.) that could be influencing my breakouts.
  5. I wrote down my skincare routine as well as any other skincare products I have tried to combat my acne (prescribed medications, topicals, home remedies, mask, vitamins, diet).
  6. And lastly, I wrote down all my concerns and questions I had about the Accutane treatment and process.

 

Every doctor is different, but being prepared will never let you down. You want to be as honest as you can be with your doctor. And it is always better to be over prepared than to leave the office wishing you hadn’t forgotten your questions or concerns.

My biggest concern about starting Accutane was the side effects associated with it. After reading posts and watching videos, I was concerned about the medication affecting my mental health; both because of my struggle with mental illness and the toll a possible purging period would have on my self-esteem. So my doctor and I created a plan that involved me checking in with someone that I trust and can openly confide in. I was to be honest if I had a purging period and call my doctor immediately to schedule an emergency consultation to get prescribed antibiotics.

As for my mental health, I was to inform the people around me of my concerns and inform them if I was struggling. I asked them to inform me if they noticed changes in my mood and demeanor. I was also to call and make an appointment with my therapist- most colleges and universities offer free or discounted counseling. And as a therapy graduate student myself, I know the difference a good therapist can make.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff. One month in, I have seen significant improvement in my skin. By the first week, the inflammation had drastically decreased. Friends and family have commented on how much better my skin looks and how much happier I seem. Some small pimples have popped up, but they have either dried up on their own or opened up while I was washing my face and then dried up- this is all apart of the process, you get worse before you get better. I have not had any mental health issues as of yet and I have not experienced any negative side effects that have affected me drastically. I have kept much of my skin routine the same but I have added a moisturizer and a sunblock that was recommended to me by my dermatologist. I have also been using a Clindamycin lotion, which is used to stop the growth of bacteria and decrease swelling. I have experienced very dry lips and I have now committed myself to never losing my chapstick again.

One side effect that did cause some distress was back pain. I, like many others, like to jump to conclusions (thanks, internet), and because of this I immediately thought that the medication was causing harm to my liver and kidneys. I jumped online to look up possible side effects only to find out that back pain…wait for it…is common. And guess what? Yoga stretches actually helped! Who would have thought?! Now when I feel the back pain trying to settle in, I unroll my dusty yoga mat, do some stretches and light breathing, and go on my way.

After my first months follow up, my dermatologist is elated with my results. All my blood work came back within normal range (although I am personally going to take it upon myself to eat healthier) and I am looking forward to not only seeing further improvement in my skin but sharing with all of you!

 

 

  

Everyone’s skin and body are different. This is my story and journey with acne. I am not a medical professional. For any medical questions or concerns, please consult with your dermatologist.