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Troubled Skin: My Experience with Acne and Accutane

2:13 PM

Reflecting on ages 13- 22, I think my biggest personal insecurity has been experiencing various levels of acne. Of course, I have had all the other "typical" insecurities as well (weight, etc...), but I think it is those dreaded pimples that caused me the most stress. Now, I know that there are many, many people in the world with way worse acne issues than I have ever experienced, and I am not trying to make it seem like I suffered more than anyone else, because I know that isn't true!

My acne started with a vengeance when I was in junior high, as it does for most kids. It all started with a unfortunate mixture of zits, white heads and black heads sprinkled in various parts of my oily face. Of course, I wasn't as "into" make up back then, so I think I tried my best to cover it up with the one concealer I owned and decided it was just something I'd have to deal with.

It wasn't until about grade 9 that it became a real issue for me. It seemed like my back and chest went from being perfectly clear to looking like a pizza overnight. Severe acne spread itself all over my body. I felt so embarrassed by it that I spent whole summers avoiding tank tops and bathing suits so my friends wouldn't have to see my back. I tried topical creams, acne body washes, etc... but nothing seemed to work. I was terrified that I would never feel comfortable wearing a summer dress, let alone a prom dress. My friends would tell me "come on, everybody has acne, its' no big deal," but I could feel their sympathy when I finally decided to show them my back.

My mom noticed how insecure these pimples made me feel, and forced me to talk to my doctor about it. He referred me to a dermatologist, who suggested Accutane (Isotretenoin), a drug that claims to be a one-time cure for even the most severe cases of acne. I was very hesitant at first, as I had heard a lot of bad things about the drug, so I asked if there was anything else he could prescribe. He gave me a whole bunch of different creams and anti-biotics to take but nothing really did the job. 

After much convincing from my mom, I decided to give Accutane a try. I was very nervous of the possible side effects, but I hoped that the end result would be worth it. Luckily, I was right. Now, I know that people react to drugs differently, so I am not advocating that everybody who has taken this drug has had a smooth ride. I did experience the side effects of severely dry skin and lips (Isotretenoin removes 80% of your body's natural oils), but by the third month of taking the drug, my back was completely clear, aside from the scars of past pimples. It had worked better than anything I had tried before. After completing the "recommended" months on the drug, I was thrilled and couldn't wait to show off my back in the summer. 

I was looking through my Facebook to try and find pictures of my back from ages 13 - 16 for this post, but it seems that I did a very good job of playing down my acne as much as possible in photographs.

After finishing up Accutane, I enjoyed 6-7 years of being relatively acne free. I still experienced the odd hormonal break out, but other than that, my back/chest no longer caused me any issues (I still felt a bit self-conscious about the scarring, but it was nothing compared to what it was).

It wasn't until the Spring of 2012 that acne came back in my life. This time, it was different. I began to develop much worse acne on my face than I had ever experienced. Large, painful, cysts began to develop deep under my skin and last for months at a time. I felt like I had big golf-balls on my face (I'm a tad dramatic, haha) but it brought back the same feelings of insecurity that I had once experienced. The little kids I was babysitting at the time would point at my face and say "what are those things?" (oh, the joys of children).

Summer 2012 - Tried to cover up the best I could with make up.
Summer 2012 - Again, covered with makeup
I returned to the dermatologist, and he once again recommended Isotretenoin. He said that perhaps I had not been on a long enough trial the first time, and that the effects had dimished. He also warned that with this type of cystic acne, the scarring is much worse than normal, so he strongly recommended the drug.

I was even more hesistant this time. I thought I only had to take it once and I was good for life, but I guess that wasn't the case. I had also started hearing worse and worse things about the side effects. I'm also not a big fan of the idea that "there's a medication for everything!" and that many doctors first resort is sometimes the most extreme. But, he was very insistent, so I gave in and decided to give it another go. This time I took a drug called "Clarus" which is essentially the same thing.

Again, the only side effect I really experienced was dry skin. Things began to completely clear up after a couple of months. When one cyst began to disappear, it would not be replaced by another, like it had in the past.
Fall 2012 - While on Clarus
I took Clarus from August 2012 - December 2012, and by the end, my skin seemed almost "perfect". I was happy with my decision, but more sceptical about the permanent effects.

It is now a full year and a half later and my skin has managed to stay relatively clear. A couple weeks ago a cyst developed on my forehead and my heart dropped, but it seems to be healing and no other scary things have appeared (knock on wood).

Summer 2013
So, in conclusion. Is Accutane life-ruining?  Nope. Is it as scary as it seems?  No. Is it an intense medication?  Very. I even had to get blood work done each month to make sure everything was okay. Am I glad I took it?  Definitely. Is it a miracle cure?  No, it is not, but the results are substantial enough to make it worth it for me. Did I experience side effects?  Some, but I was lucky. Will everyone have the same result?  No, but I truly hope/believe that it helps more people than it harms.

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