Seven years ago when I was a junior in high school, I took the life-changing drug, Accutane. This is a fairly controversial medication, but is usually considered a miracle drug by those who have taken it. Accutane is an oral acne treatment that contains a high amount of Vitamin A that greatly reduces oil product. So much so, that it basically turns users into raisins during the time they are on it. The side effects of Accutane are what make it so controversial. Joint pain, dry skin, light sensitivity, depression, and worst of all- deformations to babies conceived on Accutane. For these reasons, Accutane is considered a last resort to other acne treatments.
When people picture typical Accutane cases, patients go from deep, nodular, “pizza-face” acne to clear, smooth skin. The results are every bit as dramatic and impressive as they sound. When I took it in 2013, my skin was not horrible, but we had been fighting my acne since 6th grade. My doctor found it to be an ideal time to try Accutane. While my skin did dry out, I felt pretty lucky with my Accutane side effects. I remember having an incredibly sore back when I got in bed every night, but that was pretty tame compared to what most people have when it comes to joint pain. Otherwise, I loved my time on Accutane and my skin was the best it had ever been.
Now I am 24 and have irritating adult acne that was different than what I had prior to Accutane. In high school, my acne was very T-zone. Now, as an adult, I am developing it on my chest, neck, cheeks, and even in my hairline. I have tried a couple of other treatments in the last year and kind of figured it might be time to do a second round.
It is fairly common for people to do another round. Our skin changes over time. While people generally dread having to do it again, I am excited to see clear skin again and know the results will be worth it. I have heard from friends that the second round is typically easier. So, to help ease the fears or negative thoughts that you may have if you are contemplating trying it for a first time or preparing for a second round, I plan to document my progress week to week.
Preparation- One Week Prior:
Besides the usual doctor visits, pregnancy tests, and blood work, I knew I didn’t want to go into this with dry winter skin. I started using Aquaphor on my lips a week early, moisturized my face in the morning and evening, and lotioned my whole body after the shower. I was hoping I could minimize the dryness if I started out as hydrated as possible.
Day one I woke up with a terrible headache that lasted most of the day, I had taken my first pill the previous evening. I am not somebody who usually gets a headache, but I still didn’t connect it to Accutane. Day two I woke up with the same headache and figured at that point it must be Accutane related. Day three the headache lessened but was still present. I have hopes my body is adjusting to the medication and hopefully I won’t have headaches for months to come. Overall, I have had few side effects so far. I am staying on top of my moisturizers, chapstick, and hand lotion, so I haven’t gotten dry yet.
I underestimated week one. By the end of the weekend, I was FEELING it. Things that I had brushed off during the week I now realize were Accutane related. From the left side of my neck down to my elbow I was aching for a few days, thinking I slept wrong. At this point, on a Monday morning, I am now realizing my entire left side is feeling the brunt of the Accutane aches. I don’t know how it is hitting one side harder than the other but I swear I can feel a line right down my body.
Just one full week down and I already feel like I ran a marathon. I am so stiff and sore. Every night for the last 8 weeks I have been stretching myself out. Sunday night I tried to do the splits and fell about 3 inches shy of my previous ability. I could not stretch my legs in the least. As of Monday morning, it has not subsided. My headache comes back when I wake up but has mostly subsided by noon now!
At the end of week two. my eyes are dry. So dry I cannot wear my contacts anymore. I have a dry eye probably without Accutane, but this is a whole new level of dry. They are so red. I am definitely going to ask my doctor for a drop recommendation. I ordered 6 chapsticks from Ulta, a heavy-duty Clinique moisturizer, and the biggest tube of Aquaphor. COVID-19 has created some shipping hiccups and I am getting desperate. For now, I am using whatever moisturizers I have left at home.
I ran with my dog for 2 minutes this weekend and my knees felt like a mortar and pestle- just two bones grinding against each other. If I could somehow inject petroleum jelly into all of my joints, I think I would. I’m like the Tin Man.
I was definitely not prepared to start Accutane during COVID-19 as far as products go. I have been working off the same lip tube of Aquaphor for three weeks now. It won’t last much longer, I’m getting tired of using it (I think it makes my lips peel more), and I feel like I need to put it on my entire face at this point. I stopped wearing foundation to work last week because it just makes the dry, flaky skin look worse. I have found that the Neutrogena Hydro Boost gel is really nice to apply in the morning because it is not oily looking and feels very smooth.
Since I am working with money at the cashier’s office right now, I am having to wash and sanitize my hands often. The backs of my hands are starting to get scaly. Every morning I put Bath & Body Works lotion on the backs of my hands and honestly it is probably making them worse. I love that stuff, but my hands need some serious therapy. My Ulta products should be here soon!!
At this point, don’t make me laugh. Don’t make me smile. My lips can’t take it. The corners cracked at the end of last week, so all chances of wrapping my mouth around a big burger are gone for the next few months. Last night I smiled at a movie and felt every individual, vertical line, split across my mouth.
I was also very diligent this weekend about wearing sun protection clothing while gardening, as Accutane does make you very light sensitive and I can pretty immediately feel it if I get in the sun, even through my car window. My eyes feel even more sensitive in the light.
My face is also getting worse before it is getting better, which is typical. It’s also just dealing with some intense irritation from the dryness right now. The good news is I can get by with only washing my hair every other day right now! My oil production has definitely decreased.
I am noticing a new problem that I didn’t have in high school: I feel like I am getting sunburned through my driver’s side window on my way to work. I have a 40-minute commute at 11 a.m. when the sun comes in hot through the window. I can definitely tell I am very light sensitive. If you think you’re window is protecting you, you are wrong. You absolutely can receive sun damage through your window. I am thinking about ordering a sun screen for the driver’s side, especially as we climb into summer months.