Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Little Orange Pill: One Year Later

Wow time flies! Remember when I started accutane this time last year? Well, I finished it at the end of May, and I keep wanting to write a bit of a review and survival tips for those thinking of taking it themselves. I was looking for an honest portrayal when I was making my decision, and I couldn't find one. Most stories online were of the "this ruined my life forever" variety, which freaked me out!

The Cliffs Notes version is this: I experienced a lot of unpleasant side-effects, but from where I sit today, it was worth it!

I was a mess going into it. There aren't a lot of pictures to use as "before" shots because I hated the way I looked so much. And those feelings were at the surface of some very deep feelings of dissatisfaction in who I was.

My acne ended up being much more stubborn than I anticipated and instead of taking accutane for 16-20 weeks, I was on it for 8 solid months.

Before // October 2012 // I can't believe I'm posting this

One month in, all I noticed was dry skin. The acne was still there, and I was still breaking out. But the rest of my skin was dry. The nice thing about this month, though, was that my backne did clear up pretty quickly.

Two months in, same. My face was less red, but the pimples were still definitely there and multiplying.

Three months in, the rate of breakouts seemed to slow.

Four months in, I was finally starting to notice a difference.

Five and six months in, there were steady improvements, but I still had acne.

Seven months in, I was so over the side effects and my acne was almost gone. I really wanted to stop, but my dermatologist convinced me that one more month would really clear everything up. And what do you know? It did!

The eight month, I recognized myself in the mirror again for the first time in a long time! I can't overstate how good that feeling was!

After // July 2013

That being said, I was so so so happy to be done taking that medication. Dry skin was a given. I  went through one tube of chapstick a month and one container of lotion every two months for the duration.  After a lot of trial and error, I amassed a collection of my favorite products. My skin was so sensitive and dry that some products would sting when applied, and only the really good products would actually moisturize for more than a few minutes. I mean, I would put Aquaphor on my hands at night and it would soak in within 5 minutes!

Clockwise from top left: 

-Redken moisturizing shampoo

-TIGI S Factor "Serious" Conditioner. My hair was so crispy dry on accutane and I only washed it once or twice a week. When I did, this is the only conditioner that even touched that dryness. It's amazing that my hair would actually feel soft and not crunchy when I got out of the shower.

-Jergens Ultra Healing body lotion. This was lightly scented and went on without stinging. It was moisturizing without being greasy, and absorbed well.

-Refresh Plus eyedrops for my dry eyes. I actually ended up having to get prescription Restasis because it was so bad in the end.

-Eucerin skin cream for the dry patches I would get. They were almost eczema-like and would mostly pop up on my arms, ears, and face.

-Olay Regenerist micro-sculpting cream (fragrance-free) for my face. So many scented moisturizers burned when I applied them to my face. This one didn't (most of the time) and it was so luxuriously moisturizing without being greasy. That being said, when even this stung my skin, I applied straight up coconut oil or aquaphor before bed.

-Saline nose spray to help prevent the nosebleeds that started about three months in.

-Not pictured because it was always in my pocket: chapstick! For the first few months, I really liked Blistex Cold & Allergy. But after a while, that wasn't touching the constant peeling. I picked up some Whole Foods brand oragnic vanilla honey lip balm on a whim, and fell in love. It worked so well! Brownie points for the fact that it was practically edible, with an ingredient list containing coconut oil, beeswax, olive oil, shea butter, natural flavor, cocoa butter, hemp seed oil, Vitamin E, vanilla extract, and honey. I'm sure I ate so much chapstick while I was on accutane...


I also can't understate chiropractic care while I was on this medication. I've had IT joint trouble and hip and lower back pain on and off since high school, but it ramped into high gear after about a month on accutane. It was so awful, it hurt to sit, stand, and walk. I got a recommendation for a great chiropractor and haven't looked back. I'm so thankful I found her when I did!

The dry mouth was terrible, and I never did find a great solution. I'd sleep with water next to my bed because I'd inevitable wake up with cotton mouth several times each night. The months I did go to accupuncture and get herbs, I would notice an improvement, but I had trouble going consistently with my old job schedule.

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention depression. I was totally depressed this winter. Worse than I have been in years. Now, there were a lot of factors going into that, and a lot of life circumstances weighing heavy on my heart, but I can't deny that accutane probably also played a role. I felt much lighter after stopping the medication.


I've been off accutane for 4 months now and I love my skin! The dryness is finally gone and I'm back to washing my hair every other day. To be fair, I should mention that I do usually get 1-2 pimples a month and the cause me anxiety not because they're so huge, but because I'm always worried that they are the start of all of it coming back. So far, so good, though. The pimples I do get are much smaller and go away much faster than they used to, and even my scars are still fading every month. Like I said, it's good to recognize the person looking back at you in the mirror!

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