If you have ever had acne in your life, chances are that you’ve considered or at least heard of the infamous Accutane, a drug that seems to have some magical powers when it comes to clearing acne.
However, there are a number of controversies surrounding this particular drug and while some of them can be justified, others are just scary stories you tell people because… well, you don’t even know yourself why.
Therefore, I want to address all of the misconceptions when it comes to Accutane as well as give you an insight into all the things you need to know about the drug.
Therefore, I created this article to help you gather all the necessary information you need to know before you start taking the drug as well as give you a knowledgeable answer on the most infamous question
Is Accutane safe during pregnancy?
This article is going to teach you all you need to know about:
- What is Accutane and what is it made of?
- What does Accutane do for your skin and how does it help acne?
- What are the side effects of taking Accutane?
- Is Accutane safe during pregnancy?
So let’s start from the beginning and explain:
What is Accutane?
Accutane is the name of the drug.
It can also be found by different brand names such as Roaccutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret, etc.
The active ingredient that makes the drug work is isotretinoin which is the most powerful form of vitamin A.
Accutane is the weapon of last resort. The one you use when nothing else works for your acne and that is why Accutane is usually given after other acne medicines, antibiotics, or topical treatments have failed to give you results.
Basically, you resort to Accutane when all else fails.
Because of the potency of the drug itself, you cannot just walk into a pharmacy and ask to be given Accutane. I
t is a prescription-only type of drug and if you are considering, you will need to take that derm appointment and ask for a prescription.
But not so fast…
At the dermatologist, you will be asked some relevant questions regarding any history with medical conditions as well as be required to do a blood test in order to check for any hormonal imbalances.
Here’s a list of potential questions you may need to answer before getting that Accutane prescription:
- history of heart disease, high cholesterol or triglycerides;
- osteoporosis or other bone disorders;
- an intestinal disorder, such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, or Crohn’s disease;
- eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa; or
- liver disease
However, fear not.
Accutane is really not that scary as everyone is trying to make it sound and consider this consultation as a routine check before getting the medication.
After all, there’s no harm done in answering a few extra questions in order to be able to take the medication and experience the least possible side effects. It’s all for your own safety.
The dosage is based on your medical condition, weight, and response to treatment, but a dermatologist will typically prescribe you a low dose (usually from 0.5mg to 2mg) for 15-20 weeks, however, this may be prolonged and can last up to 10 months.
Yep, even “nuclear weapons” like Accutane take their sweet time to work and give results.
What is Accutane Made of?
Isotretinoin was first developed in the 1950s but it only started being used in the mid-1970s.
The original brand names were Accutane® and Roaccutane® but there are now many generic versions on the market, depending on the potency of the drug.
Isotretinoin (13-cis retinoic acid) is a vitamin A derivative which describes it is a retinoid.
The liver naturally makes small quantities of isotretinoin from vitamin A, but the drug that is prescribed to tackle certain skin conditions such as severe acne is made synthetically.
What Does Accutane do?
Accutane is used to treat severe cystic or nodular acne that has not responded to previous topical treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or clindamycin (which is usually recommended for Malassezia Folliculitis).
Accutane works by targeting the overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands and it can reduce it up to 80%.
Your sebaceous glands are responsible for producing sebum which serves as a natural lubricant and moisturizer for your skin.
But if you suffer from severe acne, this means that your sebaceous glands are thrown into overdrive and produce massive amounts of sebum that stays trapped inside your pores instead of coming out to the surface of your skin.
Inside the pore, sebum mixes with dead skin cells and clogs your pores while creating the “perfect” airless environment for the acne-causing bacteria to thrive.
P. Acnes, the bacteria that causes acne, feeds on the excess sebum.
But here’s when Accutane comes in to save the day by significantly reducing sebum production and quite literally starving the acne bacteria to death after some time.
What Are The Side Effects of Accutane?
While Accutane will effectively get rid of your acne and most probably for good, this process usually comes with certain side effects that need to be recognized.
However, I have read so much bulls*it regarding the side effects of Accutane that I don’t even know if I should giggle or say something about it.
So I decided to say something about it.
The most outrageous claim I have read is someone saying that people have actually died from Accutane because the drug can potentially cause severe bowel inflammation.
And that’s an outrageous thing to say, especially when there are teenagers that suffer from severe cystic acne reading this type of… well, I’m not going to say what again.
But don’t take it from me! Take it from this study that did not find any correlation between the use of isotretinoin and the development of inflammatory bowel disease.
One thing to remember is that we are all different and Accutane is a tailored treatment to each and every individual rather than one size fits all.
Which means you may experience different side effects while your body is getting used to the drug or none at all whatsoever.
As long as you make sure you go to a good dermatologist that will have the common sense of giving you the dose you need, chances are that you will get away with minor side effects that usually take some time getting used to and you are good after the initial discomfort.
So here are some side effects you can expect in the short term:
- Dryness (dry skin, dry or chapped lips, dry mouth, dry scalp)
- Photosensitivity (your skin will become increasingly sensitive to the sun which means skipping sunscreen is a total no-no)
- Purging (yes, your skin can potentially become worse before it gets better and this is because the active ingredient isotretinoin promotes cellular turnover, which means that the gunk you already have inside your pores will come out sooner and this will result in acne breakouts that will subside after some time)
While this can understandably take a huge toll on your confidence and self-esteem, it is important to remember that it is only temporary and once you’re past it, your skin will look better than ever.
However, there are some long term side-effects that in my opinion shouldn’t be overlooked, but due to the extremely small percentage of people that have experienced some of these, they shouldn’t really scare you at all.
Here are some of them:
- Abnormal bone growth
- Birth defects (which is why it’s mandatory for women to take birth control alongside Accutane while having the treatment)
- Depression and mood swings (due to the moderate to severe headaches the drug may give you while your body is in its early stage of getting used to it)
- Dry eyes (due to the drying effect it has, which makes it unsuitable for contact lens wearers and it is advisable to switch to wearing glasses while receiving Accutane treatment to avoid discomfort)
- Joint pain (again due to the drying effect it has)
But now let’s move on to the question you clicked on this article for:
Is Accutane Safe To Use While Pregnant?
Okay, this is the part where we get serious about the side effects of Accutane during pregnancy.
Although effective for treating severe acne, isotretinoin is a potent human teratogen.
A teratogen is an agent that can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus. Teratogens halt the pregnancy and have a high potential to produce congenital malformation (a birth defect).
Isotretinoin therapy has a high risk of causing permanent damage to the fetus and it should not be used during pregnancy or where there is a possibility of pregnancy.
In humans, isotretinoin can cause central nervous system malformations, absence or deformity of ears, cleft palate, vessel defects, and eye abnormalities and disorders.
Additionally, 30%-60% of children exposed to isotretinoin prenatally have been reported to show neurocognitive impairments, even when physical defects weren’t present.
These abnormalities can occur at various dosages within the usual therapeutic range and have occurred in women who were treated for less than one week in the first trimester of pregnancy.
This suggests that a single dose of isotretinoin can be teratogenic and can even become fatal.
This really is a serious number and despite my efforts to find evidence to support this, there aren’t many studies surrounding the issue, respectively.
Therefore, there are several things you should consider doing before starting an isotretinoin treatment and prevent potentially dangerous pregnancy during these times:
- Before starting isotretinoin treatment you should have a pregnancy test, preferably performed on blood due to it being more accurate in detecting pregnancy in its early stage.
- You should consult your doctor about effective contraception that you will start taking orally one month before starting and continue taking alongside Accutane until one month after finishing the treatment.
- You should ideally begin Accutane treatment with your next menstrual cycle.
- Regular pregnancy tests should be undertaken during your Accutane treatment, especially if this is prolonged and lasts longer than three months.
While Accutane should always be considered as a last-resort treatment, many people have found it to be extremely helpful in clearing acne.
However, while the risks of taking this drug are generally mild, there is always the extra caution needed.
Accutane isn’t pleasant, but the results are well worth the temporary side effects.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article on Is Accutane safe during pregnancy and found it informative.
Please let me know if you have experience with Accutane treatment and how did you take care of your skin then.
If you have any additional questions or concerns, I would love to read about it and help you the best I possibly can so feel free to message me or write a comment down below.
My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.