By Kali Kushner
I can remember clear as day the exact moment I KNEW I wanted to go on Accutane. I was on vacation in San Diego with my husband visiting family; I had just washed my face and I was getting ready for bed. My skin had been bothering me for a year up until this point, I was 20 years old and just started developing cystic acne out of the blue. I had tried everything to get rid of it, from antibiotics and light therapy to good ole fashioned toothpaste.
During that time, I was trying a new technique- acting like it wasn’t there. I thought maybe If I just ignored the fact half of my face was engulfed by these fiery red cysts then they would just disappear. Anyways, I had just walked out of the bathroom without any makeup on keeping my head down low hoping no one would see the pain I was in when my nephew yelled "what's on your face? Why is it dirty?" Ouch, immediately punched in the gut, salt in the wound feeling is the best way I can describe it. He was like two, by the way, kids speak whatever they see you know? Although it didn't carry malicious intent, after that incident I was very determined to figure out what the heck was going on with my face. I scheduled a dermatologist appointment as soon as I got home from vacay.
On the day of the appointment I couldn’t even go into the dermatologist's office without makeup, I thought maybe if they didn’t think it was that bad then I wouldn’t have to do anything too serious for my skin. Too bad my dermatologist took one look at me and said "Accutane". I was terrified, overwhelmed, excited, nervous; really just a whole whirlwind of emotions all at once. I started crying at my appointment, I think from relief but my dermatologist thought I was scared so she attempted to calm me down.
She started explaining Accutane to me, the way it works by shrinking your oil glands, and how most people (85% she said) stay completely clear for life. Accutane is an extremely potent version of vitamin A, she continued to describe it to me like eating a bag of carrots every morning and every night. For me, that seemed harmless enough. After trying just about every acne treatment out there, I decided that Accutane was my last resort. I was willing to put my health on the line because I firmly believed that if this didn't work, nothing would. She decided to prescribe me a fairly high dosage for my weight, 60 mg for 5 months. After a hectic month of blood tests, I pledge questions, and pregnancy tests on October 30th, 2015 I was ready to get started.
During this first initial month I was excited beyond words. I had been struggling with cystic acne for about a year at this point and I completely forgot what it felt like to be comfortable in your own skin. I was never, ever embarrassed of who I was as a person, but acne did make me self-conscious from time to time- and even now I have days where it still does. But hey, nobody’s perfect right? I had gotten used to dodging myself in fitting rooms when trying on clothes and never looking up from washing my hands in a public restroom. I worked in a retail clothing store that year and I couldn’t even bare to look at my skin under the fluorescent lighting. If I did I would get lost in the mirror pointing out every indention and bump to myself. I guess that I didn't realize how chronic my acne was back then until looking at it just now. It had gotten to the point where I was used to how my skin was and told myself this is me now there's no changing that, which isn't true at all. If you gain anything from this experience of mine have it be that you don’t have to settle with who you are today, you canalways change, you canalways better yourself, and you canalways grow. If you feel stuck, don’t give up, just keep trying and stay positive.
Physical: Within the first four days my eyes, nose, and hair had dried up drastically. Some active zits I had were drying up too- so I was PUMPED (to say the least). I mean this was the first small amount of progress that I had experienced in over a year with my skin. I started purging for about a week but then my skin cleared up rather quickly. I had to stop taking Accutane for about 2 weeks during my wisdom teeth removal, which my dermatologist and oral surgeon both approved of.
Psychological: No changes in mood.
I felt like my progress was at a standstill. My dermatologist promised me that Accutane would be my cure all and I had no reason not to believe a medical professional, right? During this month I was still breaking out but I started to build my confidence up again. I wasn't dodging mirrors anymore and I was becoming much happier with my appearance, loving myself regardless of the condition my skin was in. Slowly but surely, I knew I was on the right track to recovery.
Physical: My lips were extremely chapped and I was still consistently breaking out but I continued to hold onto hope for days of clearer skin. During this month I started to really feel the side effects of this drug, I was extremely tired and feeling sluggish,all of the time. I mean unless you’ve been on Accutane you don’t really know what tired is. I'm talking falling asleep while driving, falling asleep in class, heck even falling asleep while standing up tired. Yes, all of those things did unfortunately happen.
Psychological:I was starting to feel stronger, gaining a better sense of what beauty truly meant to me- my confidence began rebuilding itself. I also felt like my anxiety was slowly going away, which again, was one of the main reasons I went on this drug. For the past year I was struggling with anxiety and experiencing panic attacks pretty frequently but unable to determine the cause until this month. I remember putting the pieces together in my head like a puzzle that was sitting in front of me the whole time. "Duh of course my acne is giving me anxiety" I thought. I was extremely uncomfortable (literally physical pain of cysts popping) and that had been consuming me for too long, not anymore.
My spirits were riding high this month, I was so excited to finally see the effects of this drug. I not only began to notice significant changes in my scars but my acne seemed to stop multiplying and taking over my face as well. I could see that my acne was gone but now my scars looked a million times worse than the ones I began with. When I expressed my concern to my dermatologist she pointed out the fact that now one problem was starting to disappear so, I was able to more clearly see another. For some reason that actually made me really happy, I could deal with scars. Scars were fine, it was the deep raging intolerable spots that I couldn’t bear any longer. I felt as if I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, plus month 3 is usually called miracle month so I was over the moon with my results.
Physical:Still continuing to experience extreme tiredness, chapped lips, and a new side effect: teeth clenching. Lower back pain really started to set in this month and I dealt with it until the end of my course. I refused to take any pain reliever as I was afraid it would interact negatively with the drug. I also started to get random joint aches, if you do take Accutane just be prepared to experience all of the health problems of a 90-year-old, all day, every day.
Psychological: During this time, I was burning bridges with many people in my life due to my extreme emotional response to normal everyday activities. I knew it was the Accutane but decided to ignore how it was making me feel since I was finally seeing results. Friends I had for years I told I never wanted to talk to again, and I even began lashing out at my husband for no reason at all. Thankfully he understood and many of those friendships have been rebuilt, but STILL! Not cool Tane, not cool.
Finally, during this month I found the courage to travel outside my house without any makeup. This was a HUGE step for me considering that three months prior I couldn’t even look at myself in public without having half of a mental break down. Part of my confidence came from the weekly pictures I was posting on Instagram at the time, I could physically see my skin improving and I had a killer acne support system.
Physical: I had all of the normal Accutane side effects at this point. Dry skin, dry nose, dry eyes, tiredness, and achy back. I also had a small appetite change, or a loss of appetite I suppose is more accurate. That only lasted for about a month until I got my normal appetite back.
Psychological:I was continuously mad at my friends and family for absolutely no reason. I had such a short switch about everything, I was like a ticking time bomb. I told myself that there's no way Accutane would affect my mind, that I was too strong for that. But the truth was, you can't control how this drug makes you feel. And trust me, it made me feel some type of way.
I'm straight up pumped! As far as I'm concerned, it's my last month and I'm in the home stretch. I've also developed this weird thing where my face gets a "hot" flash. Basically, whenever I'm tired, drank too much caffeine, eat a large meal, or just too hot my face becomes bright red and every single indentation is visible. It's crazy sounding but looking back now I think it was my blood sugar dropping too low or rising too high. This side effect continued to happen after Accutane for a whole year after, until I cut out dairy and caffeine (I still drink green tea because duh) completely. So in all, I believe my body was trying to tell me to chill out and quit eating garbage!
Physical:I had all of the physical side effects from the previous month and my skin was SO dry I developed a rash on my chin. This rash reappeared and disappeared every time my husband and I would kiss. I'm not even talking about passionate kissing where there's friction no- just ever so slightly if his beard touched my face it would almost instantaneously flare up into an angry red color. Also the hot flashes, ohhhh the hot flashes.
Psychological:Things were starting to calm down at this point. I no longer felt over emotional, I didn’t feel anxiety, and I didn’t feel angry. Accutane was giving me a sort of foggy type feeling in my brain and I thought great, its dumbing me down that’s why I don’t have anxiety anymore because I'm not overthinking (or thinking at all) like I used too. My family told me I was being ridiculous but guess what! I DID MY RESEARCH AND ACCUTANE DOES DECREASE BRAIN ACTIVITY. Yes, not even kidding while you're on the drug brain activity in your orbital frontal cortex (where your personality and other fun traits lie) can be decreased by 21%. Shocking, but I knew my initial hunch had to be right. Always trust your gut instinct ya'll! If you're interested, you can read more about that here andddd here.
I went in for my final checkup and told my dermatologist I was happy with my results even though I had one spot last month. I had already reached my goal cumulative dosage of 120 mg/kg at this point but she insisted that we do a final month just to give anything else going on under the surface a good ole kick in the rear. Why not, I figured since I was already almost done one more month wasn’t going to hurt anything- it would probably only give me better results! Alright, we're doing this I thought to myself.
Physical:No new physical side effects occurred during this month. I've pretty much gotten used to the fact that it takes me 10 minutes to roll out of bed because my lower back is inso much pain. Also, working in retail while on Accutane has been much harder than I expected, I had to cut back on my hours quite a bit because of the physical exhaustion. I was tired all of the time so it made it difficult to constantly bend over, pick things up, and fold down tables quickly. Dealing with customers while having a super over emotional response to everything was delightful as well, I definitely needed to take a little bit of a break and slow my roll. I cut back from 35 hours to 20-25, luckily my finances at the time allowed for this change.
Psychological:Nothing new going on over here, still felt a little foggy brained but my mood continued to improve while I tried to workout. When I say try I mean going on 1 or 2-mile walks, Accutane wiped all of my energy so I felt lucky if I could even get that much out of day. Other than that, I wasn’t able to do any major physical activity while I was on Accutane because of my stiff joints, sore back, and extreme tiredness.
Accutane left me with some long-term side effects that I don’t really talk about too often but, I think it's important to share that this drug can impact you life-long. I still experience sensitivity to light, it takes my eyes a while to adjust and I almost always need sunglasses while I'm out in the sun or I can't see too well. If I don’t have sunglasses I just have to squint my way through the day and most of the time end up getting a headache. Another side effect that stayed with me is decreased night vision. I didn’t experience this to an extreme extent while I was on Accutane but it really started bothering me afterwards. All in all I just I can't see as well when compared to how my vision was before I started the drug. Can't see in the day, can't see at night; I'm basically convinced I can't see at all. But I'm writing this so maybe I can see just a little, or maybe I have the keyboard memorized. Guess we will never know!
10 months after finishing my course of Accutane I began to relapse. At first it was just one small cystic spot around THAT time of the month but over the next few weeks they started to multiply. Two, four, eight cysts! Okay, that’s the last straw I'm going to my dermatologist to see what the heck is going on. She told me I would be 100% clear for life (something she should've never said) and that only 15% of all Accutane patients need a second course due to relapse. I felt hopeless, did this mean I was relapsing? Did I need a second course? I needed answers and what she told me was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to hear, that changing my lifestyle and diet would have no impact on my skin. The only way to completely clear myself would be another course of Accutane, at an even HIGHER dosage. I told myself after the first course I wouldn't do it again and I'm lucky to have such a strong support system like my husband who agreed that a second course was not in my best interest. I mean if it didn’t work the first time why would I put myself through a second course? Repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome is the literal definition of insanity. I went against her wishes and changed my lifestyle and diet. And guess what? It worked. I still get small spots every now and then but they go away super quickly.
I finished my last Accutane pill May 8th, 2016 and my cystic acne returned January 30th,2017, just shy of 10 months. Many people ask if I regret taking Accutane because it did not completely clear me long term, and my answer issssss: no. Absolutely not. I am a firm believer of everything happening for a reason, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You have to embrace all of it in life to truly live fully. If I wouldn’t have gone through this Accutane experience then I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for natural skincare and holistic health. It was nice to rely on a drug short term to gain the initial clarity of my skin, but it's been even more gratifying to work every day towards healing my acne from the inside out.
Thinking back now, it's funny to me that myfacestory almost didn’t happen. I made the account for myself, to track my progress and side effects throughout Accutane. I was planning on taking weekly photos on my phone and then at the end comparing them all together to see the difference in my acne, redness, and texture.
But I think it was after a conversation I had with my sister, that I decided to track my progress on Instagram so she could watch my acne disappear too. At first, I was private, I didn’t really want anyone to follow me for a month or two until I knew how the drug would affect me.
I wasn’t trying to be anyone's inspiration because I didn’t see it as being strong or brave, I was doing it purely from a scientifical standpoint to collect my own data. I didn't really understand what people meant by me being an inspiration for a LONG time, probably up until a month ago. I wasn’t embarrassed by myself or ashamed because I didn’t have anything to be embarrassed about. Sure, acne made me a little self-conscious at times however I knew that it wasn't the end all be all, but some people don’t. And if you're one of those people looking at my photos and my confidence helps you in any way feel better about your skin or about yourself in general, I am proud to be your inspiration.
Accutane is a form of retinoid (vitamin A) which is used to treat severe cases of acne, it should be given as a last resort if other treatments have not been successful (e.g. benzoyl peroxide, zinc oxide). It works by decreasing sebum (our skin's natural oil) production.
Accutane is an extremely harsh treatment that gets rid of all of your acne by using a high dose of vitamin A. This is a very scary medication to be taking because if you were to get pregnant on this medication your baby will become deformed when born. It also causes severe dryness all over the body. Your hair, lips, and skin will be extremely dry but that is how the medication works.
Most take Accutane as it seemed like the only guaranteed way of permanently getting rid of acne and that it only has to take it for 4 months (note that the length of treatment time can vary from anywhere between 4 – 8 months, depending on the extent of your acne and the dosage of the tablets).
It is recommended to do research and think if you are willing to go through its side effects. The improvements can be very slow and not very dramatic. Results vary from skin to skin. Again, it is your choice and your dermatologist's choice together. Don't ever feel like you have to do it because of them or because someone else wants you to. Only take it obviously if you want to, if you feel like it's what you need.