I spent 5 months on isotretinoin – Here’s why I kept it a secret

The day I decided to start a five-month treatment with isotretinoin, I almost passed out at my dermatologist’s office. My vision became blurry, the room brightened, and my head started to throb. Maybe it was the nerves. It was a pretty serious drug, after all. Or maybe it was due to lack of sleep.

I had kept awake until 3 a.m. the night before, browsing dozens of forums detailing the terrible things that could potentially go wrong when taking the 30 milligram pink pill. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t good.

You should know that this was not the first time that I considered treatment with isotretinoin. Two previous dermatologists had recommended the drug a few years earlier, but I was unable to take it.

The drug, commonly known as Accutane (the original brand of isotretinoin which is no longer available), is controversial. Although it is a derivative of vitamin A (retinoid) and is considered a panacea for even the worst cases of acne, the fear surrounding its side effects is enough to cause most people wonder why anyone would take the risk.

I knew I needed it, but the internet terrorized me with lists of side effects: mood swings, breathing problems, debilitating stomach aches, hair loss, nosebleeds, suicidal thoughts, severe birth defects. And that’s just the beginning.

Six months after my 22nd birthday – after so many instances where I chose to stay home rather than go out into the world with a face and back full of acne – I gave in to my doctor’s recommendation. .

My current doctor has been studying acne for more years than I have. He has overseen thousands of successful isotretinoin treatments. Me on the other hand? Well, I was extremely aware of what the internet had to say about drugs.

Before taking the first pill, I interviewed my doctor during our hour-long appointment. I have covered all the possible side effects, from chapped lips and dry nose to increased brain pressure and depression. He assured me as best he could that I would be okay, that anything that worried me was extremely rare.

However, it didn’t look as convincing as the internet. It wasn’t his fault. I don’t think he could have said anything to erase all the horrible things I had read online.

There was the woman whose son suffered from chronic back pain after six months of isotretinoin treatment. There was the man who was sterile and who ultimately blamed the isotretinoin.

There were even a handful of teenagers who became depressed and suicidal, or had difficulty seeing in the dark, permanent hearing loss, and a life-threatening condition of increased brain pressure. These claims were not verified, but they still seemed convincing.

The scary anecdotes repeated themselves in my head during every monthly check-up at my doctor’s office. My doctor had not personally seen any of these side effects (aside from the usual dry skin and chapped lips), but during my treatment I became more and more nervous that something terrible could happen. to arrive. Was Curing My Acne Worth It?

Given the controversy surrounding the drug, I have chosen to keep my isotretinoin treatment a secret.

You might be thinking, “Did you really go to great lengths to get fair skin?” Don’t be so conceited. Acne is not that bad. I’m here to tell you it’s really so bad – or at least it was for me.

And for those who live with severe acne, the stigma is no joke. A 2018 survey reported that “acne severity was positively associated with higher levels of perceived stigma” and that “somatic symptoms included sleep disturbances, headaches, respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal problems. -intestinal ”. The study even noted that women reported greater negative effects on their quality of life than men.

If you haven’t lived with chronic acne, it is almost impossible for you to understand the feeling of waking up every day without knowing if it will go away.

Although I experienced side effects, many of them were some of the most common (dry skin, stiff joints, occasional nosebleeds). A few weeks after stopping the pill, they were gone.

Although it has only been about a month since I stopped taking isotretinoin, my skin is clearer than it ever was and my self-confidence has returned as if it never had. faded away. I have a mandatory checkup in six months, but my doctor is confident that my skin will remain acne free.

Looking back, I wish I had used isotretinoin years ago, the first time a doctor recommended it. I would have saved myself months of frustration, anger and heartache around my skin.

No matter how healthy I ate, how diligent I was with washing my face, or how many facials I paid for, nothing worked. I felt like my body was failing. But, contrary to popular belief, acne is often unexplained. Of course, consuming more water and eating healthy foods can be good for your body, but they won’t necessarily cleanse your skin.

I admit that the misconceptions surrounding the drug influenced my decision to start treatment to a degree that I am not proud of. When it comes to health – especially when it comes to beauty and medicine – the internet is as much a resource as it is an entire hellish landscape. I haven’t been to med school, and I don’t have a lot of voice on the internet either, so it’s time to stop valuing their opinions the same way a licensed physician does. It is alarmist to the nth degree.

Although some users experience serious side effects from isotretinoin, these effects are rare. I wish there was more on the internet: more about the positive and life-changing results the drug has had for the thousands of people who have taken it and are now acne-free. The internet hasn’t (and still hasn’t) told this side of the story, and it’s alarming.

Like all medications, isotretinoin is not for everyone. But let your doctor – not the self-proclaimed “doctors” of Reddit and YouTube – determine if this is right for you.

Clarissa Buch is a nationally published writer and editorial consultant based in South Florida. Learn more at clarissabuch.com.

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