Accutane wasn’t my “miracle cure”

A student describes their debilitating experience with the acne medication Accutane and how they’ve since learned to care for their skin.


My acne started during my sophomore year of high school with deep blemishes and cysts fighting with my natural skin to cover my face’s surface area. Before then, my skin was clear with little to no maintenance, but seemingly overnight, my acne grew so severe that even resting my face on a pillow left a piercing feeling beneath my skin.

I thought consistent skincare would help manage my acne, but it had become so stubborn that nothing seemed to help. It continued to worsen, so I consulted a dermatologist during my freshman year of college.  

At my first appointment, the doctor looked at my inflamed face and gave me only two options: I could sit in the office while she painstakingly extracted each pimple or I could go on Accutane, an oral acne medication. 

Accutane was pitched as a miracle cure, with my dermatologist’s exact words being, “Six months and you’ll never have a pimple again.” I was blinded by the promise of a quick fix and I enthusiastically agreed.  

However, my doctor never warned me about the possible consequences. Accutane works by speeding up the process of cellular regeneration while halting the body’s production of oil. The side effects range from minor ailments like dry eyes and lips to increased rates of depression and suicidal ideation.  

Dermatologists are encouraged to be cautious when prescribing the drug to patients with psychiatric issues because accutane can impact mental health. I communicated my previous depression diagnosis to my dermatologist when she considered my treatment, but she still sent me home with an Accutane prescription without hesitation.    

Accutane greeted me with serious side effects.

I was always exhausted while on the drug. My muscles were so tired that I stopped exercising completely, and I couldn’t do anything creatively fulfilling because I spent every spare minute lying down. I was incapable of partaking in my normal stress-relieving activities, like reading and watching films, because of it. 

My inability to cope left me stagnant, unable to ease my symptoms. I was trading my basic health for smooth skin.

My depression began worsening to such an extreme level that I was missing classes and refused to leave my bed to commute to campus.

I told my dermatologist my symptoms during my third month of treatment, which was the one time she expressed concern. The only thing she asked was if a mental health professional monitored me. I told her that was the case, so she dismissed the issue and increased my dosage in that same appointment. 

More issues started to arise following the increase. I developed a nickel allergy, which caused my stomach to break out when I wore belts. Leaving my house became more of a laborious task because my knees would buckle if I stood for too long. I spent more shifts at work and time in classes focused on staying upright than completing what I needed to because of my weakness and fatigue.       

After seven months of unbearable symptoms, I chose to stop taking Accutane in the fall semester of my sophomore year.

My exhaustion persisted because Accutane can affect the body for two months following the treatment, but I slowly started feeling normal again. I reinstated healthy habits, like consistent exercise, and my interest in academics was reinvigorated. Knowing the side effects would soon dissipate motivated me to push through them while they lasted.   

While my acne did not fully clear up, Accutane’s one accomplishment was leaving my skin more manageable. Since coming off the medication, I stopped consulting a dermatologist and began focusing on a consistent topical skincare regimen, comprising both luxury and drugstore products. 

Taking care of my skin has become more than acne prevention and is now a ritual for my self-care. Instead of turning to strong medication, I find peace scrolling through cosmetic retailers’ websites to experiment with topical skincare and commit to what I discover actually works for my skin.

Since becoming enthralled with skincare, I treat it with more reverence. My skin is something that should be nourished and met with the same gentle care as other parts of my body.  

I don’t feel as drained as I used to. I can take walks without having sore calves for the following week, and I can do a challenging yoga class without getting out of breath. 

By relying on consistency in my skincare regimen, I have a much more holistic understanding of health and how to properly care for my problematic skin. 

I didn’t need to sacrifice my overall health for a quicker acne treatment, and I would’ve refused to take Accutane entirely if I had been provided with adequate resources to make such an important medical decision. With my own research and experience, I’ve realized acne is not a trait I should treat with contempt but rather care.

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