Accutane: Quite the Experience

Yes. No? Yes. No. No? Yes?

That was generally how I chose to think of my experience with Accutane. I never was quite sure I wanted to be on it, and to this day, I’m not sure if it was worth it. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a beautiful thing not to have to run to the mirror and wonder if I’ll always have painful pustules on my face. I’m not hyper focused on acne anymore. There is so much freedom that comes with the fix.

I also want to enforce the idea that I am a person who advocates for the all-natural solutions. I don’t even like Cetaphil because I can’t understand any of the ingredients. When it comes to lotions, I prefer local, handmade products. When it comes to face wash, I really don’t. I use some raw honey once in a while. When it comes to foods, I try to eat the best I can. Does it work? Ha. (Scroll down to see what I have to say about diet and staying on track)

So even though I love the all-natural solution, there was a lot of pressure on me this summer to get my acne straightened out. I didn’t have acne until I was 17, so from that point on, people kept talking to me about it. Everyone had some sort of advice: birth control, makeup, oil, topical stuff, lotions, standing out in the sun to dry it all up, you name it, someone mentioned it. When I changed my diet this past summer, my acne got even more inflamed for a while as I tried to figure out what my body really wanted. Then people commented on my acne even more. Yes, thank you, I get it. My face isn’t real cute right now. 

Then it was a big deal because I was irritated and incredibly stressed. So I went to my dermatologist, knowing full well that my biggest problem was likely my scarring, but she wouldn’t help my scars until we got rid of my acne completely. Even as far as milk thistle supplements and vitamins took me, they couldn’t take me far enough.

This is what my skin looked like before my first month of Accutane. Notice that the skin isn’t raised too much, and there is very minor acne. However, with acne that does not respond to persistent treatments, dermatologists recommend Accutane. You can also see that there is a lot of red. I’m not sure if it is rosacea (like my eye doctor originally thought) or if it is because of the minor pink-scarring that comes with new breakouts.

Photo on 9-29-14 at 10.16 AM Photo on 9-29-14 at 10.16 AM #2 Photo on 9-29-14 at 10.36 AM

Below are the pictures of me with some natural makeup (with some pigmentation) on and a little blush on my cheeks. This is after 4 months on Accutane. I am now on my last month, and then my dermatologist and I will discuss the topical scar treatments we will implement in the next few months because as you can probably identify, I have minor “ice-pick” scars.

Photo on 2-26-15 at 2.03 PM Photo on 2-26-15 at 2.03 PM #2

Photo on 2-26-15 at 2.04 PM

Side Effects

Some people don’t have any side effects on Accutane. The majority of people experience very dry skin, especially the lips.  Others will report periods of not feeling quite like themselves. If you get too depressed, your doctor will [rightfully] take you off the medication.

I have been on Accutane all winter. Winter. During a season when it is already dry in the Northeast, I thought, hey, why not get dryer? I have gotten some pretty bad bloody noses, one of which I thought wouldn’t stop (it went on for a long time). I got really dry eyes. I didn’t feel quite like myself, but I also wasn’t sleeping well/eating well or enough/wasn’t doing my work really well, either. As a college student, sometimes that’s just the package of a rough semester. And it was rough.

Your face will get red. Your mouth will get dry. Drink lots of water. Lots and lots. But if it gets to the point where you’re drinking so much water that you’re not hungry, and then you’re cranky because you’re not eating, slow down on the water and eat some food (my doctor told that to me).

Here are the solutions I used to combat my problems:

For bloody/dry nasal passages: 

Do yourself a favor and don’t let your nose get really dry. Just don’t do it. If you’re a person who has gotten a bloody nose before in his or her lifetime, just take care of this problem before it becomes one.

My dermatologist recommended this saline nasal gel which worked so much better than regular saline spray. I can’t stress that enough. If you’re getting really bad bloody noses like I did, get this. GET THIS. I even ruined a pair of my jeans because I was at my desk at work and blood — without warning — just fell out of my nose onto my gray jeans. Yup.

Tilt your head back after shooting it up, but don’t stay there too long. It has a bad after taste when it reaches the back of your throat. Also, I highly recommend doing this before bed as well as throughout the day depending on your need.

For dry eyes:

Most of my doctor’s patients did not experience dry eyes, so I had to find a product that worked for me. Of course during the winter, not even a regular eye dropper solution would work for me. As a result, I set out in search of something similar to my nasal gel. If a gel worked to heal my nose, certainly a gel would help these poor eyes.

I finally found what I was looking for. It’s a nighttime solution, so you put this stuff on your bottom eyelid and go to sleep. It’s weird because it’s preservative-free (which is good because there aren’t too many ingredients), and it has the consistency of vaseline. Weird, right? Some people reported hating it because they couldn’t see when they put it in, etc. etc. Well, of course you’re not going to be able to see very well. The point is to moisturize dry eyes. And go to bed. So, you cannot drive with this stuff in. You probably won’t even be able to read a text message on your phone, so put it in and go to bed.

Since implementing this, I have not needed to wear eye drops during the day and can wear contact lenses again. Oh yeah, and it’s expensive (coming in just below $15 now), but I have found that any way to make my Accutane experience better is worth the price (this is coming from someone who works a college job in a dish room).

For dry lips:

My dermatologist, like many out there, recommend her favorite lip balm to her patients. My doctor and another doctor that my friend had both recommended Aqauphor products. One thing I noticed with my friend who went on Accutane before me is that it did not seem to matter how much he used Aqauphor — it just didn’t help.

And I had plenty of other lip balm, so why should I drop more dollars on a fancier version?

Since everyone online claimed that any regular lip balm with colors or flavoring would just do horrible things to them while on Accutane (even if it just had coconut oil or shea butter), I thought I better go with my gut. For a while, I just used vaseline, but during the first two weeks on the medication, my lips hurt so much. It wasn’t even a matter of locking in moisture; my lips were burning all over.

Thus, I’m sure you’ve seen this product somewhere or other, but I used it for a couple of applications until my lips finally felt soothed. Once they felt soothed, I had to stop using it again because it just made my lips peel off in huge chucks of skin. Ew, I know. Once my lips were soothed, I would use vaseline regularly for the rest of my treatment. Sometimes my lips would get kind of funky, but for the most part, it really helped. The crucial time to do this is before bed and after you eat. My lips were at their worst for the first two months; at the beginning of my fifth month, they really are no longer a problem. Kinda freaky.

For dry face: 

Like everything else, your face will likely get dry. I did not wash my face during my treatment (I rarely do, anyway, since I learned about the caveman regimen), so it did not get as dry as it probably could have. However, there were mornings when I would wake up and would just be a flakey mess. Therefore, I think it’s really important to put some sort of moisturizer on your face before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning while on this medicine.

I used Cetaphil for a while, but I just bought some more natural lotion that I really like (it’s thicker, too, so I don’t use it everyday, but most nights before I go to bed). Just make sure it is gentle and does not contain ingredients of things you are allergic to. If you are allergic to almonds, please don’t go buy an all-natural almond lotion.

What should I eat?

The great thing about Accutane is that while your body is finally letting go of its annoying relationship with acne, you will not feel so stressed about eating the perfect thing anymore. It really is freeing and exciting.

I can eat gluten-free cupcakes and not hate myself after. I can eat eggs and not worry about my dining halls oils because there’s nothing else for me to eat that I’m not totally allergic to. That’s the great thing about Accutane. You can finally eat without hating yourself.

Does that mean you can eat junk food forever? I recommend not. Do what you will, but I prefer to maintain a healthy diet while adding in some treats here and there. There are some Paleo enthusiasts who stress rarely ever eating treats. All I can do is admire those people.

But if you really are committed to eating well nonstop, Louise Hendon from Paleo Living Magazine wrote this article about ways to stay on track with your eating. It is geared toward the Paleo community, but I think her tips are applicable to any diet if you modify them for your needs.   Also, if you scroll to the bottom of this post, I found some temptation mantras to be really useful.

I also know that Louise wrote an article about her top 10 favorite snacks for air travel. I actually really loved this list, but I wish I bought some of the bars she recommends. I love handy dandy snack bars.

Would I recommend Accutane?

I guess so. I’m not quite committed to the answer. I think it brings a lot of peace-of-mind, and to me, that’s a good goal. If it causes some future horrible problem, I am not the maker of the universe who will be able to foresee that. I am in the moment, trying to take care of my body as it is now.

For me, it was too psychologically draining to feel ugly all the time. It was too painful to push my boyfriend’s hand away when he brushed my face because it hurt too much. It was too embarrassing to apply for jobs and look like a hormonal teenager. And it’s too stressful to worry about future scars. Come on. Don’t I have better things to worry about?

Is Accutane the most natural way to go? No. You have to be on birth control or commit to abstinence (I did abstinence); you get monthly blood tests; you have to fill out an online questionnaire to prove you understand that you CAN. NOT. GET. PREGNANT; your face gets really red; your lips get dry; and you go fill your prescription when they see that your blood work and pregnancy test is all good. It’s rough. It’s hard.

I love this blog post from a fellow Paleo blogger because she explains her trials and tribulations so well. She also took a picture for each month she was on Accutane. I don’t regret my time on Accutane because it probably prevented 100 more scars and more damage to my face, as well as shortened my time of feeling ugly (graduation pictures are also a thing that will be happening soon). I do regret that it has such serious side effects. Overall, I am sort of content that I went on it.

Well, at least I’m happy that my face doesn’t hurt anymore.

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