By all accounts, Accutane (isotretinoin) is something like a miracle, clearing away even the most annoying breakouts and helping those who struggle with severe, cystic acne enjoy happy, healthy skin. But it’s not all rainbow and butterfly emojis with this medication. On the road to clear skin via Accutane, patients experience lots of uncomfortable side effects — chapped lips, dry and itchy skin, hair thinning and sensitivity to the sun. But there are a few things you can do to cope so you soak up all the pros of isotretinoin and suffer fewer of the cons.
What Is Accutane?
Accutane is a name brand of an acne medication known generically as isotretinoin. Some other name brands of the same medication are Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret, Absorica and Zenatane. Isotretinoin is a vitamin A derivative, also known as a retinoid, which works by shrinking the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin, reducing the amount of oil your skin produces and controlling breakouts. This is great for busting acne, but it comes with some severe side effects triggered by a lack of hydration in the skin.
Coping with the Side Effects of Accutane
Ultimately, for many people, the side effects of isotretinoin are a tradeoff. For the dry skin and chapped lips, you get a clear complexion and skin that looks and feels better than before. The compromise is a whole lot easier to stomach if you know how to handle the downsides of Accutane, which are temporary. Here are a few of our tips for how to skate through the rough patches (literally) with ease.
- Drink More Water — Since the entire purpose of isotretinoin is to rid the skin of excess oil, the most noticeable effect of the drug is severe dryness. From painful, chapped lips to flaky and itchy skin, the lack of hydration can take a toll on your skin. Make sure you’re getting the recommended daily amount of water every day and practicing conscious sipping to keep your skin quenched.
- Don’t Skip the Lip Balm — The most common side effect of isotretinoin is chapped lips, with some 90 percent of all users experiencing it, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD). So you’re going to want to have a good lip balm on hand at all times to keep your lips chap-free. Many people who have used isotretinoin products experience skin shedding, cracking and even bleeding on their lips as a side effect.
Pro tip: Combine staying hydrated and moisturizing the lips with bkr Water Balm, an ultra-hydrating lip balm that snaps onto a special water bottle cap. For many of our customers, the Paris Water Balm has been transformative and helped elevate all of their chapped lip issues. Though Aquaphor and Vaseline are sometimes recommended as alternatives, these products merely trap the moisture that already exists under your skin—which isn’t doing much if your lips are already beyond dehydrated. The bkr Paris Water Balm is the Holy Grail of lip balms as the French Rose and Mediterrean Algae ingredients hydrate your skin while the essential biolipids trap moisture to keep your lips looking lush and plump all day long. Pick up a bkr Kiss Kit to get everything you need for next-level hydration.
- Invest in Good Sunscreen — We cannot overstate this enough: Never go outside without wearing sunscreen when you’re on Accutane! Many vitamin A derivatives, including isotretinoin, make your skin much more sensitive to sunlight, which can cause you to burn deeply and quickly. Because of this, you need to make sure you use a water-resistant, 30+ SPF sunscreen on your face every single time you go outside. If it makes it easier to remember, use a foundation with built-in SPF.
- Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize — It’s essential that you use a high-quality facial moisturizer each day when using isotretinoin. We recommend using a barrier moisturizer throughout the day to help address any dry patches and make your skin feel more comfortable. One of our best tips is to deeply moisturize even before you notice any signs of dryness from the medication. CeraVe and Cetaphil are two widely available, affordable options that work quite well in most people taking isotretinoin. Many Accutane users also recommend layering up and sealing your facial moisturizer with Aquaphor.
- Use a Super-Hydrating Cleanser — Our face wash is an oft-overlooked source of good hydration. It’s also an oft-overlooked trigger of poor hydration and dryness. Choosing an ultra-hydrating cleanser and using it each day can help reinforce the moisture and counteract any dryness associated with a hot shower. Choose a cleanser with hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and soothing extracts and make sure to skip harsh drying ingredients, like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, that worsen dryness.
- Skip the Wax — Waxing can cause permanent scar damage in the skin of anyone taking isotretinoin, so it’s definitely not something you want to mess with. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says to wait six months after you stop taking isotretinoin before you wax. It’s also a good idea to avoid any laser treatments and dermabrasion. The occasional threading or plucking is OK, but always use caution with every skin or hair treatment when you’re on this medication.
- Run a Humidifier — The humidifier is a surprisingly useful and amazingly simple way to give your skin an extra boost of moisture without really doing much, especially if you live somewhere with cold and dry weather part of the year or if you run the air conditioner a lot of the day. It effectively pumps the air around you with more moisture, which in turn passively conditions your skin. To combat excessive dryness due to Accutane or any other skin condition, sleep with the humidifier running every night, especially in the fall and winter.
- Resist the Urge to Touch — Early in the process, you will likely still experience a frustrating breakout or two. The most important thing to remember if this happens is to avoid touching blemishes. Your skin will be in a more sensitive state than usual as it adapts to the Accutane, and messing with your blemishes could cause permanent scarring.
- Worth the Wait
If you’re new to isotretinoin, don’t let this guide scare you! The truth is that, for most users, the good outweighs the bad. And the beauty of this kind of treatment is that it’s temporary, and most people experience significantly improved skin for years into the future. For some, the results are evident for the rest of their lives. Be patient and follow the above tips to make this powerful acne treatment work for you.