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My Journey Thus Far With Accutane

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Like most teenagers, I've had to deal with a fair amount of acne. It also runs in the family so there was no way I was going to avoid it.

If memory serves right, the blemishes first started popping up in sixth grade. Now, I don't know if I went to middle school with a bunch of supermodels, but I was always the only person with acne. So naturally I was teased quite a bit. I was very self-conscious in middle school, starting with my recovery from sleep apnea which caused me to go from waif-like to healthy (which, to preteen girl, is fat) very fast. The acne certainly didn't help so I started going to a dermatologist and was put on a variety of different topicals to see if they'd do anything.

By eighth grade I'd tried almost everything available to cure my acne and it just didn't seem to want to go away. My dermatologist decided to put me on Accutane and see how it went. I remember being a little scared to go on it. I had to sign forms pledging my abstinence, and on the packaging for the pills there were little pictures of deformed babies. I was also not thrilled about having to get my blood drawn every month to make sure my liver was still functioning. Nevertheless, my need to have clear skin outweighed my fears.

In the spring of 2006, I was four months through Accutane and about to go on a school trip to Italy. Already not terribly responsible about taking my pills, I decided to go off Accutane so I wouldn't have to deal with it on my trip. My skin was not clear by any means, but the quality and tone of it had gotten a lot nicer. My dermatologist told me that it was most likely that my skin would continue to clear up and it did, but I don't ever remember there being a time when I looked at my face and didn't see any blemishes at all. It did die down though, and by this time I'd become a foundation/concealer master so I was mostly okay with it only being visible when I took off my make-up.

Throughout high school, it stayed pretty stagnant. There'd be worse weeks than others, but overall it was the same. I went through some microdermabrasion that helped with some scarring, and last year I did a series of salicylic peels.

This summer while I was taking a tour of the Northeast looking at colleges, I realized that I'm about to start my life and I need to clear up my skin once and for all, just for me. Not for the cute college boys or any of that, just for me. For some reason, having acne for my entire young adult life has become a strange emotional, nearly tangible thing. I feel as if getting rid of acne will get rid of some insecurities I've been harboring for a very long time once and for all. A nice cleanse before I go out there into the real world. It's mostly psychological, but acne really does feel like something that's just a part of me that I'll never ever be free of. I've never know me, this quite-nearly-adult me, without it.

So on July 8th I went back to my dermatologist, whom I hadn't seen in three years. I told her how I've tried really everything I could think of (I've practically become a dermatologist myself by now) and nothing's worked. She just gave me a little smile and the very first thing she asked me was if I wanted to go back on Accutane. Now, I was a little shocked. I had only been on one or two prescribed medications for my acne since my first round of Accutane and I had been certain she would suggest that I go on Retin-A or Differin or something less extreme. For any of you who've been clueless up to this point and don't know what Accutane is, it's pretty much the last hope for people with acne. It is generally proven to work on everyone, even people with stubborn acne like myself.

I really like my dermatologist and she even has a daughter exactly my age who's going through a similar situation to mine, so I decided to start the process of going on Accutane. Now, for most drugs the doctor will just give you a slip and you phone it in to your local pharmacy. It's not so easy with Accutane.

Accutane causes severe birth defects and it has always been stressed (as with the deformed baby pictures) that you should not try to get pregnant while on it, at all, ever. Now, because (I assume) one woman a year fails to take this advice and then sues the manufacturer, the FDA has gone rather psychotic on the company. Taking Accutane was a difficult process the first time I took it but with what they're doing now it's become almost ridiculous.

First, because no women are exempted (including girls who haven't even started their period), I was given a pregnancy test to take home and instructed to call them with the results as soon as possible. Now, I'm 17 years old and have never had a boyfriend, so it came as a weird shock to me that my first pregnancy test would come before my first kiss.

With my pregnancy test, I was given a large booklet (safety-yellow complete with black caution stripes). The booklet is basically an instruction manual on why and how you shouldn't get pregnant and what happens if you do (the apocalypse, obviously). It's administered by a program called iPledge, which, as far as I can tell, was created by the FDA in some form to thoroughly hammer it into our heads that deformed babies are not good.

Along with having to bring a safety-yellow iPledge card every time I get my prescription filled, I also have to fill out a questionnaire on their website every month before I get my prescription. And, yes, you guessed it, the questionnaire is entirely about how to not get pregnant and what happens if you do.

To give them some credit, this process is a lot less annoying than it sounds. But…it's still ridiculous. I understand that they're just covering themselves in every possible way they can, but it doesn't seem right that I should have to deal with the consequences of someone who failed to acknowledge the 30 images of deformed babies with red X's over them on the box containing their pills. But, hey, that's how it works.

Oh, and obviously, men don't have to deal with any of this crap at all. They, of course, can't get pregnant, but it's still sort of laughable.

Anyway, after waiting for exactly one month (I'm not entirely sure why you have to wait one month), I was allowed to fill my prescription for Accutane. I'm not actually taking Accutane itself; I'm taking a generic called Claravis, because Accutane is around $300 a month. But apparently it works just as well or even better.

I have my monthly appointment with the dermatologist next week and I think it's fair to say that I'm noticing changes. As expected, my skin is purging, but the areas that are not breaking out are looking really good.

So, this is my Accutane story so far.

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About Caroline

  • http://runningbowline.com Chris Bancells

    Hi Caroline,

    Believe me I understand where you’re coming from. In high school, I had pretty severe acne and I started taking Accutane. It definitely helped, although it didn’t completely solve the problem. On the other hand, it sent me into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced in my entire life…and I’m a frustrated writer. I had no clue what was happening to me at the time, and it wasn’t until I was off the medicine that I could see clearly enough to put two and two together. About a year after that, I watched the news report on a study which linked Accutane with depression. Now, that was years ago, and maybe they’ve changed the medicine, but I wouldn’t wish that time of my life on anyone. I still shudder when I think about how bad everything felt. I realize there are plenty of other things you deal with as a woman taking the drug, but please tread carefully.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    As with any of these drugs my guess would be that some people are more prone to manifest certain of the side-effects than others. If you’re already prone to depression then depression is more likely, etc.

    dave

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    BTW, I liked the article on your site about Etsy. You should write something along those lines for blogcritics.

    Dave