Okay, just so you know, this is going to be a l-o-n-g read. Also, if you’re not suffering from acne, you probably won’t find this post very interesting. Just a heads-up.
This is my 1st Accutane post, to see an update, check out this post.
Most of you guys know that I’ve been suffering from acne for pretty much as long as I remember. I’d only go through a few weeks of completely clear skin at a time. First world problem? To some, perhaps it is. Acne doesn’t only affect your looks though. It can be physically painful and it can suck the life and energy out of you and in some cases it can have psychological effects like depression.
I went through many courses of taking antibiotics and using tretinoin creams. This combo worked well, until the time came to go off the antibiotics- that’s when my acne would always come back. None of the doctors I’ve seen ever suggested going on Accutane (Absorica). Last year I went to see a new doctor and she suggested it to me on a very first visit, which kind of surprised me since my acne was no longer severe. It was just freaking stubborn. I was very hesitant and once again went on antibiotics for several months. Two weeks after going off antibiotics, I started breaking out all over again. That’s when I decided to go on Absorica, in hopes that it will permanently clear my skin.
THINGS THAT HELPED ME BEFORE GOING ON ABSORICA
Before telling you about my experience, I want to mention a few things that helped me heal my cystic acne. I was on and off antibiotics for years and I hated taking them as they always made me sick. My lifestyle and diet change is something that made the biggest difference in my skin. I had horrible cystic acne, on my chin, neck, cheeks, temples- it was bad, guys. It was so bad I never left the house and avoided going out. I remember one time I went out to get my hair done and as I was looking in the mirror at the salon, I just felt tears coming down my face. I wanted to get up and leave, I just felt so uncomfortable and couldn’t stand to look in the mirror. I was on an awful birth control that not only worsened my depression that I suffered from at the time, but also ruined my skin once I stopped taking it. The cystic acne was so bad, I couldn’t sleep at times. Sleeping was actually painful: every time I touched my cheeks or neck while tossing around, I was in pain.
Don’t mind the sperm brows, guys, I was an over-plucker. This was about 8-9 years ago and back then, I’d actually consider this to be a good skin day. What you don’t see on this picture, are huge cystic breakouts under my chin.
When I started my Sophomore year in college I decided to take a few nutrition classes and one of my professors, who was an RD helped me make the dairy-acne connection. Taking her class changed my life. That’s when I started reading nutrition books, getting into food documentaries and eliminated dairy from my diet. Once I stopped eating dairy products, my cystic acne cleared up within a month. Omega 3 also helped me A LOT with cystic acne. I stay away from anything fried and try to stick to a mostly plant-based diet. This has made the biggest difference in my skin. I don’t drink any sugary drinks, no juices (unless it’s actual juice) or sodas. I was never much of a junk-food person anyway so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, I’ve always been a healthy eater.
Another thing that helped me was using a laundry detergent that’s free of fragrance and dyes, changing my pillow cases every few days and staying away from a lot of products that target acne. There are so many drugstore products from brands like Neutrogena that are said to help your skin, but they can actually make your acne worse. When you have acne or oily skin you might think that you should be very harsh on your skin, using a ton of drying products, scrubs, but the key is to be delicate with your skin and let your acne heal. This is something that was life-changing for me. I stopped using my Clarisonic, switched my harsh cleansers for plain, delicate ones and used a simple BP gel, AHA products and BHA like these Stridex pads. I do the same with a moisturizer: keep it plain, simple and fragrance-free. Your face should not feel tight and dry after cleansing, even if you’re naturally very oily. I could keep going on and on and on about this, but instead, I’d recommend you browse through the Skincare Addiction sub on reddit. That sub is gold and full of very useful information, especially if you’re just getting into skincare or want to create a good routine.
Now, keep in mind that when it comes to skin problems, it’s different for everyone. There is a lot of misconception about acne, too. I have a friend who never knew anyone with skin problems and until she met me, she was under the impression that people who suffer from acne don’t take care of their skin- nothing could be further from the truth. Some people can eat junk food on daily basis and have beautiful, flawless skin. Some tend to break out after eating a piece of candy. A lot of people have issues with hormonal acne, which also is a whole other thing. These are just a few things that helped me deal with my skin problems.
After going off antibiotics, before starting Absorica. You can see that despite the acne and spot-redness, my skin looks bright and not extremely red or irritated- that’s because I started being gentle with it, rather than scrubbing it and constantly using irritating products.
Changing my diet helped me heal my cystic acne completely, but I still had acne. You can see deep rolling scars on my cheeks, and temples- years ago those areas of my face were covered in huge, painful cysts.
One of the reasons I can’t stand to visit makeup counters, to this day, is because people can be quite insensitive. I remember visiting a Chanel counter once with my sister and buying a foundation. The MUA took one look at me and said: “oh honey, you need to stop drinking soda look at your poor skin!“. My sister started laughing hysterically because everyone who knows me knows that if there’s one thing you’ll never see me drink, it’s soda. I hate even having it in the house and always nag at everyone I know to stop drinking it. It’s just one of those annoying things about me. So see, people might think that they know what they’re talking about, but in reality a very few of them do (like the woman who once suggested I rub urine on my face before going to sleep- she enlightened me with that suggestion while I was waiting to pay for my groceries at a packed supermarket, so that was nice). I even had some people (complete strangers) suggest I have a baby because after you have a kid, your skin will miraculously clear up (gtfo, honestly). I think the unsolicited advice is what makes dealing with skin problems a lot more stressful, uncomfortable and annoying than anything else.
Let’s talk my Accutane skincare routine. I can’t stick to using just one cleanser as usually I cleanse my face about three times a day and look for different things in a cleanser, depending on what time of day I use it. In the morning, I usually reach for CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser; it’s formulated with ceramides that soften skin, it moisturizers and is perfect for sensitive skin. If I wake up with my skin feeling dry, then I’ll double cleanse with the oil-based MŪN Akwi Cleanser (which I keep raving about as it was one of the best products I’ve discovered in 2016), wash it off with a warm washcloth and follow up with CeraVe.
When I get home from work, one of the first things I have to do is take my makeup off. Before I started the Absorica treatment, my skin was extremely oily, so usually at the end of the day my makeup was literally melting off my face and I couldn’t wait to get home and take it off. It’s become a habit and even though my makeup stays in place all day these days since my skin is so dry, I still don’t like wearing makeup around the house. I usually use a cleansing milk to remove my makeup like the Darphin Intral Cleansing Milk or the Mario Badescu Cleansing Milk with Carnation Rice Oil. I wash it off with a warm washcloth and follow up with this Garnier Cleanser.
TONERS + TREATMENTS + MOISTURIZERS
During the Accutane treatment, skin and lips get extremely dry. I already talked about my favorite lip treatments right here. As far as a moisturizer goes, I rotate between a few. Clinique Moisture Surge is great to use under makeup because it’s light and not greasy. As my skin is extremely dry, I love reaching for my face mists. I recently fell in love with the MŪN Anarose Hydrating Rose Toner which balances skin’s pH, hydrates and is suitable for all skin types. I’m also still loving this one from Complex Beauty. For now, I’m avoiding some of my favorite peels and AHA products as my skin is very sensitive. The only treatment I reach for at the moment is MŪN Aknari Brightening Youth Serum. It’s formulated with Prickly Pear Seed Oil, which has high Linoleic Acid content, Vitamin E, it acts as an antioxidant, absorbs beautifully into the skin and penetrates deeply without leaving a greasy residue behind. It also contains Argan Oil (also rich in Vitamin E) and Bulgarian Rose Essential Oil which has antibacterial properties, making it a great product for acne prone skin, like mine. It does come in a small bottle but I only need one pump to gently press it all over my skin and neck. It makes my skin bright, soft and smooth and calms any redness I experience from time to time. Wish I could bathe in this stuff. At night, once the serum absorbs I follow up with something richer like Cetaphil Cream (one of those products I can’t live without regardless of how my skin is doing), Derma E Hydrating Night Cream or Perricone MD Multi-Action Overnight Treatment.
Edit: I totally forgot to mention sunscreen which is a must for me, all -year round, it’s very important when you’re undergoing any kind of acne or skin-renewing treatment. It should be a must for you too, especially if you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation or want to prevent skin aging and wrinkles. For about a year now, I’ve been loving this sunscreen.
If you’re interested in trying MŪN products you can use my code “MUN13T” for 15% off.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH ABSORICA SO FAR
Okay, still with me? Good. So, if you’re suffering from acne, then chances are you’ve probably heard of isotretinoin- vitamin A derivative- treatment called Absorica (the most common brand used to be called “Accutane”). It’s a medication that can only be prescribed by your doctor that reduces the amount of oil released by oil glands in the skin and helps skin renew itself more quickly. In just a single dose it can cause serious birth defects, that’s why you won’t be able to go on it unless you use two forms of birth control (if you’re a female patient) or are abstinent. You need to have a negative pregnancy test before starting your treatment, and before every single prescription refill. You also need to sign up for an iPledge program where you basically pledge that you will not get pregnant, share your medication or donate blood. Every single month you also need to take a questionnaire online before your pharmacy authorizes your refill (silly questions like: “your neighbor asks you to give them a portion of your treatment, what do you do/say and why“, etc. ). You also need monthly blood tests done to detect any possible abnormalities.
After almost 3.5 months of treatment. My pores look almost as if they’re blurred and I seriously can’t stop staring at them up close.
Now, if that process doesn’t sound exhausting enough, there are also a ton of serious side effects that come along with this treatment. Probably too many for me to list, so I’ll only talk about the ones that I’ve experienced.
First: dry, red, sensitive skin is quite the obvious one, and it’s extreme. Not really complaining about this one because I’ve always had oily skin and hair that had to be washed every single day. I now wash my hair once a week which is great, although I do miss that healthy-shine my hair always had. It’s very matte right now. I also developed eczema on my hands, my body skin is very dry which flares up my dermatographism. Muscle, joint and back pain is pretty bad too. I had a couple of nose bleeds, but those went away. Last month my doctor raised my dose from 40mg to 60mg and I now also suffer from extreme fatigue. I can sleep for 10-12 hours and still wake up tired. The aches and pains I can put up with but the fatigue is becoming a little extreme. I’m always tired, sleepy, exhausted and have bags under my eyes. I haven’t worked out in weeks because my back pain is at times unbearable. I’m used to being very active and never needed much sleep, this is why I find it so hard to deal with the fatigue. Coffee doesn’t do the trick, neither do my usual little pick-me-ups that always help me.
I’m not one to complain, but every time I mention my back pain or take a little longer to get up or reach for the 3rd cup of coffee, I get asked the same question: do you really think all these side effects are worth it? My answer is: yes. Going on Accutane wasn’t an easy decision for me and it took me a while to decide to finally try it. I’m a bit of a health nut and after seeing how much my diet has helped me, I believed that I could clear my skin completely just by keeping it up. It didn’t happen though. I believe that the exact words I used when my doctor asked me if I’m ready to go on Accutane were: “Yes. I’m tired.“
It’s a pain in the ass when a bunch of friends get together and all of a sudden your skin becomes the main topic of a conversation. It gets old and it gets exhausting. Someone will mention an amazing product their cousin tried (“have you tried this or that?”), someone will notice that your skin is looking a little worse. I even had clients at work comment on my skin. Usually, it’s well-meaning people, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t feel like punching every single one of them in the face the moment they brought my acne up. I feel like, for years, I just wanted to scream “hello, there’s more to me than just my acne!“. So yes, to me, the side effects are worth it. I only had one concern: depression and anxiety. In some cases isotretinoin can cause depression and anxiety and having suffered from both in the past, it was something I worried about. I’d be willing to take twice as much back pain or muscle aches, as long as my anxiety didn’t come back because it’s seriously one of the worst feelings, ever. I did notice that I’m slightly more emotional, but thankfully I haven’t experienced any anxiety, otherwise, I know I’d have to get off the treatment as that is not something I’d be willing to put up with.
As far as the results go? I love them. I freaking love them. I’m actually starting to love my skin, which I never thought would happen. My skin looks best it’s ever looked, it’s bright, smooth, clear and I’m excited to see even more improvement as the treatment continues. My doctor told me that I’ll love the treatment and I do, even with all the side effects. I didn’t experience any “purging” and my skin feels so smooth and so clear, I actually love looking at it up close. My scars have become lighter but some of them are also a bit more visible now that my acne has cleared up, but that’s something I’ll worry about once I complete the treatment.
I think that the only few people who understand my willingness to put up with these side effects are my husband, mom, and sister because they know just how much my acne has affected me in the past. As I’m listing all of my side effects I’m thinking that they sound pretty harsh, but in reality, it’s just the fatigue that’s really bothering me.
Keep in mind that I am not a doctor and can’t give medical advice so you shouldn’t treat what I say in this post as such. This is just me sharing my experience. Before I went on the treatment I was extremely nervous and looked all over the internet for others sharing their personal experience, which is why I decided to share mine as well.
Sorry for this post being so long and if you’ve made it all the way until the end- bless you! I will probably share another update once I complete my treatment, but promise that it won’t be nearly as long as this post. Also, if you’re currently suffering from acne and find it difficult to deal with at times, remember that you’re not alone. I don’t want to be all dramatic here, but I do know that dealing with skin issues isn’t fun.
To see my skin update, see this post.
This content includes referral links and/or PR samples/gifted products. Read my disclosure policy for more info. A version of this post was previously published in September of 2016.