An Honest Review of Accutane


By Noelle Thomas

What is Accutane?

Most acne suffers have heard of the drug Accutane. Even though I was acne free until college, I was aware of the notorious drug because my then boyfriend went on it as a last-resort acne “cure”...which it certainly is. It’s the “big-guns” if you will in terms of knocking out stubborn acne that persists despite, you know, eating your greens and trying all topical acne medications under the sun.

Why Did I Go on It?

After developing acne for the first time during my sophomore year of college, trying just about every diet and potion to cure it—I decided I wanted it gone for good and Accutane was the only thing I had not tried.

Let me just say, I knew what I was getting into before even bringing up the idea of going on it with my GP. I scoured the inter-web front and back for months—prepping myself for all the side effects I might experience. And I should note, Accutane is notorious for its lengthy list of dramatic side effects—physical & mental. Everything from chapped lips to suicide {though very controversially associated} have been associated with the drug, taking it on and off the market over the years. But just like any other drug, some lucky ones experience nothing more than dry skin and chapped lips, while the less fortunate experience much worse.

If you have a history of anxiety or depression, you are at risk. Period.

I was very lucky to have a truly amazing doctor who took the time to thoroughly vet me as a good candidate for going on the drug, which included noting any signs of existing anxiety or depression before filling my prescription. Naturally, I explained my history with both clinical anxiety and depression, which did put me at a higher risk for experiencing their comeback while on the drug…but I had long overcome both and felt confident that I could really handle anything. Anything for a return that clear skin!!

So, that being said, my mentality going on Accutane was “I’ve been through anxiety & depression before—this drug can’t bring me down!”

Accutane’s response: Ok sweetie, whatever you say.

I Prepared.

My prescribed course was 6ish months—a fairly normal amount of time for the mild-moderate acne I had. I prepared—all the dry skin products were ready to go on my bathroom countertop; I had my reusable water bottle filled to the brim to combat dehydration and I was ready for the journey to begin!

The Side Effects.

The dry skin and chapped lips made their appearance within the first week of taking it. Nothing to complain about, honestly. Then, my acne got worse—which is typical for how the drug works—it often gets worse before it gets better. Still, it was nothing to really get upset over—I knew it was doing its job.

But, by the second month, I just felt different. I couldn’t put my finger on the feeling, just felt off. Little did I know that this “off” feeling was just the beginning.

Nothing could have prepared me for the side effects in real time. It’s one thing to imagine what it might be like in your head, it’s another to have a chemo-level (and yeah, it’s technically classified as a type of chemo for a certain cancer) drug flowing through your veins.

Seemingly all of a sudden, my moods became quite erratic, my thoughts were cloudy and despite knowing it was probably a result of Accutane, I couldn’t control how I felt. Looking back, it was nothing short of an emotional roller coaster and the best way to showcase it, is in recounting my lowest and highest days while on the drug.

My Honest Account.

The Worst of it: Seemingly all of a sudden, I was back to Confused & overwhelmed—my bed unmade; my school assignments untouched. It was 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday and I was calling my mom, crying about what felt like everything at once. I hadn’t felt this out of control or down right sad since high school before getting a real handle on my anxiety & depression. I would cry and vent about everything at once while my mom, confused but supportive, could barely keep up. This just wasn’t like me.

But this was a normal occurrence for a solid 3 months during my 6 month Accutane journey. It was like all the anxiety and depression from my past stopped by for an extended visit. Still, my skin was clearing, and it was clearing fast. That was the goal.

The Best of it: There I was, examining my bare face in the mirror. There were actual tears of joy streaming down both cheeks at the sight of how clear my skin was getting. I felt like I was returning to myself. The one who was free of blemished insecurity and ready to accomplish anything. It was an intense feeling of relief which translated into a day where I felt I could take on anything.

My Whole Life was Affected. But it was Worth it.

The contrast in emotions was real. It affected my GPA. It affected my dating life. It brought back anxiety and depression I thought I would never face again. But I had a history of anxiety and depression already in my genes. What I was experiencing was far from ideal, but it wasn’t unusual. Knowing this kept me in the game, seeing my clear skin pushed me through. Despite it all, I made it through within my prescribed 6 months…with clear skin.

Let me reiterate, Accutane affects everyone differently—we all have different bodies with different tendencies. Those with pre-dispositions to mental health “issues” like anxiety and depression are simply more susceptible to the possibility of experiencing it coming back or worsening while on Accutane. But again, it really depends on you & your body.

I know you are probably wondering: “Ok so the side effects really sucked, but your skin?! Is your acne gone?”

I am happy to report, yes. My acne is gone. Finito. Bye Felicia. It’s pretty incredible honestly.

You might then be thinking: “Ok, that’s great to hear, but at the cost of your mental health? Really? Isn’t that a little vain?” And to that I will say, fair assumption!

But, as a Holistic Health & Lifestyle coach with a background in psychology, I can confidently say that seemingly small “tacks” in our everyday experiences create lasting bruises overtime. A tack in your life may be your weight that one person may see in isolation, while you know it affects your dating life and self-confidence. Same goes for skin. If someone, like myself, feels inhibited or self-conscious about their acne, other issues may arise as a result if it is not resolved.

In my case, I had already tried everything else, and had begun to see the effects of low self -esteem in my school, social and even work life! By taking a holistic view of things, I saw that long term, the side effects of the drug may be worth it in the long term for my life goals.

Take Away:

This is by no means a “Go on Accutane even if you have a history or anxiety and depression. You’ll be fine!” story. This drug is serious, period. Instead, take this an honest look at what someone with an anxiety and depression history went through--objective negative experience and the honest, incredible results that are possible. In order to properly prepare, you have to evaluate your own coping capabilities.

I am happy to report that along with clear skin, my mood has gone back to normal and I truly feel like myself again…mentally and physically.