beauty

9 women share exactly what happened when they went on Roaccutane.

If you’ve ever experienced painful, inflamed acne that won’t go away, you’ll probably have heard of Roaccutane.

Roaccutane (medical name isotretinoin) is a prescription drug for the treatment of severe cystic acne. In consultation with a GP and a dermatologist, the oral retinoid works by reducing sebum production, bacteria and inflammation in the skin.

Despite being very effective for some acne sufferers, Roaccutane is a divisive treatment.

Side note – here are seven tips for looking after your skin at night, post continues after video.

Video by MMC

While one person might tell you the drug changed their life or gave them the ‘best skin they’ve ever had’, another could say they experienced any number of horrible physical and mental Roaccutane side effects, including increased skin sensitivity, dry, itchy or flaking skin, dry lips, sweating, peeling palms, blurred vision, depression and a decline in mental health.

Mamamia spoke to 9 women about their experience on Roaccutane. These are their stories.

Nicole, 32.

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Nicole's skin before going on Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.
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Nicole experienced adult acne at age 31. Image: Supplied.
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Nicole's skin after Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.

I went on Roaccutane at 31 for the worst acne of my life (stress-related). I was going through a divorce at the time, the pressure of keeping it together for my little boy and my business was so full on. I would have people constantly comment on “what happened to my face” and I was feeling broken.

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The dermatologist prescribed me Roaccutane for seven months, with monthly blood tests to check my liver function (as it can affect your liver) and it was the best thing I ever did. The pain of adult acne, physically and emotionally, is terrible and although the Roaccutane dried me out considerably (cracked dry lips, skin peeling off in small flat sheets, dry hair, dry eyes), I honestly don’t think I could have helped my skin any other way.

These photos are a reminder of how awful my skin was and what a turnaround I have had, I have nothing to hide and I hope my story can help others.

Kate, 31.

I was on Roaccutane for a year when I was 25 and it was the hardest time of my life. I was fortunate not to have many physical side effects (aside from dry lips/skin and flaky nails) but the emotional side effects were incredibly challenging. I had a history of depression and was taking antidepressants, but while taking Roaccutane, I wasn’t myself and really struggled.

Unfortunately the positive effects only last twelve months. After that, my skin went back to the way it was and I was so disappointed. I am now 31 and after battling acne for many years, the only thing that cleared my skin was a reduction in stress. I was under a lot of stress for many years, but now when I look in the mirror and look at my skin, I smile!

I am not anti-Roaccutane, but I personally wouldn’t take it again because it’s not worth it for me.

Amy, 28.

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Before going on Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.
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Skin after Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.
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My acne troubles started when I was 20 and progressively got worse until last year when, at 28, I decided to look into Roaccutane. I have two older sisters who also both had severe acne in their 20s and both responded really well to the drug.

When I first started taking it, I had a lot of dryness on my lips, inside my nose which made my nose bleed, dry eyes, and peeling skin all over my face. I couldn't wear makeup as it was too irritating. These symptoms subsided after the first three months, around the same time I started to see positive changes in my skin. I did not have any negative mood or energy side effects, even though I was diagnosed with chronic low level depression and have been taking medication for that for about nine years.

Now, I have clear skin - my skin is still dry, but it's nothing I can't manage. My only regret is that I waited so long before trying Roaccutane. Taking the course put my plans to have a baby with my partner on hold, but once the recommended waiting period has passed , we are excited to start trying.

Sarah, 26.

When I turned 25, I decided I wanted to go off the pill and give my body a break from hormones. As soon as I did, my skin broke out. My face wasn’t too bad, but I had spots on my chest and back that prevented me from wanting to wear certain tops and dresses.

My GP referred me to a dermatologist who took one look at my skin and recommended Roaccutane. I was pretty shocked as I didn’t actually think my skin was that bad, and I had heard a lot about how strong the drug was and the terrible side effects. He started me off on a low dose for a few weeks and I had to take a blood test three months later to check everything was OK. I then went up to a higher dose.

I was expecting horrifically dry skin - my skin was definitely a lot drier, but it was completely manageable. I was never embarrassed by it, it was never red and never flaky. The one thing I did notice almost immediately was how dry my lips were. I always had to have lip balm on me and apply it at least every hour! My lips also peeled nearly every day, which was super weird, but I would just exfoliate them at night and it wasn’t noticeable.

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My skin actually got worse for the first 14 days on the drug, I remember on about the twelfth day seeing really prominent blackheads on my nose. My chest, back and face cleared up really quickly. I didn’t have many side effects other than general dry skin, dry lips and sometimes, dry eyes. I was really careful in the sun whilst taking the drug and definitely noticed I was more sensitive to UV. I kept on top of the dryness by moisturising my body once a day and my face at least twice a day. One major perk was that because it reduced oil all over, I hardly had to wash my hair.

I was SO happy with the results, and since finishing the course my skin is still incredibly clear. I had no emotional side effects and would happily go back on it again if my skin was to flare up, it was honestly the best thing I’ve ever done!

Amanda, 31.

I did a course of Roaccutane about four years ago now and it truly changed my life. I had been on the pill since I was 14 years old and had the odd pimple now and again, but when I came of the pill at the age of 22, it was the worst decision I ever made. My skin erupted with hormonal acne and it was not only painful, but I was extremely self conscious of the way I looked.

I am an operating theatre nurse, so when I am at work, the only thing people see is my face (as I am in scrubs and wear a scarf on my head at work). The change in my skin was extremely visible to everyone around me and a lot of people felt the need to comment on how terrible my skin had turned, and wondered what was wrong with me. I went to my GP after a few months to try and seek treatment, he didn’t really understand how my skin was affecting my self confidence and didn’t even want to entertain prescribing Roaccutane. I went back on the pill, tried antibiotics and topical treatments - nothing worked.

I went back to the doctors and saw a young female GP who was filling in. I told her my regular GP refused to refer me to a dermatologist because I was “being silly” about my skin troubles. She immediately gave me a referral to a dermatologist that specialised in acne and was put on a low dose over a long period of time. I immediately started to see the effects, I had little to no side effects and I haven’t had a breakout since I finished the treatment, just the odd small surface pimple.

Melisa, 27.

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Melisa experienced cystic acne on her chest, back and arms. Image: Supplied.
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Acne pictured before going on Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.
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Melisa's skin after trying Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.
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Melisa has found the results have lasted. Image: Supplied.

I’m 27 and had quite bad acne on my chest, back and arms from about 13. It got to the point where during summer, I would always wear a t-shirt and even then, it was creeping down my arms. After years of trying different cleansers, home remedies, the pill and other hormonal tablets with nothing working, I went to the dermatologist and Roaccutane was the last resort.

I was on it for about 16 months, but in less than six weeks, I noticed a difference. I had severe acne and scarring on my back, and this all cleared quite substantially in three months. My main side effects were severely dry lips and a really dry nose which cause some painful scabs. My skin was super sensitive to scratches too.

My back is 100 per cent clear, my face still gets the odd pimple, especially around my period. Roaccutane gave me my confidence back, I don’t think it affected my depression levels. I can honestly say it changed my life for the better, it worked wonders for something I’ve lived with so heavily for over 13 years.

Lauren, 25.

I originally went on Roaccutane when I was 14. My doctor also made me take birth control on it (despite not being sexually active). I felt pretty depressed during the Roaccutane treatment, but this was put down to just being a teenage girl. The drug worked, my skin cleared up, so I went off it. Then when I was 16, my acne came back and I went back on Roaccutane.

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This time, the psychological side effects were really bad. I got really depressed (for context, I had the lowest attendance in my year at school just because I could not get out of bed everyday). I didn’t realise at the time that Roaccutane could have this side effect, it was never flagged by my doctor, ever. I also had drier skin than you could ever imagine - every time I went in the sun or had a even one standard drink, I would get a painful rash. I remember one night screaming at a friend's house from pain and my mum had to come pick me up.

Now, I’m 25, still get acne and have extremely sensitive skin. Last year when I was going through really bad acne again, doctors still kept trying to give Roaccutane to me, even though I've had horrible experiences on the drug. It did clear my acne, but it wasn't worth it. It was hell.

Chelsea.

I’m just about to finish Roaccutane. My acne was never super bad, but bad enough for me to feel horrible about myself. I hated going out, wearing make up didn’t help because it was still bumpy and it just made me feel crap.

For the first few months, I had major mood swings and felt really low with no motivation. During the middle of the treatment, I started to get joint pain as a side effect... super rare. In the final stages, the side effects are slowing down and I’m feeling more normal. Throughout the entire process I have been extremely tired, I can barely stay away past 10pm. I also can not drink... at all. I have tried and my liver can’t handle the medicine plus alcohol. It makes my body shut down and I start to fall asleep where ever I am if I drink.

Although it has been a tough 10 months, I’m really glad I went on Roaccutane. My skin is the best it’s ever been and I’m so glad I did it.

Stefanie, 28.

I went on Roaccutane twice, once as a teen and the second time at 28.  The second time, about 12 weeks after I finished the course, I had a MASSIVE hair drop and lost (genuinely) half of my hair. It was horrific. Apparently hair loss is a common side effect once you’ve finished a course of Roaccutane (just not one I was aware of).

It’s been over a year now and my hair isn’t growing back, so I’ve lost something I was once very proud. I wouldn’t go near the stuff again.

Lorna, 27.

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Skin before going on Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.
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Skin after going on Roaccutane. Image: Supplied.

I was on Roaccutane when I was 23, I'd tried every antibiotic under the sun but my acne just kept coming back. I was on a low dose for six months and went off it due to some moodiness. I did get stiff joints, was sensitive to bright lights, and had dry lips and dry skin around my nose.

Other than that it was life-changing and totally worth it!

These are the individual experiences of women who spoke to Mamamia and should not be substituted for professional, personalised medical advice. If you're concerned about your skin, please consult your GP or a medical professional.

Have you had an experience with Roaccutane? Tell us in the comments.

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