Roaccutane: 10 things a doctor wants you to know about the acne treatment

By Martin Kinsella on October 1st, 2018

If you’re struggling with acne, chances are, you’ve probably heard of roaccutane. Whilst there are plenty of anti-acne avenues to try, like making changes to your diet and switching up your skincare routine, when all else fails and the acne’s really severe, the word ‘Roaccutane’ starts to get whispered around.

It’s one of the very, very few clinically-proven oral treatments for acne, and the results can be incredible. As Dr Jane Leonard, GP and aesthetic doctor, explained “Roaccutane can also be referred to as Isotretinion, and it’s a pill that’s prescribed to treat severe acne.”

While Dr Leonard has happy skin now, that wasn’t always the case. She told us, “I struggled with acne myself, so I completely empathise with way it makes you feel physically and emotionally.”

However, before you get too excited about this miracle drug, the side effects can also be downright terrible. If over-the-counter acne treatments are like gently exfoliating, Roaccutane is like a full acid peel. It’s intense, it’s extreme, and it’s certainly not for everyone.

Dr Leonard told us more about the pros and cons of the controversial drug. Here’s what you might not know…

1. It comes from Vitamin A

Wondering where this drug gets it power? Well, it’s actually from a natural source. “It’s derivative of vitamin A and part of the same family as retinol, and it can only be prescribed by specialist dermatologists. It’s used in severe cases of acne when first and second line treatments including topical retinoids, topical and oral antibiotics, and things like the contraceptive pill have been unsuccessful.”

2. It works by shutting down your skin’s oil production

“Roaccutane is an anti-inflammatory drug that attacks the sebaceous glands (the bits that make oil) in the skin and reduces their oil production. It also helps reduce the number of bacteria that live in the skin. The combined effect of reduced natural oil production, reduced number of acne- causing bacteria and reduced inflammation all help prevent acne flare-ups.”, Dr Leonard explained. That’s what we call a three-pronged approach.

3. The results are pretty impressive

While it’s extreme, they’ve got the results to back it up – Jane told us “It has an approximately 80% success rate when given for 4-5 months.” We like those odds.

4. It’s not for every kind of acne

While a spate of pimples can make you want to try just anything to get rid of them, Dr Lenoard told us there’s a few features that need to be present on your skin for Roaccutane to be suitable. “Pimples, nodules (solid, painful lumps beneath the skin), cysts (the pus-filled lumps under the skin) and scarring all need to be appear before you can consider starting Roaccutane.”, Dr Leonard advised.

5. There have been scary, mood-altering side effects

If magic pills that you could pop without side effects existed, what a happy world we’d be in. But, as Dr Leonard noted, “Along with the positive acne-fighting benefits of Roaccutane come some serious cautions/side effects. There have been reports of psychiatric disorders, including very low moods and depression, associated with taking isotretinoin (Roaccutane) for acne.”

6. Oh, and it could have some weird effects on your skin

It turns out, something that’s aggressively drying out your oil production can also upset other parts of your skin. Dr Leonard said all of these symptoms were a possibility: “Cracked lips, dermatitis, very dry skin, scaly skin, itching, a red rash and delicate, fragile skin.”

7. You’ll need to pay a lot of visits to your doctor

Because of the possible extremity of the side effects, your doctor will want to keep checking in on you. Dr Leonard said . “You’ll need to make regular follow up visits to monitor both the physical and possible psychological effects of taking roaccutane.” Not one for commita-phobes.

8. Some people straight up can’t take it

As with all oral medication, there’ll be some people who really need to avoid it. Of course, your doctor will talk to you about this, but Dr Leonard said Roaccutane is off-limits to anyone pregnant (more on that later), breast-feeding or with impaired liver function, as well as caution needing to be exercised for anyone with diabetes, depression or impaired kidney function.

9. It’s seriously dangerous if you fall pregnant

Even if you’re not trying for a baby, you need to think about the possibility that you could become pregnant when you start taking Roaccutane. Dr Leonard told us, ‘You will be told that you need to start taking contraception, even if you’re not currently sexually active. Roaccutane can cause serious harm to a developing foetus.”

10. It’ll make you super-sensitive to the sun

We all know we should wear SPF religiously, but that will become even more important if you’re popping this pill. As Dr Leonard explained, ‘Roaccutane makes your skin extremely photosensitive. This means you’re more sensitive to sunlight and much more likely to burn. Every day you should wear an SPF, even in the UK, as UV rays are present even if the sun isn’t shining.” We love this SPF30 from Fresh, which is water-resistant and doesn’t make your skin feel greasy.

Image of Martin Kinsella

Written by

Martin Kinsella

Leading dually qualified doctor and dentist Dr Kinsella is the founder and resident doctor of the Re-enhance clinic in Cheshire. Due to his renowned reputation he is also one of the elite doctors in London where you can find him at the Rita Rakus Clinic treating his celebrity patients. Dr Kinsella in the past has run international training courses teaching doctors and nurses in Turkey, Italy and Cyprus but now focuses his time on his own patients and practices, which he has successfully run for 14 years.

Get in Touch

    Sign Up To Receive Exclusive Deals!

    Book Your TreatmentEnquire Today