Accutane rebuilds self-esteem, but with a hefty cost


Graphic by Demi Sasson ’25

Isotretinoin, also known as Accutane, hit the market in 1982. It was invented in the 1960’s by Hoffmann-LaRoche, a pharmaceutical company, who had originally developed it to prevent skin cancer. Later on, NCI Senior Investigator Gary Peck discovered that it was an effective way to treat acne. In 2020, 1.6 million people were on Accutane. It works by sucking out any bacteria from the skin’s oil glands, and it takes four to six months for the drug to work forever.

Everytime I look in the mirror, I cringe at the raging red bumps on my face. Why can’t I just have clear skin? 

Acne has been prominent in most teenagers’ lives for many years. Over time, scientists have tried to develop cures for the hormone-induced devils. Since I was in middle school, I’ve been taking pills like Seysara and Doxycycline. Now I’m on Accutane trying to tame my inflamed skin  for good. 

Accutane is an intense drug used to treat severe acne by shrinking the oil glands on the face, neck, back and chest to decrease the bacteria and oil growth in those areas to prevent acne. It is often spoken of as a form of “miracle” treatment, and some even claim it as a literal “cure.”

But Accutane is not a walk in the park.

While taking Accutane treatments, a person must provide monthly blood tests for cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL-cholesterol levels. Female patients are also required to take monthly pregnancy tests due to the severe birth defects Accutane can cause. 

Birth defects in fetuses are not the only side effect. Accutane is government-regulated, with a whole list of side effects, including Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis. 

But Accutane is not a walk in the park

— Demi Sasson '25

Currently, I’m experiencing back pain, hair loss, chapped lips and severely dry skin. Ironically, to fix the dry skin aspect of the medicine, I use moisturizer. Which, in turn, makes me break out even more. 

Besides all of the external negative aspects of Accutane, there are mental side effects, too. Psychosis, anxiety and depression are only some of the serious mental issues that Accutane can cause. 

So, with all of these health risks, it prompts the question: is Accutane worth it?

Unfortunately for me, so far, I have yet to see any results. But then again, I have four months left to go before I will have a definite answer.

Despite causing so much stress on my body and mind, I will continue to take the pill everyday. I’ve had acne for as long as I can remember, and this drug seems like the only hope for a way out of it.