Accutane Benefits and Side Effects


Accutane (isotretinoin) is a form of vitamin A used for treating severe cases of acne that have not been cleared by other medications, including antibiotics. It works by cutting down the amount of oil produced by glands in the skin, and by killing bacteria that can live in skin oil. Too much skin oil, along with bacteria, can clog pores, causing nodular acne, or large, painful, red bumps. With less oil production, this clogging is lessened or eliminated.

Accutane comes in capsule, pill, and topical form. Capsules or tablets are taken twice a day for 16 to 24 weeks, with water. Patients should not drink alcohol, because of the danger of developing an inflamed pancreas, or pancreatitis. Foods high in vitamin A, such as fish, fish oils, cantaloupe, carrots, dark green leafy veggies, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, butternut squash, vitamin A supplements, and supplemented foods should be limited on days when patients take the medication. Foods that cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, such as anything with high sugar content, potatoes, pasta, bananas, grapes, and candy should be avoided.

Accutane can cause severe birth defects of the face, heart, or brain. It can cause miscarriage or death of the baby, so it should never be taken by pregnant women or women might become pregnant. Women of child-bearing age must be tested for pregnancy twice before beginning the medication, throughout the course of therapy, and a month after stopping the medication. Patients must use reliable forms of birth control while taking Accutane. Patients who are sexually active must use two forms of birth control, including one of the following:

  • Tubal ligation
  • Vasectomy in partner
  • Oral contraceptive with estrogen
  • Hormonal birth control

And one of the following:

  • Latex condom, preferably with spermicide
  • Sponge with spermicide
  • Cap with spermicide
  • Diaphragm plus spermicide

Accutane cream should be applied once or twice a day as directed. Once improvement occurs, use can often be tapered off.

Always consult with your doctor before starting any treatment with Accutane and discuss any concerns you may have.