- Isotretinoin is the prescription acne medication better known as Accutane.
- It can cause some side effects that seem totally unrelated to your skin, like dry eyes, nosebleeds, or thinning hair.
- Most people tolerate isotretinoin very well, a dermatologist told INSIDER.
- If you’re struggling with side effects, your doctor can adjust your dose.
Isotretinoin — the prescription acne pill better known by the now-defunct brand name Accutane — is well-known for its ability to clear severe, treatment-resistant acne. Many patients who take the medicine, typically for a four- to five-month course, experience a prolonged (sometimes permanent) disappearance of their blemishes.
Just like any medication, though, isotretinoin can cause side effects, including some that you might not expect — like muscle pain and dry eyes — given that it’s a medicine for the skin.
The presence of side effects doesn’t mean isotretinoin isn’t worth taking. Just about every acne treatment has benefits and drawbacks, and for a lot of acne patients, isotretinoin’s side effects are worth the results.
„It’s very well tolerated, and in many cases is going to be the only treatment that’s going to put patients‘ acne into remission,“ dermatologist Dr. Kathleen Suozzi, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, told INSIDER.
Still, side effects are a reality of undergoing the powerful therapy. Here are nine that are possible while taking the drug.
(Note: This isn’t an exhaustive list of possible side effects. You can find a more complete list at the US National Library of Medicine website.)
1. Dry skin and chapped lips
Sebum, the oily substance secreted by small glands attached to your hair follicles, keeps skin from drying. But an excess of sebum contributes to acne by making dead skin cells stick together inside pores, promoting to the clogs that lead to zits, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
One of the ways the isotretinoin fights acne is by dramatically reducing the amount of sebum the skin produces, Suozzi explained to INSIDER.
This means that dry skin and chapped lips are „almost a guaranteed side effect,“ of the drug, she said. So it’s important for isotretinoin patients to slather their skin and lips in moisturizers and emollients. Some cases, however, may require extra intervention.
„If [chapped lips] are severe, I will sometimes prescribe an ointment that contains hydrocortisone,“ Suozzi said. „That will help decrease the discomfort.“
2. Dry eyes
Suozzi explained that isotretinoin can affect the Meibomian glands — tiny glands along the eyelid that secrete an oily, lubricating substance. That’s why the medicine may cause dry eyes, too.
„Some patients that are on isotretinoin might find that their eyes are too dry to even use contact lenses because they don’t have that proper lubrication,“ she said.
Isotretinoin can also have a drying effect on your nasal mucosa — a.k.a. the tissue that lines your nasal cavity. That dryness may result in nosebleeds.
„Your mucosal skin is just like your regular skin, it’s just slightly different in its structure,“ Suozzi said. „[Isotretinoin] affects the thickness of the skin and how it matures. And so the barrier is thinned a bit, which can also contribute to its fragility. The reason you get nosebleeds is because of that dry nasal mucosa.“
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Source: Business insider