They say there’s a second puberty that comes in your mid-twenties.
Our bodies start to change again and just as you thought you had your skincare routine down pat, it stops working its magic.
I myself have always had mild to moderate acne, kept at bay with a lethal, daily dose of benzyl peroxide. For ten years, I slathered the chemical all over my face. Sure, my skin wasn’t perfect but it did the job well enough and was relatively economical.
However, at twenty-five, my skin had had enough and it started to change again. It was red, dry, oily, and just when my breakouts were almost gone, they’d flare right back up. It was driving me nuts.
Wasn’t this peril supposed to end after puberty? For a long time, I put my stroppy skin down to the error of my own ways. I thought that my hormones were out of whack because I wasn’t “healthy” enough. There seems to be this strange misconception that the hormonal changes we experience during adolescence sort themselves out again at “the end”. Wherever “the end” is.
Over the new year a dear friend of mine recommended I ask my GP about Isotretinoin, commonly known by its original brand name, Accutane. I must admit, I was a little skeptical about the suggestion at first. When I was in high school Accutane was reserved for severe, persistent cases. It had a very ominous connotation attached to it. One had to weigh up whether the treatment was worth the risk as it could potentially cause depression.
With the world in utter pandemonium over the last year and a half my anxiety had been pretty erratic. The idea of taking a potentially mood-altering medication seemed a little scary. Hesitations aside, I was determined to fix my problem skin once and for all! So, I made an appointment with my GP and we decided with careful monitoring it was worth a shot.
I had tried everything over the years from making dietary changes to doctor prescribed Differin. I did everything in my power to lead a “balanced lifestyle”, I tried special birth control designed for acne, spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on skincare and supplements, and it still didn’t work.
The root cause of acne is the same whether you are a teenager or an adult. Excess sebum and bacteria are usually the culprit which can be triggered and exacerbated by different factors. Stress, hormones, menstruation, diet, inflammation in the body, skincare products, polycystic ovary syndrome and even fluctuations in weight can all contribute to breakouts. However, they are not always easy pinpoint or straightforward to fix.
I have always had a general understanding that the drug “dries you out” but, intriguingly, it actually corrects the rate at which your skin is producing oil. I have also been pleasantly surprised to find it is now considered a lot lower risk with milder doses available to patients, depending on their individual needs.
Isotretinoin works by reducing the size of the sebaceous glands and regulating the amount of oil your skin makes. This prevents pores from clogging and in turn, your pesky breakouts from recurring.
As an oily or “glowy” person, I felt hopeful that this could be the solution for me. I knew my issue was hormonal but oral contraception having little to no effect on my skin had always confused me. Considering I had to be on it anyway while using Isotretinoin, I figured why not kill two birds with one stone?
The drug which is essentially a high dose of synthetic vitamin A, requires patients to use birth control before, during and after treatment. Retinoids are not generally safe for foetal development and Isotretinoin can cause serious birth defects.
The medication can also cause some uncomfortable side effects including dry lips and eyes, sensitivity to the sun, nose bleeds, headaches and more. However, blood testing to monitor cell count and liver toxicity are required to ensure you are safe throughout. Regular check-ins to assess your physical and mental health with your doctor are also mandatory.
Currently, I am on week ten of my treatment, and with positive results too. My skin is not 100% clear but seems to be over the purging stage, that usually occurs within the first six weeks. Not having to wash my hair every other day has been a real time and money saver too!
It is during month two, that I have also started to experience dry eyes and the occasional, mild headache, but my symptoms are very minimal and manageable. It’s important to be mindful if you do experience severe and persistent headaches that you tell your GP immediately, as it can be a sign of something more serious. If you are experiencing any side effects and they are worrying you, it is imperative that you seek medical help.
To combat my dry lips I have been using Nivea Cherry Shine for a hint of colour during the day and then a liberal application of Elizabeth Arden Original Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant at night (this is must-have whether you are prone to chapped lips or not!).
Sun protection is vital while on Isotretinoin. Unfortunately, chemical and mineral sunscreens both tend to make my breakouts worse so I am very fussy with UV protection! I am currently loving Āma Nature’s Armour Zinc SPF40. The only downside to zinc is that its dense and doesn’t work under makeup. So, if I need something easier to apply I’ll opt for the Dermalogica Solar Defence Booster SPF50. And a hat. Always wear a hat!
Sometimes, we do our best to look after our bodies and the results we deserve don’t always show. There are so many misconceptions floating around about problem skin and it can be immensely troubling to feel responsible for something that is out of your control.
If you feel like you’ve tried and tested everything, I would definitely recommend chatting to your doctor about the possibility of taking Isotretinoin. If it is right for you, it might make all the difference in getting you the clear skin you deserve.