Roaccutane and Me: A survival guide
Today I want to talk to you about my experience taking the acne drug Roaccutane. I have just finished a six month course and want to give a real perspective that doesn't sensationalise or hide any parts of what can be a controversial drug to take. Buckle up and grab a cup of tea because this is going to be a LONG one.
I have also written a short survival guide at the end of this post to help anyone else who is going on Roaccutane or thinking about it. If you are not up to reading EVERYTHING then skip the next 1200 words to go straight to the survival guide.
I have had acne since I was 17, and at that point with encouragement from my family I sought medical help for my skin. This started a cycle of pills and creams that all had various effects. One personal highlight was benzol-peroxide which stripped my skin like a chemical peel and made me look like a participant of 10 Years Younger- so much fun.
Invariably it would get better and worse and I would give up and just accept it. So for nearly over 5 years on and off I have had bad skin. Until last summer my acne seemed to come back with a vengeance, and I decided to seek medical attention again.
Looking through my records the doctor said that there was only one option left, and referred me to a Roaccutane clinic. 6 weeks later (after a fasting blood test) I had my first appointment. Cut to another consultation about my skin, whereupon I was given a booklet (A4 and plenty of pages) all about the drug, what it does, and its side effects. I was then given a decision, do I want to take the drug- yes or no ?
Side note- Obviously I am a blogger and I shot outfit posts before and through this process and you may think that my skin never looked bad. I will admit to you that I did/do edit my images and I fixed the blemishes and imperfections of my face. I didn't do this to deceive anyone, I did it because I didn't like the way I looked.
Confidence always comes in to play, and when I looked at my face I was not confident so I did what I could to try and hide what I hated. This was and still is my right, I want to show myself in the best possible way, and editing allows me that. However I saw roaccutane as my way out of this, the light at the end of the tunnel of you will.
I had nothing to loose, this was my skin in late October, so I said yes
Starting on 20mg for the first month, the first couple of weeks only proved that the drug made me feel sick when I took them, but nothing else. After that I noticed my oily skin was no longer oily. I loved this, it was really incredible !!!
The middle of December my skin began to dry out further and the spots I had were no longer ‘green’ but instead were red and scab like. My lips began to split and sometimes swell (see above, fun I know). However, the sickness began to disappear which was great.
Around Christmas time I noticed (and others too) that I felt different, I felt like I was in a really bad mood all the time, to the point where I would snap and get really cross. This is not outside my normal personality - we all have ups and downs- but it was much more exaggerated.
My next appointment my dose was increased to 40mg. I had gotten used to the drug so I felt no sickness. My skin began to feel tight and needed more moisturising than ever before. My hair didn’t get greasy at all and would go days before I needed to wash it.
My next appointment took my dosage up to 60mg. In terms of my skin it all stayed the same, with fewer spots and a clearer look all over. I had started to get patches of dry skin on my face and arms that were very red, sore and dry- this called for lots of E45.
At the end of January I went up to 80mg. I stayed on this dose until the end of my treatment. My lips began to split daily unless they were moisturised all the time. The lining of my nose became very dry leading to inflammation and soreness.
I saw my doctor - who was so lovely and supportive throughout the whole process- every 4 weeks and we would discuss how my skin felt and looked. We would also talk about how I felt. This was very important as it helped me make sure that I was okay and more importantly that I was coping.
I guess throughout the process I never really woke up one day and suddenly had clear skin. It is certainly a gradual process. I will say that friends would tell me how much better my skin was looking. By the end of March I could see a difference, yes I still had some spots but no where near as many, and where there was clear patches my skin looked genuinely healthy.
At the end of my treatment (the end of may) I had very few spots. Then I got ill, my skin around my nose and on my cheeks split and peeled off- I know, more gorgeous images for your mind. This was when my doctor decided that I had gotten the most out of the drug, and continuation would only make things worse. Not taking the pills was a relief but also I worry that it will come back. However a large percent of those who take Roaccutane for this length of time do keep the results and their acne does not come back.
During the highest dose I did struggle with my mental health, I had days where I felt hopeless and miserable, with an awful temper. My mood would at times spiral out of control. I don't for a second believe that this was the worst thing that anyone has been through but it was a real struggle for me. There were days where it really was a struggle to speak to people and achieve anything. Add to that I was not sleeping well, it all seemed to make things worse. I experienced days where I did nothing which is unusual for me, I just felt crippled by hopelessness.
Balancing university, my internship, my freelance writing commitments as well as my blog did mean that at times I felt under such a lot of pressure that I really struggled with how I felt. I was lucky because my family and friends were incredibly supportive - you know who you are- it may sound cliché but I couldn't have done this treatment without you.
I am not saying that everyone who takes this drug will feel like this, I am just explaining what my experience of Roaccutane was like. Research suggests that if you have a history of metal illness then obviously it would be more likely that the drug would affect you in this way. Mental health is not something we always talk about, but we should. I guess one of the things that helped me through the treatment was that I knew it was just the drug that was making me feel like this, and this was not truly who I am and how I feel all of the time.
My Survival Guide:
1: STOP WASHING YOUR HAIR AS MUCH. Also make sure you invest in a good oil. I used to wash my hair everyday but during my treatment it went down to as little as twice a week, you need the oil because your hair gets so dry and it feels dead. I really like Osmo Blinding shine serum which is infused with 2 oils.
2: YOU NEED LOTS OF LIP BALM. Your lips get so dry, then even dryer and then when you think that they cannot get any dryer they split and all the skin starts peeling off. You will need at least 2/3 lip balms with you at all times, because they will get super dry. I used to use an assortment because there is no ‘best one’ because it is not going to be cured and go away- this is just to keep it at bay. Good old Vaseline works well, I also love Blistex hydrating lip cream and Blistex Daily Lip conditioner.
3: DO NOT BE SCARED OF MOISTURISING. It feels alien when you have probably come to see moisturiser as the root of all evil aka bad skin, but trust me you are going to need to use it- and LOTS of it. I wore a day cream and a night cream and my skin was still really dry. I cannot stress this enough but you really cannot over do this !! I used these from Olay: Day, Night.
4: YOU NEED SPF. When you are taking Roaccutane your skin is incredibly sensitive in the sun, so whatever you put on your skin make sure that there is an SPF in it to protect your skin. Towards the end of my treatment I didn’t really go in direct sunlight unless I was covered up because I would just burn ( fun fact in April I sat outside for 20 minutes and burnt -great). I just picked a moisturiser that had an SPF in it already.
5: NO WAXING. During a previous treatment on a strong topical cream, I had my eyebrows waxed and during the process lost all the skin under my brows, it was agony. Do not have wax treatments whilst on Roaccutane, it will end badly. However, throughout my treatment I had my brows threaded and this had no adverse effects, just a little redness but that is normal !! So you can still have great brows !! At this point I do identify as a vain person, and I'm at peace with that !!
6: YOUR SKIN NEEDS HELP. My skin got so dry that I began to get sores and red patches that would weep. I researched and talked to people and I picked up some Aloe Vera gel, which is used in things like after sun. This helps put moisture back into the skin and also helps it repair itself. This was a big help for me.
7: HYDRATE. I made sure that I drank plenty, feeling that I was proving extra moisture for my skin. There is no science here, but it made sure that I felt healthier. Try it...
8: TALK TO PEOPLE. No matter how you feel, you are taking a strong drug. I recommend taking to friends or family to make sure you know how you are feeling or if your behaviour has changed to work out how to make sure you stay okay.
So there you have it, my journey on Roaccutane, and my survival guide. This post was so long because the 6 months have been a long and at times hard time. I have written this to help anyone else who is going on Roaccutane or thinking about it. It has to be your own decision, for me it was hard but it was worth it. I can see the benefits and as long as it doesn't come back I think I will be happy.
All pictures are unedited taken from a selection that have and haven't been featured on my blog. I hope they demonstrate the journey I've been on and how my skin has changed. I thought I would feel really insecure about posting these images but actually it makes me feel so much more comfortable in my skin which was the whole point of this process.
If there was anything that I didn't cover or if you have any questions don't hesitate and I will do my best to answer them. Comment,email, or message me through Instagram I will answer...