My name is Emily Choi and I was 15 years old when I started taking Accutane. I've had acne since I was in fourth grade. It got progressively worse from middle school in to high school. At the time, I was regularly seeing my dermatologist, Dr. Terry Farsini, at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Mountain View, California. She was a wonderful lady who was understanding and was always very patient with my questions. We had done everything we could to get rid of my acne. We started with topical creams, then moved on to doxycycline antibiotic pills. All of these treatments provided a temporary reprieve from acne and helped diminish the number of daily blemishes I received . None were permanent. My body quickly became immune to the strong medications I was given. I was constantly fearful of the days my topical acne treatments or pills would not be enough to tame the terrible red bumps that covered my face, back and chest.
After suffering with chronic moderate acne long enough, my dermatologist recommended a more permanent solution: Accutane. My parents were very familiar with Accutane, because my father also went on it. Yet, they were hesitant and wanted to wait to see if there was anything else that could possibly treat my acne. Accutane was our last resort. So, my dermatologist then put me on birth control pills. It was an absolute nightmare. I was moodier and frequently agitated. I hated the fact that I had to take a pill at the same time every single day. Finally, after four years of having to deal with the antibiotics, tropicals and pills, my parents decided I should give Accutane a try.
I was extremely hopeful, because I was told that Accutane would completely get rid of the terrible breakouts and painful deep zits I had. My dermatologist walked me through the process of Accutane. She told me I would be taking pills every month until I reached a certain dose of Accutane in my body, which was based on my weight. I was to be on Accutane for 4-9 months. I first had to to get blood work and a urine test to ensure my body was healthy enough, and to make sure I was not pregnant. It was very important that I not get pregnant during my Accutane treatment, as it always causes major birth defects. I then had to wait 30 days, and I had to sign up for a program called the iPledge program, which is run by the government for women on Accutane. My dermatologist told me that the program was created to ensure that women were educated about the possible side effects of Accutane. In order to get my monthly pills from the pharmacy, I had to go get a blood test (to ensure I was healthy and not pregnant), then meet with my dermatologist to go over the test results and to check up on how I was doing, then I would go on to iPledge's website, login, and complete the 10-question quiz (about what to do and what not to do when on Accutane). The quiz is super easy, and so you don’t need to worry about it. Then I would have to pick up my prescription in a 7-day window, which starts when you submit the 10-question quiz. If I didn’t pick it up before 7 days, I would have to start all over again. It was a tedious process, and my least favorite part about being on Accutane.
As a side note, I have been asked if I was on Claravis or Absorica. I was placed on Claravis, which is the generic version of Accutane. It's cheaper and just as effective as Absorica. However, Absorica is supposedly absorbed better when it's not taken with a high fat meal. Anyway, back to my treatment experience!
Within a month of starting Accutane, I did have negative side effects. I had chapped, dry lips. My skin constantly flaked, and my body in general was super dry. At one point, I had back pain because my bones were so dry. I had nose bleeds often as well. It was not pleasant, but by the 4th month I was used to it. Slowly, my skin also became used to Accutane and began to flake less and less. My acne went away very quickly, with only small breakouts here and there, and by the 3rd month, I would only get a spot or two at most. I was extremely happy, and it made me feel so much more confident in myself. The six months I was on Accutane flew by, and then I was done.
About 4 months later, my acne had come back, less severe than before, but still extremely painful and terrible. I was upset, because my dermatologist said only a small percentage of women experience the recurrence of acne after Accutane. Even then, the acne would usually recur decades later. My acne came back in four months! At 16, I was miserable and back at square one. I then decided to take it one more time. My parents told me, if this didn’t work, there’s no way they would let me do Accutane again for a third time. So of course, I was fearful that my last resort would fail me. I decided that this time, I would try and stay on Accutane longer than I did the first time. I had a new dermatologist, Dr. Kimberly Kanada, from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in their Sunnyvale location. She was also extremely caring and helpful with the entire process, and was always willing to answer and thoroughly explain things I had questions about. With that, I went through with Accutane once again. Interestingly, the dryness was less severe than it was the first time, and so my second treatment was easier because of my previous experience. This time, I was on Accutane for 7 months and took it in high doses, which is known to help prevent the recurrence of acne. The dose I took was much higher than the required minimum dosing guidelines. During my first treatment, I took a relatively low dose and strongly believe this is why I didn't have much success with that treatment.
It's now been some time since my second Accutane treatment and my skin has been clear and acne-free since! This entire experience was a huge part of my life and I highly recommend using Accutane, but only as a last resort. If you can get away using a much more mild acne treatment, such as tetracycline, doxycycline, benzoyl peroxide, etc., without needing to go on Accutane, then do that. However, if none of the common acne treatments seem to be working, don't fear Accutane. Although it's a very strong medication and does have side-effects, these side-effects are temporary and this medication will cure your acne. The side-effects sure beat the alternative of suffering your whole life with adult acne and potentially forming ugly acne scars. If your acne is bad, don't suffer! Seek medical advice and tell your doctor that you want to go on Accutane. It will be the best decision of your life and you won't regret it.
FYI - My Accutane treatment cost $1500. I had to pay $800 every month, until I hit my insurance company's $1500 deductible. Once I hit the deductible, my Accutane was completely covered by insurance. The cost of Accutane will depend on your insurance. I have friends who paid less than $15/month for their treatment. Speak with your insurance company if you're worried about how much your treatment will cost.
Be sure to see my attached video and before/after photos to see how well Accutane worked for me!