Life After Accutane: Did It Work?

A little over nine months ago, I finished my nine month course of Accutane.

The normal course of Accutane is generally six months long. I had to be on it a bit longer due to starting at a lower dose than I should have, due to worries about my mental health. You could say that after those long months I was rewarded with my own baby… better skin! Or is that too weird? I don’t know. We’ll go with it.

Anyway, nine months off it after nine months on it. Strange. Nicely symmetrical. That calls for a blog post!

If you had told me before March 2016 that I’d have clear skin by 2017 I would have laughed. Or cried. Possibly both.

At the beginning of September I was getting ready to go to the Aritzia Warehouse Sale in downtown Vancouver. As a kind of refresher I watched back my vlog from the 2016 sale and found myself just staring at my own face on the screen. All I could think of was how sore my face was then and how uncomfortable I felt. At the time, I was wearing permanent rose tinted glasses and thinking, if it works… it will all be worth it.

Before writing this post I went back and read through my Accutane Journey. My documented reflection over nine months of taking a medication that scared the stuffing out of me. And rightly so, it’s not something to be taken lightly and if you’ve stumbled upon this post because you’re considering going on it or have begun your own Accutane Journey, trust me… I was in your shoes.

I won’t go over every moment of the process that officially started on March 22nd, 2016 and ended December 15th, 2016. Or even the decade before that where I struggled continuously with acne. If you’d like to check out the posts where I documented each month’s skin progress, you can check them out HERE.

I will tell you that my skin is the clearest it’s been in ten years. I’ll also tell you that it’s not perfectly acne-free. I’ll mention too that I have had some lingering side effects.

Before getting into the Accutane aftermath, if you haven’t seen the video I posted for months six, seven, and eight talking about my history with acne as well as a basic rundown of what Accutane is, I’ll throw it in here just in case!

I just wanted to quickly mention that my skin got better after I stopped. My biggest fear was that as soon as I stopped taking Accutane my acne would come back with a vengeance. When I went to my December dermatologist appointment and she told me I was done, I protested out of fear. I didn’t want to be done because then there was a chance it would all be for nothing. I even had a small breakout on my cheek at that last appointment. But over the next few weeks after I had taken that last dosage, my skin got better. The redness subsided. I would go weeks without a single blemish. I had good skin.

Coming off Accutane was more painful than the majority of the time I spent on the medication. During the last couple months I had gotten extremely dry eyelids. It looked like psoriasis but I don’t think that’s what it actually was. I was using a prescription moisturizer that helped but it looked like some pretty gross infection was going on, and overall just really hard to look after since I didn’t want to get anything in my actual eye.

Another thing I found was that my eyesight started getting better. I didn’t really notice it much while I was on the medication itself but my eyesight had diminished over the course of treatment. For the first few weeks of coming off Accutane it was still a little blurry and hard to focus (not to the point where my annoyance evolved into concern) but from where I’m sitting now, my eyesight is totally fine.

The absolute worst thing I experienced was the extremely sore scalp. I figured it must have been from the oils returning after having gone almost a year with super dry, never needing to be washed hair. It was brutal. I couldn’t brush my hair without feeling like someone was digging claws into my head and ripping. I coated the roots of my hair with plenty of moisturizing products that were generally only reserved for split ends. Wearing my hair back was next to impossible. It was painful and uncomfortable but slowly it went away and my scalp feels fine now.

On the topic of hair, this is where I have experienced the most post-Accutane damage. While researching and being on Accutane I heard lots of horror stories about the lasting damage that Accutane caused, from heart problems to gastrointestinal issues and beyond. If you remember, one of my initial worries was the hair loss. While I do have a lot of hair fallout, my hair is still really thick… no bald spots 😉

The hairdresser I go to is actually one of my very best friends. She’s known me (and my hair) for almost twenty years. All our lives she has commented on how unfair it is that I have so much hair that grows so fast. In February I was staying with her and she offered to style my hair for a concert we went to and she was shocked at how damaged it was, purely from Accutane. I mentioned it in several of my Accutane Journey posts but something I experienced was that hairstyles didn’t last on me like they used to. Before Accutane, I could easily curl my second day hair and it would last until I washed it… often four days later. Same goes for straightening, as long as I avoided getting rained on, if I straightened my hair… straight it would stay. Not anymore.

I got my hair cut in June (I actually vlogged that week if you’d like to check it out HERE!) and my friend commented how much better it was since she had last seen it. Still, she had to cut over five inches of especially damaged hair. I’ve never dyed my hair or had any sort of chemical treatment so I’m not used to actually having damage beyond split ends. During the time between seeing her I had regularly used hair masks (from Sephora, Lush, and ones I DIYed), only heat styled once a week at absolute maximum, and was using thick, hydrating shampoo/conditioners. So I’m making progress, but still have a long way to go. I think what has happened is that Accutane actually damaged my hair follicles. I am not a hair or medical professional so I can’t say for sure but my hair is growing in weirdly and… textured? My hair strands now often have strange pitting in them which I’m sure is leading to breakage and the absurd number of baby hairs I presently have. Everyone keeps reassuring me that my hair looks perfectly fine and healthy but it just feels so different that it really bothers me. It’s something I’m still working on, playing around with shampoo/ conditioner/ hair treatment combinations and formulas to heal my hair and get it back to a place where my hair feels as healthy as it looks. So I’m trying my best to take care of my hair the best I can, and I know this is more an issue of vanity rather than actual health but still a long term issue I’m dealing with that was caused by Accutane.

In March of this year I had a follow up dermatologist appointment. It was a three month check up and was almost exactly a year since I had started Accutane in the first place. At the time I was experiencing weird texture on my forehead which I and Dr. Google had diagnosed as Facial Candida or… a facial yeast infection (nice, eh?). My dermatologist said that wasn’t what I had, prescribed me a cream, and basically gave me a thumbs up for my skin. The Accutane worked and we were done. The texture on my forehead went away in a couple days (before I even got the prescription filled) and I haven’t been back to the dermatologist (or the lab where I got all my blood tests done… yay!) since.

March 22nd 2016 vs March 22nd 2017

My skin, and my hair for that matter, has changed. But, (prepare yourself for the cheesiness that’s about to happen-) my life has changed most of all.

It was incredible hearing friends and family members saying things along the lines of “your skin looks so beautiful” for the first time in my life. The positive feedback online has been wonderful. Even now, people will still say things like “wow, your skin looks so great” or “you must be so happy with your skin”.

And I am. It is sad to admit that so much of my self worth was wrapped up in my appearance but being able to go out and keep my head held high, whether I’m wearing makeup or not, is an insanely powerful feeling. Before (and during) Accutane, if anyone was looking at me for longer than a glance, I immediately assumed they were staring at my skin. They could have liked my shirt or my hair or I could have had something in my teeth but I would always assume they were staring at, and judging or pitying me for, my acne. I cannot describe in words how incredible it is to not have that feeling anymore.

My skin is not perfect. I still break out, but the difference is now I can figure out why. Before, I described my skin type as “angry”. I was overly oily but with super dry cheeks. My face was constantly broken out with multiple kinds of acne so it was impossible to know what was causing each one. I’d tried the healthy eating. I’d tried working out. I’d tried hormonal medication. I’d done an antibiotic. And nothing worked ’til Accutane.

Now I’d say my skin is “normal”. I get breakouts like the average person, but now my breakouts consist of five or less spots, when that would have been a spectacularly great skin day before. I also know that they’re primarily hormonal breakouts as they come at a certain time during my cycle, relatively dependably. I also experienced a bit of a flare up when I was coming home from holidays, but I attested that to the drastic change in climate (from Florida and New Orleans, to Wyoming and South Dakota, then home in Vancouver, BC in the span of under two weeks) as well as water intake. As long as I’m hydrated and not especially stressed out, my skin is fine. Even when I do break out, the couple of spots will usually be quite small, generally the size of pin heads whereas before I was used to regular pea size zits. Nice, right?

I have my battle scars from the war with acne and Accutane. Since my lips repeatedly split and healed and split again while I was on the medication, I have small scars on the side of my mouth. It’s not noticeable unless you’re within an inch of my face but they’re there. I also have a couple more fine lines than I started with. Overall, I didn’t get away from the whole process unharmed, and perhaps I will experience other side effects as I go on with life. But from where I stand now, it was worth every single second.

March 22nd 2016 vs September 15th 2017

The last before and after picture is from the day I started my nine month course of Accutane and exactly nine months after I finished. My hair only looked like that for about an hour, but it’s a fair trade for my skin to look like that for as long as possible.

Thanks so much for reading this post! I hope it was helpful and if you have any questions or would like to talk about your own experience with Accutane, please leave a comment below or reach out to be through any social media! I can’t wait to hear from you!

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