accutane acne
(Illustration by David Yi/Very Good Light)

If you’re experiencing severe acne, there’s a good chance you’ve Googled Accutane.

It’s the miracle drug that many have claimed has completely cleared out their skin for good. There are dramatic before and after pictures all over Instagram with those who’ve conquered severe cystic acne for good with Accutane and now have perfect, gleaming skin. So what exactly is Accutane and does it really do what it claims it does? What are the side effects? Below, we answer all of your Q’s.

(Courtesy YouTube)

What’s Accutane?

It’s an oral medication prescribed by dermatologists. Accutane used to be the brand name of the drug called isotretinoin but has since become synonymous with it. The brand “Accutane” actually no longer exists.

SEE ALSO: My acne made me ‘too ashamed’ to look in the mirror

So what does it do?

Accutane is sometimes called the “last resort” drug for those who experience severe acne and don’t have anywhere else to turn. That’s because many dermatologists consider it to be harsh to your body. But Dr. Cindy Bae, a dermatologist in NYC, says she doesn’t see it as a “last resort” at all. “Plenty of patients with severe nodulocystic scarring acne would benefit from it as a first line therapy,” she tells Very Good Light. Meaning, if you have acne that scars even if it isn’t severe, you’re a candidate.

How does it work?


The drug is a vitamin A derivative and addresses all four acne-causing areas. This includes calming inflammation, decreasing the P. acnes bacteria on the skin, reducing skin oil production while improving cell turnover. Even one of these factors can trigger acne and isotretinoin fights all of them.

What are the side effects?!

There have been some reports that a few people have experienced depression and anxiety. But the American Academy of Dermatologists think it’s safe as long as patients understand the risks going into it. It’s also said to be very drying – so much so that some patients say their face is scaly. “You can flake, especially your lips,” says Dr. Bae. But there’s a very easy solution to this: “Moisturize,” she says. That, and use a humidifier.

Is Accutane for me?!

Dr. Bae says it’s for anyone ranging form those who scar from any type of acne to those who have severe cystic acne. “I prescribe isotretinoin for anyone whose acne is unresponsive to conventional therapy including [other] oral antibiotics,” she tells us.

Okay, cool, so it seems Accutane is effective. But do I have to be on Accutane FOREVER or just like a few months?

“Nope, not for life,” says Dr. Bae, who says the acne should clear within the first couple months of treatment. But the dosage, she says, it “weight-based.” Though it works for most, “some patients may need a second course of treatment.” That means that if at first it doesn’t succeed, well, try again. It’s been proven to be super effective for most. To see if you qualify, definitely seek out your dermatologist first.