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The Reality Behind Roaccutane: Why I chose to go on the controversial drug

The Reality Behind Roaccutane: Why I chose to go on the controversial drug

Sophie Coffey

Roaccutane is one of the most controversial (legal) drugs out there. It is also one that I am incredibly happy to have been prescribed.
June is Acne Awareness Month and it is also over three months since I completed my course of Isotretinoin, or as it is more commonly referred to – Roaccutane.

What is it like being on Roaccutane?

Most people have a vague knowledge of what Roaccutane is, but for those who are unaware, it is a “medication used to treat severe cystic acne. It belongs to a class of drugs known as retinoids” -via WebMD. Based off that description alone it seems straightforward, however, trust me it is anything but simple.
It is a GP referral, blood tests, monthly dermatologist appointments and pregnancy tests (the effects of Roaccutane on pregnancy are fatal). All this of course is only after clambering up a ladder of prescriptions that worked about as well as I can pronounce them (not great!). You name it, I tried it!
If you are still oblivious of the complexities of Roaccutane this might seem like an overreaction for an acne prescription. However, the detailed procedure and controversy are in accordance with the severity of some of the side effects.
Studies have not proven a guaranteed link between Roaccutane and depression and suicide, but the risk is still significant enough that I had to sign a document confirming my dermatologist had discussed in depth all aspects of the side effects, especially the heightened risk to my mental health. This increased psychiatric danger is likely to be what you (alongside much of the media) most associate with Roaccutane.
The strength of the medication leading to its incredibly high success rate mean Roaccutane is only prescribed in cases of severe acne that have proven refractory to other treatments.

It’s not just a case of having a few spots

You know that feeling of having a really painful spot? One that is located in an awkward place and so you are constantly aware of? Imagine your entire face is decorated with that. Imagine those little twinges of pain multiplied by spots that cover the entirety of your face. Or imagine waking up on the occasional morning to specks of blood on your pillow because your face is so sensitive that turning over in your sleep is enough to tear the skin.
It is not a pretty image and trust me it was far from a pretty face!
Because a pretty face is part of it. I can talk about the physical discomforts of it all I like, and they absolutely contributed. But to an extent it was vanity that had me seeking medication. And that was one of the things I had to battle with when it came to deciding whether or not Roaccutane was for me.

Seeking Help For Acne Is Still Taboo

I always said I would never use sunbeds or get fillers to enhance my physical appearance. And yet suddenly I was willing to spend money for the sake of “clear skin”. It seemed greedy and utterly narcissistic. However, if we look for example at the reasons behind braces, not all are orthodontic, and many are cosmetic. While I quickly discovered that a huge amount of people knew of someone or themselves had been on Roaccutane, we openly discuss and normalise braces much more than acne prescriptions.
We preach the importance of being comfortable in your own skin but as someone who wanted nothing more than to shed my skin, it seemed satirical. It is difficult to be comfortable in skin that is a shabby patchwork of angry volcanoes and vicious craters.
It was not just spots either. My dermatologist noted significant scarring, embellishing my face, and also dancing across my back and chest. As someone who has spent fifteen years in a ballet leotard, you can imagine this did wonders for my confidence!

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Confidence Killer

Everyone has that feature that they are particularly self-conscious about. Something we convince ourselves everyone is staring at even when 90 percent of the time they aren’t. The problem with acne being that feature is, it is a lot harder to convince yourself people aren’t staring at it when face to face conversations are well… face to face! I found myself in a position this year that involved more public speaking and standing in front of groups while their attention was focussed on me. Trying to exude an aura of false confidence while convinced everyone is staring at your skin is easier said than done!
A child who I worked with drew me a picture a couple of years ago. Anyone who has worked with kids knows that this is one of the highest honours; but it was tainted by the “chicken pox” she had painstakingly coloured onto my face in bright red marker. It was an innocent and accurate action by a child that at the time meant tears stung my eyes. I still have the picture but now I look back on it and laugh.
I laugh because I am now so much more comfortable in my own skin and for me it is due to Roaccutane.

No Roaccutane regrets

Of course, it didn’t come without its side effects. Thankfully, I did not suffer from any negative impacts to my mental health. But I probably went through enough lip balm to singlehandedly keep the industry going. And I will admit I could have done without the occasional nosebleeds and achy muscles! However, in no way do I regret it.
Roaccutane is not for everyone. Like all medications, particularly strong ones, it depends on the individual case. It also requires medical professionals including a dermatologist and (age dependent) parental consent.
I am absolutely not an expert and I will not pretend to be one. But I am a writer and in theory putting experiences into words is supposed to be my forte.
At we do not shy away from the important topics and one of the best ways to tackle taboos is to address them truthfully and openly. And it does not get much more honest than this!
You can read more about Roaccutane and other acne treatments here.

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