If you’ve read my recent posts or seen my (semi) recent InstaStories, you probably know that I’ve decided to take the drug Accutane / Roaccutane / Isotretinoin in hopes to defeat my acne. I know that this is a highly controversial and pretty serious drug with a lot of potentially dangerous side effects that should not be taken lightly. Honestly, this is kind of the last resort in this ill-fated 5 year struggle I’ve had with my skin. I have absolutely thought long and hard about it and I’ve just reached the point where nothing helps enough so I am willing to at least try the drug and see how I react to it. I have reached my breaking point if you will. This decision and impending change have been on my mind. A lot. It’s honestly difficult for me to focus on much else. It’s not all bad as I’m enthusiastically researching skin care for dry skin and squirreling away products like an expectant mother awaiting her firstborn child. I know that’s trivializing things a bit, but it keeps me optimistic about what could potentially be a dreadful “treatment” period. Anyway, I thought I would go through a bit about my skin care woes and how I came to this point. I do not want this blog to turn into all things Accutane all the time, but I would like to discuss it, perhaps as an additional post each week. We’ll see. I have a lot of thoughts about this so-called “journey” and how I can share the experience in ways that may help others facing the difficult decision of starting this extremely brutal drug. More on that in a sec. 😉 Let’s start with how I got to this point….
I can tell you almost precisely when my skin started giving me a lot of trouble. It was in October of 2012. Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and shortly after, my skin started really acting up. To be fair, my skin was not spot-free before that either, but it was more of the pimple here and there without great severity. More often than not, I did have something red and raised somewhere on my face, but it wasn’t terribly noticeable or troublesome. I have absolutely no idea why my skin changed at this precise moment, but I initially thought it had something to do with my half-assed skin care routine during the power outage that last a few days during and following the storm. Instead of properly washing my face, I was just using face wipes followed by Argan Oil (which I had been using previously). As soon as the power returned, I went back to my normal routine, but my skin didn’t follow suit. Eventually I sought out the help of a dermatologist and started the long process of creams, pills and “procedures.”
Let me take you back to my teens and early 20’s as I remember them for a moment. We could also refer to this as “BC” – before chemotherapy. As an early teen, I started getting a lot of breakouts predominately on my forehead. I partly put that down to bangs with a lot of hairspray combined with little to no effort to wash my face with more than water in the shower. That would certainly do it! 😂 I started seeing a dermatologist who prescribed some cream that made it worse (before it would get better of course), but I wouldn’t sit it out long enough to see if it got better. I did start washing my face with an acne face wash which seemed to more or less fix the problem (at least that’s what I remember). It was hidden by my bangs anyway so who cares, right? I don’t really recall it ever being really horrible outside of my forehead, but I have come across pictures of me at maybe 14 or 15 where it looked pretty bad. I honestly don’t remember that. I do know that by probably 16, it was pretty normal. Mostly clear with a pimple here and there. In other words, standard teenage stuff. By the time I was 17 I was on birth control pills (my parents forced me before I moved out, but we won’t get into that! 🙃) and at this point my skin was pretty much perfect. I still got an occasional pimple, but again nothing abnormal. By 18 and 19 I would get compliments on my skin from makeup artists and loathed foundation because it made my skin look too perfect. That ideal “peaches & cream” complexion. I felt too made up that way. Poor baby, right? 😂 Part of this fantastic complexion was due to my non-existent pores. Obviously I had them, but you absolutely could not see them. My dad’s skin is the same even to this day. I would still have a pimple once in a while, but I thought very little of it. That continued until I was diagnosed with breast cancer about 11 years ago. At that point I was forced to stop the hormonal birth control and eventually went through chemotherapy. My skin (acne-wise) was pretty much the same for quite some time, but at this point I almost always had a pimple somewhere. They were big and angry, but not widespread. Hormonal acne? Who knows. But my skin somehow did change after that torture…I mean “treatment.” I could see my pores suddenly and that bothered me after never realizing that such things existed. But still, nothing horrible was going on. I seem to remember finding maybe 2 or 3 pimples each day until we end up at the Hurricane Sandy episode. So there was more often than not a breakout somewhere, but nothing drastic.
Returning to 5 years ago, I absolutely could not tell you what happened or changed. My diet had been pretty much consistent since I was probably 19. I didn’t have a great diet in terms of healthy eating, but it didn’t change much. I was diligent about washing my face and moisturizing (with sunscreen every morning), but not really a whole lot beyond that. After this strange addition of acne started increasing in severity and I sought out professional help, I used anything and everything the dermatologist prescribed. All the topicals on the market and a lot of antibiotics. Nothing really made much of a dent. My doctor told me at one point, “Sometimes you just have to outgrow these things.” I was in my early 30s by then! How long does it take to “grow out of it?!?!” They had me go in twice a month to see an aesthetician who would alternate Salicylic Acid peels and microdermabrasion followed by extractions that would make my face so red and swollen. That wonderful redness would pretty much start getting better around the time I had to go back and start all over again. I do feel like the length of time a breakout would last as well as the intensity and frequency of the really deep cystic ones lessened, but I constantly looked horribly red. Then the scarring started to show up. One fateful stretch of time my aesthetician went out of town followed with an illness and I noticed that missing those weeks of brutality on my face actually made it look a lot better. I never made another appointment with that doctor’s office. I figured I could handle things a lot better on my own. So I set out to learn what was available to me with ingredients that would help acne instead of angering my skin. This helped. A lot. I found some absolutely wonderful products that really have made a difference in the frequency and severity of my breakouts, as well as making my pores look smaller (the Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil is fantastic for troublesome skin!) After leaving the dermatologist/aesthetician, there was a period where my skin was pretty good with just a lot of post-acne redness that was dissipating. That was maybe about a year and a half ago. Then about a year ago, I started struggling with mainly a lot of tiny whitehead-like bumps that eventually turned into full-on breakouts. Try as I might, I could not get rid of the bumps. And the acne continued…but slightly improved. I kept trying on my own for a while and eventually sucked it up and found a different dermatologist. He tried a few creams again (he knew the history) and gave me Spironolactone which no one else had tried. That was helping, but not eliminating the problem. I started on hormonal birth control again to help with truly disruptive menstrual symptoms (dangerously heavy bleeding among them – TMI I know, but relevant to another non-skin related topic I want to discuss at some point) and there was a hope that might improve my skin a bit as well. No luck. And then my Potassium level came back awfully high forcing me to stop the Spironolactone. At that point I had had it and the dermatologist was recommending Accutane…but only with my Psychiatrist’s approval. I haven’t mentioned my underlying mood disorder (I’ve been diagnosed as Bipolar with severe Generalized Anxiety). Fortunately my mood has been pretty stable for quite some time now with the medications I’m on. The anxiety flares up all the time, but I’m dealing the best I can. I’m not going to get into that topic much, but maybe another day. My Psychiatrist is a wonderfully rational doctor (generally speaking, not only because of this) and he agreed that with conditions (more visits, people watching me, more blood tests, etc.), he was willing to let me try Accutance. And now? I wait….
Being a lucky female in the United States, I must wait 2 months before I can begin a course of Accutane. Why the bloody hell is that? They (whoever “they” are because it’s certainly not my doctor’s request) insist I must have 2 negative pregnancy tests before I can start the wonderfully fun (this is absolutely sarcasm if anyone is confused because it’s not likely to be fun at all) drug. That leaves me here completely helpless to do anything about my now worsening acne (because the Spironolactone was a minor help 🙁). I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs though! Well, I mean there’s general life that must be dealt with and all, but my thoughts are all consumed with Accutane. I’m reading about it – trying to avoid the scary parts but being aware of them. By that I mean not seeking out horror stories or learning all possible horrifying side effects like depression, suicide, Crohn’s Disease (my family is quite familiar with this one sadly). You get the idea. I’m focusing more on likely things that I can somehow manage and make life a bit better. Things like the almost guaranteed insanely dry skin and lips. Enter the makeup nerd in me who’s actually enjoying researching ingredients, looking for others’ recommendations, scouring the Internet for products I would have totally ignored before (my skin is kind of normal to combo typically, with a lot of oil when wearing foundation), and the like. It’s keeping me enthusiastic and encouraged despite the let down I felt after discovering I’d have to wait even longer to start the medication once I’d finally concluded it was something I wanted to do. So here I sit. Anxious to get started and see how I tolerate the medicine, slightly dreading what may be heading my way, but excited to test out a whole new world of products. 😄 Focusing on the trivial? Yes, but it’s true!
As far as where I plan to go from here in documenting this process, I would like to do something. Some ideas that are kicking around in my head? Adding some blog posts about my experience as I go. I don’t want the blog to end up being all Accutane all the time though, so I’m hoping I can still find a balance if I do that. I’ve also considered setting up a 2nd Instagram account devoted to this “journey.” I would ideally post a picture each day to track my progress – for my own benefit as much as for anyone else, as well as maybe do some InstaStories or something of the sort to talk about it a bit. Bouncing off of that idea is actually doing something a bit more permanent by putting updates on YouTube. I really want kind of a video diary of the experience for myself that I can look back at and see my progress as well as maybe look back every so often to help gauge my mood and symptoms. I’m so scared of YouTube, though I am addicted to watching it! I know that watching some of the stories and recommendations others have posted have really helped me so far. Let me know if you have any thoughts, suggestions or things you would like to see and / or hear. Any input (outside of the warnings and reasons I should not take the drug. I am aware of the dangers and have given it a lot of consideration. My mind is made up and I’m hoping for the best!) you all have to offer is welcome!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to check this out and here’s to hoping things go well! 😬