Considered to be the most effective acne treatment available, Accutane is a very important treatment option for most forms of acne. Even the most severe or resistant cases of acne can respond well to Accutane therapy.
Furthermore, Accutane is the only medication known to have the potential to prevent acne from returning once treatment is completed.
It is this definitive nature of Accutane therapy that is often sought out by acne sufferers who have tried everything else and are seeking a treatment that will finally help them achieve clear skin once and for all.
However, Accutane is not without potential side effects that must be considered prior to undergoing treatment.
Sun Sensitivity is a Side Effect of Accutane
One such side effect that must always be taken into consideration is the potential for Accutane to cause the skin to become more sensitive to the sun. This is an important limitation as many patients who are candidates for Accutane treatment are in their teenage years and are often active in various outdoor sporting activities and receive significant sun exposure. Therefore, dermatologists must exercise caution when prescribing Accutane in this context.
In order to better understand this potential side effect, a discussion of Accutane’s mechanism of action is helpful.
It’s All About the Oil Glands
When you look in the mirror, you will see small openings in the skin surface which are the openings of pores in the skin. Inside of each pore is a hair follicle attached to an oil gland. It is here that acne begins.
Normally, our skin depends on these oil glands to produce enough oil to maintain sufficient hydration. The skin needs this moisture to be healthy. However, when the oil glands become overly active, they can enlarge and begin to malfunction.
Hormones called androgens, which are derived from testosterone, cause the oil glands to become over-active, triggering the pore to produce too much oil. The over-production of oil together with other abnormal changes can disrupt the normal function of the pore, leading to inflammation and an acne breakout.
How Does Accutane Work?
The reason that Accutane is such an effective acne remedy is because it works directly on the acne-prone pore to prevent these abnormal changes.
Unlike other acne treatments that target acne after a pimple is already formed, Accutane directly affects the abnormal pores at the beginning stages of acne so that a breakout does not develop in the first place. So it stops acne before a pimple has a chance to develop.
One of the main effects that Accutane has is to decrease the activity of the oil glands in the skin. These are the same oil glands that are being stimulated by the androgen hormones to become over-active. By limiting the ability of the oil glands to respond to acne-causing hormones, the oil glands shrink in size and produce less oil.
Accutane Causes Skin Dryness and Sensitivity
As a consequence of the decrease in oil production by the acne-prone pores, the skin becomes very dry and sensitive. Almost every acne sufferer that takes Accutane develops very dry skin. The lips also become very dry and can become chapped requiring frequent application of moisturizer. Even the eyes and nasal passages can become dry as a result of a decrease in oil production caused by Accutane.
The skin on the face is usually affected the most. It is important to apply an effective acne-safe moisturizer to the face to prevent the skin from becoming too dry and irritated. At the Advanced Acne Institute, we use a proprietary hydrating lotion called Hydrating BaseTM to maintain hydration of the facial skin during Accutane treatment.
The skin on the body, however, is also affected. Sometimes the skin of the arms and legs can become very dry as a result of Accutane. It is important to moisturize these areas as well to prevent severe dryness and skin irritation.
Skin Dryness and Sun Sensitivity
The dryness that is caused by Accutane can also lead to sensitivity of the skin to the environment. Laser treatments or waxing for facial or body hair removal should be avoided because the skin is too sensitive to tolerate these procedures.
The sun is also an important source of potential harm because of the dryness and skin sensitivity which can lead to a severe sunburn. Before starting Accutane therapy, it is important to understand this risk and be proactive in preventing a sunburn from occurring.
Fist and foremost, it is important to avoid the sun as much as possible while taking Accutane. The use of an acne-safe, broad-spectrum sunblock is also important and should be reapplied frequently especially if experiencing any degree of continuous sun exposure.
Treating student athletes who participate in sports activities and competitions in the sun can be a unique challenge. The need to be very cautious and wear sun-protective clothing is strongly emphasized. The dose of Accutane may also need to be modified if needed.
The same applies to those who might be traveling to a beach destination during Accutane therapy. Sometimes they must discontinue Accutane for a period before planned sun exposure to mitigate the risk of a severe burn.
While not everyone becomes hypersensitive to the sun and some do not even follow the recommendation to avoid sun exposure yet do not experience a significant sunburn, it is not advisable to ignore this important risk.
The risk of a severe sunburn while taking Accutane is a very real possibility and should be taken very seriously.
The Advanced Acne Institute is a unique dermatology practice located in Miami, Florida specializing only in the treatment of acne. We focus solely on providing the most effective treatments to help our patients achieve clear skin. We are pleased to share our insights and perspectives in acne treatment as an educational service, however this information is provided strictly for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice and is not a substitute for seeking the advice and treatment by an appropriate medical professional.