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What You Need To Know About Roaccutane Acne Treatment

This week, we take a look at a popular treatment for acne. Some of you may have heard of it, and some of you may even be on it! The drug is called isotretinoin, but you will most probably know it as Roaccutane. We take a closer look at what the drug is, how it works, and some frequently asked questions surrounding the drug

What is Roaccutane (Isotretinoin) And How Does it Work?

Roaccutane (or isotretinoin) belongs to the family of drugs called retinoids, which is closely similar to vitamin A. It helps severe acne by reducing the amount of natural oil made by your skin so blocked pores become less likely. The medicine also kills the bacteria that cause acne, and relieves redness and soreness. It is licensed to treat severe acne, but can also be used to treat other skin conditions such as rosacea

How Do I Take Roaccutane (Isotretinoin)? 

A typical treatment length of Roaccutane is between 4 to 6 months, but your skin will keep improving for about 8 weeks after stopping the medication. Roaccutane is normally taken twice daily and absorbed best when taken with some food so each capsule should normally be taken after a meal. The capsules should be swallowed whole and not crushed or chewed, and should be stored at room temperature and out of reach of children. Typical doses for Roaccutane vary between 20mg and 80mg daily. It is worth noting that your acne may get worse before getting better, but will normally improve after a week or so of starting it. 

Pregnancy and Roaccutane (Isotretinoin)

Now, it is vitally important that you do not get pregnant whilst taking Roaccutane. The drug can cause harm to the baby and increase the likelihood of miscarriage. With that being said, the treatment should only be started if a patient is on a pregnancy prevention programme (PPP).

The programme is designed to keep patients safe whilst taking this medicine. Before getting a prescription for Roaccutane, you must take a pregnancy test that displays negative before you are given the prescription which should be dispensed and collected in a pharmacy within seven days. You must also be on one, or preferably two, forms of contraception whilst undergoing treatment. Condoms and mini pills are not seen as effective contraception on their own, but can be used in conjunction. Each prescription supplies you with 30 days treatment and following your final course of Roaccutane you must keep up effective contraception for four weeks after stopping the medicine. Women who are unable to become pregnant due to medical reasons, or who are not sexually active may be exempt from the programme. Do not breastfeed whilst taking this medication as the drug can be present in breast milk and harm the baby.

What Are The Side Effects of Roaccutane (Isotretinoin)?

Like all medicines, isotretinoin capsules can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Side effects will usually go away when you stop treatment. Common side effects for Roaccutane include:

  • Skin becoming sensitive to light
  • Dry eyes and throat
  • Headaches as well as general aches and pains
  • Dry skin and lips


For safety, it is best to avoid cosmetic procedures like waxing, dermabrasion, sun beds, or laser skin treatment whilst you are on this medication and for another six months after stopping to prevent scarring and irritation. 

A couple of rare, and more serious side effects are more related to your mental health. If you or family members notice any changes in your mood such as increased anxiety, aggression, violence, suicidal thoughts, then you must stop taking the medication and see your GP immediately. Before treatment, you should let your prescriber know if you have had a history of low mood, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health issues. If you also experience sudden pain in your stomach with or without diarrhoea, feeling or being sick, or bloody diarrhoea can also be signs of a condition called pancreatitis.

Sexual side effects, such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and decreased libido, may also occur.

How Do I Cope With The Side Effects of Roaccutane (Isotretinoin)

As mentioned previously, if you think you are experiencing any other the rarer are more serious side effects you must stop taking the medication and see your GP immediately. For the more common and less serious side effects your local pharmacist can be here to help

Dry skin and lips - apply a moisturiser and lip balm often (preferably an oil-free face moisturiser for sensitive skin). Try to keep your showers shorter than 2 minutes and don’t try to scald yourself, keep the water lukewarm in the shower. 

Dry eyes - Your pharmacist can recommend lubricating eye drops and gels to help soothe the eyes - if you wear contacts this could irritate the eyes and it may be preferable to wear glasses during this treatment.

General aches and pains - Again your pharmacist can advise what appropriate painkillers you should be taking, it is important to tell your pharmacy or GP all medicines that you take, even the ones you buy over the counter!

When people normally start on medication, the most frequently asked question any pharmacist will be asked is if they are able to drink alcohol on this medicine - unfortunately for you teens and young adults out there reading this, the short answer is that it is ideally advised against it or it should be kept to a minimum - sorry! Roaccutane works on your liver as does alcohol, so by combining the two can cause damage to the liver. If you do have a drink though, it is important to keep to the government guidance of no more than 14 units of alcohol in a week.

Similarly, because Roaccutane can be present in bodily fluids such as breast milk and semen, it is also advised that you cannot donate blood whilst being on this medicine and for one month after stopping treatment due to the chance of a pregnant lady receiving your kindly donated blood and it could harm her baby.

If you feel like acne is taking over your life (and after trying every Clearasil, Neutrogena, and Garnier product under the sun) it may be of benefit to speak to your local GP to see if Roaccutane is of benefit to you.

 

Author: Matthew Jennings 

MRPharmS

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