- I had severe acne for 10 years, which really damaged my self-esteem.
- The doctor prescribed me all sorts of treatments, which didn’t work or weren’t sustainable.
- A dermatologist finally put me on Accutane, and I’ve never looked back.
It started when I was 13.
I remember looking in the mirror and noticing bumps on my chin. I wasn’t upset, though — I was almost excited. A late bloomer, I was pleased that I might have hit puberty.
Little did I know, that was just the beginning. And the excitement soon gave way to shame, with children at school calling me “acne girl.”
I had severe acne for a decade, and my teenage years were plagued with endless doctor appointments.
While my acne wasn’t particularly painful, and people suffer with far worse health conditions, it seriously affected my self-esteem and confidence.
It wasn’t until I was 22 that I finally got the medication that would change my life — a six-month course of the controversial drug isotretinoin, better known under its brand name, Accutane. It cleared up my skin, and seven years later, the acne hasn’t returned.
I tried dozens of acne treatments
Acne is a chronic inflammatory skin condition, Dr. Ifeoma Ejikeme, a dermatologist, told me. There’s a genetic component to it, but it can be worsened by environmental triggers such as stress, hormones, and bacteria, she said.
While some people develop acne as a teenager that clears up on its own, others get it for the first time as adults.
I got both. My teenage acne was mainly on my T-zone (forehead and chin), while in my late teens and early 20s, it was primarily on my cheeks and jaw.
Many teenagers get pimples, and like a lot of my friends, I started spending my pocket money on cleansers that claimed to prevent breakouts. Unfortunately, none of them made a difference.
At 15, I went to see a doctor who told me I had severe acne, and I just about made it out of the doctor’s office before bursting into tears.
That was the beginning of me being prescribed various medications, both topical and oral.
The contraceptive pill worked, but I couldn’t continue it
In my late teens, my doctor suggested I try going on a form of the contraceptive pill, Dianette, which is the brand name for co-cyprindiol, to regulate my hormones. So I did.
It worked, and I slowly saw my skin clear up.
Unfortunately, my doctor said there was a blood-clot risk — some forms of contraception are linked to higher risks of blood clot if taken long term — so we decided I should stop taking Dianette, and my acne came back.
Seeing a dermatologist was a game changer
I was starting to despair. It had been nine years. I hated covering my face in makeup, but I thought it looked better than showing my real skin.
At 22, I read an article in which a woman said eating an “alkaline” diet had cleared up her acne, so I decided to give it a try.
The alkaline diet, which has been debunked as pseudoscience, involves cutting out sugar, gluten, and dairy, all of which I love.
But shortly after I started, I got referred to a dermatologist, Dr. Robert Burd at Spire Hospital in Leicester. So I went back to eating normally before seeing whether the diet would have any results.
Burd suggested I start taking Accutane.
Accutane is very effective, though its side effects, like sun sensitivity, dry skin, and weariness, can be severe in some people.
It was prescribed to me only because I’d tried so many other treatments. Before I could be prescribed it, I had to complete a thorough mental-health assessment and a blood test.
Accutane changed my life
Isotretinoin is a retinoid, the oral form of tretinoin, which works by reducing the sebum in the skin, therefore reducing the bacterial load and associated inflammation, Ejikeme said.
Burd told me I might encounter side effects such as sore, dry skin, weariness, and mood changes, but the only one I had was slightly drier lips, a small price to pay.
I had heard horror stories of people taking Accutane and developing depression, but a 2016 meta-analysis by the University of Missouri found no substantive link between the drug and deteriorating mental health.
After a month, I started to notice a difference in my skin, and as time went on, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: It was working.
By the summer of 2015, after six months, my acne was gone, and I wasn’t left with scarring, either.
According to the UK’s National Health Service, 80% of people who take isotretinoin have clear skin in four months. Dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner previously told Insider about 20% of patients remain acne-free afterwards.
When Burd suggested I stop taking Accutane, I was nervous — but he told me that 90% of people had clear skin for life afterward.
Various studies back up this low relapse rate — a 2014 study on 50 participants by Father Muller Medical College, India, found that 90% of people had clearer skin after three months of treatment, for example.
Equally, researchers in a 2006 report in the peer-reviewed Karger Dermatology journal note that younger people and men are more likely to relapse than older patients and women. They concluded that isotretinion is “the most effective anti-acne drug available.”
My acne has never reappeared, and not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate my skin.
I still get the occasional spot, but I very rarely wear makeup, mainly because I can’t get over not feeling the need to cover anything up.
Accutane doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me.