That’s what it said on the front of a packet handed to me by my dermatologist. It was a bright yellow packet with a stop sign smack-dab in the middle. There was even a large picture of a hand, just for good measure.
The packet was thick. I waited until I got home to open it. “WARNING: Isotretinoin has been linked to birth defects, Crohn's disease, hair loss, joint pain, drowsiness, nervousness, depression, and suicide.” Not exactly a comforting message.
What’s Isotretinoin, you ask? It’s the generic version of Accutane, a branded acne medicine. But most people still call the stuff Accutane.
I was on a mission to try generic Accutane. Accutane itself hasn’t been made since 2009. It’s partly because they kept getting sued. Too many related deaths.
Why I Decided to Try Accutane
Prior to this dermatologist's appointment, I had tried everything: proper skin care with the best cleansers, moisturizers, toners, acid peels, exfoliants, acne facials, microdermabrasions, every kind of topical gel money can buy… and extractions. Without getting too detailed, an extraction means you have an esthetician dig out each inflected pore with a grapefruit spoon.
If you thought a zit hurts when you touch it, this is true pain.
That was the only time in my life I was actually writhing in agony.
I took drugs as well: amoxicillin, cephalexin, Zithromax, tetracycline, sulfamethoxazole, and Doxycycline. I tried everything. It was time to take a drug that could possibly kill me.
After struggling with acne for six years, I made a list of reasons I hated acne. I still have that list. It's 20 lines long. With the list in hand, I swallowed my first large, brown pill. I took the drug twice a day for nine months rather than the normal six.
My case was that severe. Each month, I went in for blood work. At one point, there was a scare and I had to go off the drug for a week. It turned out okay.
My Overall Experience With Accutane
My joints hurt quite a bit. I slept more than usual. But overall, I was feeling great. And furthermore, I was looking great. The drug was doing its job. I felt the complete opposite of depressed. I couldn’t have been happier.
Taking Isotretinoin was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. It sounds crazy but it’s true.
The drug was life-changing. However, it was also expensive.
Luckily, my insurance covered the cost of the drug and the regular blood draws and dermatologist visits. If you don’t have decent insurance, you can still do everything I did. It’ll just be expensive. Very expensive.
The Cost of Clear Skin
There are ways to get the drug without a prescription, but I won’t even begin to explore that option with you. Accutane is dangerous enough, even with guidance. We're only really going to look at prescribed Accutane.
There’s a version of the drug now at GoodRX that goes for about $100 for a 30-day, 40 mg supply. If you’re 180 pounds, you’ll need to take 80 mg per day. That’s $200 per month. As I mentioned, the typical time on the drug is six months. That means you’ll need to spend $1,200 on pills alone. Plus visits to the dermatologist. And blood work.
Expect to visit your dermatologist once a month. You’ll also have to get lab work completed each month prior to the visits. Once a month, you get your blood checked.
There are lots of places to do this: hospitals, special hematology labs that are probably scattered all over your town, etc. You can find local health clinics through this handy tool provided by the Department of Health & Human Services.
A simple blood-work write-up can cost nearly if your insurance won’t cover it, according to Solv. Health. And if you’re a woman, you’ll have to be on two types of birth control. You must also take a pregnancy test each month. If you get pregnant, there could be birth defects.
As you can see, Accutane is very, very expensive without good insurance. But many insurers actually take severe acne seriously. See what options you have. You’ll probably spend very little to get your acne annihilated. It may be cheaper than continually buying facials, expensive cleansers, and more to fight acne on your own. It was certainly cheaper for me.
Taking this drug changed my life. What really pushed me was realizing that life is about taking risks. It’s a risk to take this drug. But no risk means no reward. I would feel better knowing I tried and failed than if I never tried at all.