9 July 2019

My Skin Journey: Roaccutane

Last Week, after almost two years of dermatology appointments, I officially finished my course of roaccutane.

I've had acne since I was ten years old. I'm now twenty-two. That's twelve years of my life spent feeling insecure, dealing with bullies and waking up every morning to red cysts covering my cheeks. Twelve years of avoiding social situations, editing my blemishes out of photos and the sight of my own reflection bringing me to tears. I wrote a big ol' post about my skin story, if you fancy a read. 

I know most people say that they tried everything to clear up their skin but trust me when I say, I seriously explored every avenue possible, even the little side streets. Most of this was to avoid taking roaccutane, a drug I'd heard so much about; some things good, others not so much.

What Stopped Me Taking It?

I was first referred to start taking roaccutane (aka isotretinoin - a quick google search will tell you all about it) back in February 2018. However, after doing a lot of research and scaring myself silly, I chose to take yet another course of antibiotics. Granted, they did their job and cleared my skin up beautifully but when I stopped taking them, the acne came back in full force.

Although roaccutane is known as a 'miracle drug', it also receives a lot of bad press for the severe side effects associated with it; from skin as dry as the Sahara to issues as serious as low mood and in the worst cases, suicide. This was the side effect that scared me the most; there's no way I could put my mind and body through that. I knew my skin had to get worse before it got better but what if it didn't improve? So many questions! So many thoughts! My brain was a pile of mush.

I spent my nights watching vlogs, reading blog posts, interrogating friends and doing every ounce of research I could. However, no experience is the same and no matter how many people you talk to, everyone has something different to say.

Why Roaccutane?

In October of last year, I decided that roaccutane was my last resort and the only thing left for me to try. Taking this tablet is not a decision that should be taken lightly and I highly recommend that you make sure to do your research beforehand.

It took me a long time to decide I was finally ready to take roaccutane and I know I wouldn't have had the courage if it wasn't for the supportive network of people around me. Sure, some people tried to talk me out of it but deep down, I knew it was the right decision for me (and if worst came to worst, I could always stop taking it). At the end of the day, it's your decision and your decision only. You need to do what feels right for you.

I knew it was the one thing that could be a permanent solution to my acne and to be able to feel confident in myself again was something I so desperately longed for. I started my course of roaccutane on the 13th October 2018 and it truly is the best decision I have ever made.

Month 1 - Month 3

Dosage: 30mg

The first month of being on roaccutane is commonly known as the 'worst part' as your skin is supposed to purge all the badness which is why you're always told that it has to get worse before it gets better. However, my experience was a little bit backward.

I'd psyched myself up for this really bad breakout that was supposed to be brewing, yet nothing happened. I waited, and waited, and waited but my skin just seemed to be improving by the day. The overall texture was smooth and blemishes were few and far between, I'd be off this thing sooner than I thought (oh how naive you were, hun).

Side Effects

In terms of side effects, I think I was lucky. I got dry skin and dry lips pretty much straight away which was to be expected and nothing a bit of lip balm couldn't solve - even though nothing can prepare you for how many times you have to apply it during the day. 

Nearing the end of my first month I noticed myself feeling extremely tired and therefore sleeping a lot. This was potentially the worst side effect throughout the course as it brought a lack of motivation and hopelessness in some cases, not to mention it was bloody hard to get rid of. I continued to exercise and experienced sore joints however I found that taking a glucosamine supplement each day kept the aches and pains at bay. 

I also continued to drink alcohol in moderation and although it's not recommended, I had no major issues. Except that the hangovers are an absolute bitch. 

Other minor side effects included a few bad dreams, restless nights, nosebleeds, weight gain and painful periods but apart from that, the first few months were plain sailing. It seriously didn't feel like I was on medication. 

Mood

I'll be honest and say that my mood changed. It wasn't a dramatic change but I noticed myself feeling low and having a lack of interest in things. The only way I can describe it is feeling hungry, there's food there but you can't be bothered eating. However, it's hard to know if low mood is caused by roaccutane or personal issues. To help with this, I tried to keep myself busy and have some much needed me time. I also noticed that I let things get to me quicker than normal; I'd get upset about the smallest things and become aggravated quickly. 

Month 3 - Month 6

Dosage: 50mg

The next three months were the hardest and potentially the lowest I've ever felt. My dosage was upped to 50mg and subsequently, the bad breakout made an appearance. Seeing my skin get so bad made me feel disgusting, I couldn't bare to look in the mirror and the temptation to pick was so real. 

In all honesty, I felt like I'd made a massive mistake. I knew it had to get worse before it got better but I never imagined it would get that bad. It was really disheartening and I spent most nights crying to anyone who'd listen - I really was feeling sorry for myself. 

Side Effects

As expected, my side effects worsened and believe me when I say they really worsened. My periods became incredibly painful. I suffer with bad menstrual cramps anyway but roaccutane cramps were next level - I'd be in bed for days. 

The dryness also intensified, my lips started to crack and bleed and no amount of moisturiser could stop my foundation from clinging to the dry patches on my face. Eczema started to appear on my arms and legs and I was still incredibly tired all the bloody time. I had no motivation whatsoever. 

However, the worst side effect for me was hair loss. I went for my hair cut in February and my hair dresser pointed out that my hair had thinned so much it was falling out in her hands. As someone who takes pride in her appearance, especially her hair, this really upset me and my self esteem lowered even further. 


As you know, I will be truthful about this whole experience. I won't hide anything and I'll tell it like it is. So, if you want a summary of what these few months were like, I think my instagram post sums it up perfectly. 

Improvements

Towards the end of March I noticed that most of my active spots were small or had disappeared, leaving redness and scaring behind. I could only hope that the worst was over. 

Month 6 - Month 9

Dosage: 50mg

After three months of absolute hell, I finally started to see the massive improvements I was promised. I was backwards and forwards from my dermatologist, hoping it would be the last month and the end of my roaccutane journey but each time I was told, 'just one more month' and handed another prescription.

The majority of redness was scarring but I was still getting a few active spots now and again and according to my dermatologist, I had to be four to eight weeks clear before he could discharge me from his care. In terms of texture, my skin was smooth and my complexion was getting brighter by the day.

In the final months, I noticed that the warmer weather had a positive impact on my skin. It also raised the importance of using SPF, not only on my face but on my body too - something I completely overlooked when taking the drug. Due to the warm weather, I started drinking lemon infused water which had a positive impact on my scarring, calming redness and fading marks.

Side Effects

Towards the end of my final month, my body was telling me that I'd had enough and I knew that too. 

My side effects continued to intensify. Along with the bleeding lips, nose bleeds and intense fatigue, I was experiencing blinding migraines and terrible hot sweats. I could do something as simple as walk to the corner shop and I'd be sweating like I'd ran the London Marathon. Apparently, this is a common side effect towards the end of your roaccutane journey.

In terms of mood, I was low. I was really, really low. I went for weeks feeling like I wasn't good enough, feeling down about my appearance (not just my skin but my body) and feeling incredibly sensitive. I'd find myself sobbing at minor inconveniences - the silliest occasion being in work when I gave someone the wrong change. I couldn't cope anymore.

I'm lucky that I was able to talk to my family and friends about the way I was feeling. If it hadn't been for them and the supportive acne community on Instagram, I really don't think I'd have been able to get through this drug.

And Then, It Was Over

On 26th June 2018, I officially finished my course of roaccutane and let me tell you, I couldn't be happier. I was discharged from the care of my dermatologist and sobbed as he handed me my final letter.  I can't thank him enough for his support, guidance and help throughout my skin journey - he truly is an amazing human being and he's restored my confidence not only in the way I look but in myself as a person. 

What Now?

So I know what you're thinking, my skin journey is over and I'll be acne free for the rest of my life. 

Well, that would be the ideal scenario but my acne treatment doesn't end here. I'll be using Differin (a mild chemical peel) to help clear up any scarring that has been left behind and, in the words of my dermatologist, 'help my skin get better and better every day.' 

There is also a very minor chance that my acne could reappear. This is rare (and fingers crossed it won't happen) but some people have to go on two to three courses of roaccutane to get permanent results. That's the part I'm dreading. 

So, Was It Worth it?

Absolutely. 

I know I've sat here and complained about dryness, hair loss and tiredness but it really hasn't been that bad. I may have had some of the rarer side effects but there's people who've gone through the course without any dryness at all. I think the important thing is to do your research and be prepared for the side effects that can occur - that way, you know what to expect. 

In all honesty, it's changed my life. 

For the first time, I feel proud and confident in my own skin. I don't care what other people think. I don't care if they stare. It's crazy to think that two years ago, I wouldn't be seen in public without make up on, and now it's rare that I even wear it. 

I know how much bad skin knocks your confidence and I know how lonely it feels. As a society, we are under the impression that acne isn't normal when in fact, it's the most normal thing in the world. I think it's about time we see more acne prone skin portrayed in the media - instead of creating this unattainable image for people, why don't we try to encourage them to be proud of their flaws? 

I suppose I'm trying to say that it's okay to embrace your natural beauty. Acne is a part of you; spots, scaring, freckles and everything in between. Be proud of it. 

If anyone has any questions about acne, roaccutane or anything skin related then don't hesitate to drop me a Tweet, message me on Instagram or send me a little Email. I'm more than happy to talk! 

Lots of Love,
Meg x















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