How Accutane healed my face but hurt my gut.
The side-effect of Accutane (Isotretinoin) no one told me about that has hurt my gut and wellbeing.
Acne was a genetically inherited curse for me. Like father, like daughter, I had acne on my face, chest and back throughout my teenage years.
For a long time, I tolerated it. I didn’t even call it ‘acne’. I just had ‘pimples’ – some days there were more pimples then others – but everyone had pimples at that age. I had no reason to be insecure about it, didn’t I?
It wasn’t until I was nineteen that I finally called the kettle black. I had acne, and I needed to take more dramatic action then washing my face twice a day, getting adequate rest and eating well.
I tested a few professional services with no success before I learned of the drug Accutane. It was a powerful treatment with almost guaranteed success at remedying acne, if you were able to endure the side effects: extremely dry skin (especially the lips), potential depression, and potential nose bleeds. If you experienced headaches in the morning you had to immediately stop taking the drug because you were experiencing a pressure build-up in the brain that could cause serious harm. It was also essential to avoid pregnancy for the duration of the Accutane experience due to the harm the drug could cause an unborn baby. It was serious enough I had to get a doctor to check my pregnancy status in a blood test before I was allowed to receive my prescription.
I remember sitting in the Dermatologist’s office, she was a larger lady who spoke gently, nodding my head to the potential side effects and silently pleading with the world that I wouldn’t get headaches – I didn’t want to have to stop taking the drug.
Fresh in my mind were the invisible wounds of an online bully. In the months waiting for my booking with the Dermatologist I worked hard to remain positive about my skin. I finally had a solution to my acne, which was increasingly reducing my self-esteem as I was nearing twenty and wanted to feel (and look) like an adult. I posted a picture on social media, determined to accept my face and know that my condition wasn’t a consequence of poor hygiene but ran deeper into my skin. It took all my bravery to post the picture and only one person to cause me to crumble inside.
I was prescribed a dose of one-and-a-half per day to take for the minimum term of eight months. I had never owned more lip balm in my life then while I was on Accutane! I accumulated a collection so that I was never missing the necessary care for my lips.
I had one tube of lip balm in:
- My car
- My bedside table
- My toolbox (at work)
- My lunch bag
- My boyfriend’s bedside table
- My purse
I survived my Accutane treatment without nose bleeds or headaches (phew) and I had never felt more confident in my own skin! Accutane was a huge success for my skin. I was pimple-free on my face, neck and back and have been since February 2020.
But that was when my overall wellbeing began to go downhill (and not because of COVID-19).
I started to notice I was bloating more often, to the point I felt like a beached whale after a day of normal eating. I passed more wind, much to my frustration when at my boyfriend’s house (still being fresh enough in the relationship that it wasn’t a bodily function I felt comfortable sharing yet).
As I began to notice it, my symptoms continued to escalate. The bloating became painful, only remedied with loosened pants and a solid eight hours of sleep (a.k.a. no eating). My energy was waning and I didn’t have my usual bubbliness and excitement.
So began the journey to figure out what was wrong with my gut.
I cut out gluten and dairy (after reading they are among the most common intolerances). That improved my symptoms, for a while. I had substituted my gluten with gluten-free corn supplements and my dairy with soy milk. When I still felt low on energy and bloated daily, I began to read that even these products could be causing an inflammatory response in my gut.
I went through a long process (and spend a few hundred dollars trying) getting tested for type-three allergies, learning about hormonal health, getting blood tests, stool tests and speaking to professionals in different fields trying to explain that my bloating was abnormal. I achieved nothing except feeling stressed about food, guilty for not being able to complete an elimination diet without bloating, and frustrated by my own unhappiness.
Seven months later I finally booked a meeting with a nutritionalist. I had cut out every food at some point or another and found that my guessing only confused me more about what was wrong with my body. I was sure I had a food intolerance; I just didn’t know what.
After a year of food angst and ignored cravings I finally got my answer. This one piece of information could have changed my entire Accutane experience and saved me months of pulling out my hair:
The same side-effect that could have caused nose bleeds (a thinning of the mucus lining in the nose) could also deplete the mucus lining in my gut. Combined with an innocent dose of antibiotics at one point during my eight months of Accutane and my gut had taken a damaging hit.
Due to my lack of awareness of the damage my gut had sustained I wasn’t able to take the corrective action to heal it, meaning my normal diet continued to antagonize the bad bacteria now ruling my gut and lead to a series of issues. My low energy, poor mood and poor gut health were all a product of the one drug that had saved my skin.
I write this now, not as a deterrent to Accutane because it can yield phenomenal results, but as a notice to others out there who are considering, currently taking, or recovering from Accutane use. If I had known the damage my gut would endure as I healed my skin, I would have taken preventative action during my treatment to minimize the damage. The correct probiotics, a reducing in sugar intake, and adding health-boosting products like fish oil and bone broth to my diet all could have minimized the damage my gut endured and the frustration of months of searching for an explanation.
I hope this information can save you time and frustration so that healing your skin doesn’t have to deteriorate your gut health.