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Isotretinoin FAQs


Will isotretinoin cure me?

Treatment with isotretinoin often results in prolonged clearance of acne, which can be permanent for some patients. A course of treatment generally lasts about 4 to 5 months. It can run shorter or longer.

Some patients do not clear after one course of treatment, and a second course of treatment may be an option. Studies show this helps some patients see clear skin. You should wait at least 8 weeks between treatments. The skin often continues to clear for a while after patients stop taking the medicine.

How do I use isotretinoin?

This medicine comes in pill form. You will take one or two pills a day as your dermatologist prescribes.

Before taking isotretinoin, you must enroll in the iPLEDGE™ program. Created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this program helps to ensure that patients:

  • Do not start taking isotretinoin while pregnant

  • Do not become pregnant while taking isotretinoin

Because iPLEDGE™ informs patients about other possible side effects, all patients must enroll in this program before taking isotretinoin .

How long will I have to take isotretinoin?

One course of treatment generally takes about 4 to 5 months. You may need a shorter or longer treatment time.

How does isotretinoin work?

This is the only acne treatment that attacks all four causes of acne—excess oil production, clogged pores in the skin, too much of the bacteria P. acnes, and inflammation. This makes isotretinoin very effective.

Do I need to take any precautions while using isotretinoin?

Yes. You will need to learn about the potential side effects before you decide whether to take isotretinoin.

If you and your dermatologist decide that this medicine is right for you, you will need to do the following:

  • Enroll in the iPLEDGE™ program

  • Return to your dermatologist every month for a follow-up appointment

  • Immediately report any possible side effect to your dermatologist

  • Do not wax to remove hair while taking this medicine, and for 6 months after you stop taking isotretinoin

  • Protect your skin from the sun and do not use a tanning bed, sun lamp, or other indoor tanning device

  • Do not donate blood while taking isotretinoin and for 30 days after you take your last pill

Females only
Patients who can get pregnant also need to take the following precautions:

  • Take the required pregnancy tests

  • Use two approved forms of birth control

Isotretinoin and Females

It is especially important that a woman not be pregnant or become pregnant while taking isotretinoin.

What are the possible side effects?

A number of possible side effects can occur while taking this medicine. Isotretinoin can cause:

  • Severe birth defects

  • Miscarriage (baby dies before birth)

  • Premature birth

To prevent these possible side effects, it’s essential that:

  • A female who is pregnant NOT start taking isotretinoin

  • A female NOT become pregnant while taking isotretinoin

You can learn about the safeguards that help prevent the above, along with other possible side effects, at: Isotretinoin: The truth about side effects.

Is it safe to remove hair with wax while taking isotretinoin?

No waxing, please. Waxing can cause permanent scars in people taking isotretinoin. To avoid scarring, you must not wax while taking isotretinoin and for six months after you stop taking isotretinoin. This applies to hot wax and cold wax.

Does isotretinoin increase risk of sunburn?

If you plan to spend time outdoors, it is important to know that isotretinoin can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. You can sunburn unexpectedly and quickly. To protect your skin, dermatologists recommend that people taking isotretinoin:

  • Seek shade when outdoors

  • Wear a shirt, wide-brimmed hat, and pants

  • Apply sunscreen to all skin that will be exposed

    Isotretinoin: Think sun protection

    It is important that patients taking isotretinoin protect their skin from the sun.

The type of sunscreen you use is important. Be sure to use sunscreen that offers:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (bottle may say “UVA/UVB protection”)

  • An SPF of 30 or greater

  • Water resistance

Because isotretinoin can make your skin more sensitive, it is especially important that you not tan. This includes not using indoor tanning (sunlamps and tanning beds) while taking isotretinoin.


Reference
Elminan M, Bird ST, Delaney JA et al. “Isotretinoin and Risk for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” JAMA Dermatol. 2013 Feb 1;149(2):216-20.

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