Accutane: A User’s Guide

21 Mar

Tuesday I went into great (and by great I mean long. Oh. So. Long.) detail about my experience with Accutane. Today is an extension of that post, but I’m going to tell you about the products and procedures I used to help get me through the occasionally agonizing, but ultimately worth it, journey through Accutane treatment. I’ve reviewed quite a few of these things before, but this post will tie them all together under the “The Accutane Diaries” tag. I’m a librarian’s daughter, can you tell? If you couldn’t tell, let me add that I once as a child I arranged my paper dolls in alphabetical order (then my mom walked in and took pictures).

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 4.58.17 PM

1. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

This is the big one. My dermatologist and his nurse were very adamant about me using Cetaphil and ONLY Cetaphil to wash my face while on Accutane. This was easy, as I’d already been using Cetaphil since I was 12 or 13. (See my review of Cetaphil here.)The only change was that I had to retire my Clarisonic for the duration of my treatment. Even now, after about three months off Accutane, I’m still not supposed to use the Clarisonic. I cheated a little, in terms of only using Cetaphil and not using an exfoliator. This is a secret from my derm, but I’ll tell you, since we’re such close personal Internet friends…

2. Boscia Makeup-Breakup Cool Cleansing Oil

This was my first cheat. Cetaphil isn’t going to take off all the makeup I use! Accutane or not, I need something more powerful to take off all that spackle. I quickly realized my favorite Boscia cleansing oil was gentler on my skin than any other makeup remover, and as nice as Cetaphil is, it just isn’t strong enough on its own to take off every stitch of makeup you’re wearing. My skin was happy with Boscia cleansing oil during my entire course of Accutane. At night I’d first use Boscia Makeup-Breakup Cool Cleansing Oil as I always had (see my review here), and followed up with a quick rinse with Cetaphil.

3. Washcloth 

This was my second cheat. Sometimes while on Accutane I’d get small little flakies all over my cheeks. They made makeup impossible, and I couldn’t get them all off with a simple face washing. This was where my trusty washcloth came in. I wouldn’t scrub my face – not in the slightest. Instead I’d make sure that my face was soaking wet, then I’d add a thick layer of Cetaphil cleanser. THEN I’d take my washcloth flat in the palm of my hand, and GENTLY stroke the side of my face like I was about to confess my love and kiss myself at the end of a romantic comedy. That is honestly the best way I can explain it. In fact, there is no other way.

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 5.35.21 PM

1. Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion

Accutane is famous for taking regular humans and turing them into dried up, flaky monsters. Some people have a terrible time with dryness, while others just need to up their moisturizing game a little. I fell into the latter camp. I needed to pay more attention to my skin, but nothing extreme. At the beginning of my treatment, basic Cetaphil moisturizer was enough for me. I’d put on a nice thick layer of it after washing my face before bed each night. This did the trick for about three months, then things had to get more intense.

2. Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream

When I complained to my Accutane nurse about Cetaphil’s moisturizer not cutting it anymore, she gave me a sample of this cream. I bought a tub of it immediately. It’s a fantastic moisturizer for face and body (it’s actually sold as a body moisturizer) and I still use it even now, after I’ve stopped Accutane. I actually wrote a whole review of this moisturizer, which you can read here.

3. Eucerin Daily Protection Moisturizing Face Lotion SPF 30

This was my daytime moisturizer before, during, and after Accutane. It’s a basic, sensitive-skin friendly moisturizer that you can easily get at any drugstore. Accutane makes you SUPER sun sensitive, and it’s essential to use a sunscreen daily. This was enough for me, because I’m not outside a lot. While on Accutane I also made sure to stay out of the sun whenever possible, whether it was walking on the other side of the street where buildings blocked the sun, or taking Hero for his long daily walk after the sun had already set. Your time on Accutane is not the time to be spending the day on the beach.

4. Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream

My hands are usually dry, and Accutane only exacerbated the problem. I discovered Yu-Be at Sephora and quickly became a devotee. Now I use it on my hands, but also regularly on my face and lips. It’s just a fantastic moisturizer. I’ve talked about it twice, here and here.

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 6.14.18 PM

1. Aquaphor Healing Ointment

If you aren’t already a devotee of Aquphor Healing Ointment, you will be once you are on Accutane. Good God, this stuff is basically essential to any Accutane patient’s survival. That’s not an exaggeration. You will DIE without this. Your skin will get so peely and flaky that you will just float away on the wind and cease to exist. I wrote briefly about Aquaphor in my post about my favorite lip products. That was before Accutane was even a twinkle in my eye. While on that oh-so-drying of drugs I used Aquaphor all over my mug, from my lips to my cheeks to my nose. I had a tubes of the stuff stashed all over my house. I buy the big tubes and keep one in my medicine cabinet and one in my nightstand, then I have a little tube in my purse and another one next to my couch. The first rule of Accutane: Always be Aquaphor-ing!

2. Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream

I’m going to be honest with you. I only recently started using this eye cream. Before, I would just get a random eye cream from Marshall’s. I chose them based on which packaging I liked best, or which one had the best name. A little while ago I was using this eye cream from Flos-Lek because it’s a Polish brand, and therefore specially suited to my Polish eyes (I kid… kind of). Anyway, I decided to try Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream, and I absolutely love it. It’s super moisturizing, lasts forever, and compared to other eye creams, downright cheap. A friend of mine that had been on Accutane before told me that the skin around her eyes got so dry and peely it hurt her to blink. I was already diligent about my eye cream, but after hearing that I was religious about it.

3. A Good Concealer/Makeup In General

I’ve heard from some people that while on Accutane they never wore makeup. Their peeling was too bad, or their skin was just too irritated. I, on the other hand, could have never made it through my course of Accutane without makeup. I went through makeup like there was no tomorrow, but there was no way I was going out in the world with the state of my skin exposed. My personal favorite during Accutane was Bare Minerals Correcting Concealer (reviewed here), but I’ve since moved on to a foundation from Smashbox that I use as a concealer (that I will probably review soon). I think in this case you need to just try out a few things and see what works for you. Go to Sephora and talk to a specialist. They have an absolutely amazing return policy, so you can take product home and try it out a few times to make sure it’s the right thing for you. Just as everyone’s skin reacts to Accutane differently, each person’s makeup needs differ while on the drug. The one recommendation I would make is to steer toward higher end brands. I think you should do this for your foundation and concealer anyway (get your eye or lip makeup wherever, who cares), but this is especially true when on Accutane. You don’t want to risk looking like you’re wearing clown makeup or – even worse – risk breaking out.


28 Responses to “Accutane: A User’s Guide”

  1. Michelle mcclure July 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Oh I love this… Reading this really helped out with questions I have had. Kinda wanted to tear up a bit.


    • Sarah July 14, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

      I’m so glad I could help. It’s hard, but believe me it does get better! Now I’m 7 months post-Accutane and my skin is looking fantastic. My derm just put me on Retin-A for maintenance. Now that I know how things would end up, I’m SO glad I did Accutane, even though sometimes it was a nightmare! Clear skin is worth the suffering!


  2. Emily December 2, 2013 at 12:09 am #

    Thank you! This post and the accutane diary are so helpful and inspirational. I am in my 3rd week and the initial breakout phase is just awful. It’s 10x worse than any regular breakout. But reading your story is giving me hope. Thanks for sharing.


    • Sarah December 2, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      Ugh, that first Accutane breakout is torture. I’m so happy it helps to hear that someone did survive it! My acne was the worst it ever was while on Accutane, but I’m almost one year off it now, and my skin has never been clearer! The oiliness came back quickly, but I’d take oily skin over broken-out skin any day! Good luck!


  3. Sophie December 23, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    So glad I found this..I think I am going to try the Cetaphil as I am using my moms no7 cleanser at the moment and i am not sure if that properly cleans my skin. I’m used to using anti-acne products so haven’t had chance to search for a normal face wash yet. I have just started taking Accutane a week ago, my scalp has become flaky and I was wondering if you knew any shampoos or anything to help it before it gets worse?


    • Sarah January 7, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

      Hmmm… Not sure about shampoos. Maybe a dandruff shampoo like Head&Shoulders? I didn’t have any scalp issues while I was on Accutane, but like I mentioned, I was a greaseball before taking the pills, so I always had the opposite problem! I’d try searching sites like Makeup Alley or to see if anyone else on Accutane has suggestions for easing dry scalp issues. Best of luck with your course of Accutane. It’s a challenge, but in the end it’s worth it! I actually get compliments on my complexion now, which I never even DREAMED was a possibility.


  4. APlus January 22, 2014 at 6:01 am #

    Love your suggestions! Want to let others know that I found a miracle worker in the Dior Hydra Life products, especially the Beauty Awakening Rehydrating Mask. One day I was in tears and cancelling an upcoming date due to looking like a snake peeling away it’s layers. I went to Bloomingdales and told them my sob story. They put the Dior Mask on and then used the Gentle Lotion Toner to take it off. Then, we put the Youth Essential Concentrated Sorbet Essence on. The next day, REALLY, the NEXT DAY, I looked like I had HEALTHY skin again (I also used the mask that morning and decided not to take it off, as my skin soaked it up completely—was SO dry). If you can only afford one of the products (they are around $50 each), I would highly recommend the Dior Hydra Life Beauty Awakening Rehydrating Mask, as I think that was the secret to my success!!!

    I only wish I could spread the word quicker, so others can feel as good on Accutane as I do now!


    • Rachael March 6, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

      I am about to start Accutane tomorrow and I am really nervous. I am starting on 40mg per day, but I have severe acne and I’m unsure if that dose will be enough. Also, my doctor recommended that I just use plain old soap on my face. Is it okay to use things on your face and body that contain oils?


      • Sarah March 19, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

        Hi! I saw your comment about using oils in your skincare routine and wanted to chime in. Oils are GREAT for your skin, and oddly enough, they’re especially great if you have oily skin. The idea is that “like attracts like” so by using oil on your oily skin, you’re actually helping control your body’s own oil production. I swear by a cleansing oil by Boscia, which I’ve reviewed on this site previously. When your doc said to use plain old soap, do you mean a bar soap like Dove or Ivory? That may work fine, although when on Accutane your skin can become extremely sensitive and I’d recommend a super gently cleanser like CeraVe or Cetaphil. Let me know how it works out, and good luck! It’s a hard journey, but it’s worth it!


  5. TeeNic March 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    awesome stuff! I am in Week 3 of Accutane… last dose will be May 23… this week the dryness SEEMS better, but I have also increase my fatty food intake, as well as taking fish oil and Vitamin E…
    Vitamin E infused skin oil has been a blessing this week as everything else besides Aveeno seemed to burn my skin.

    For hair, I switched to a shampoo intended for women of color which tends to have more oil in it? I alternate between Motions and an Olive Oil Rich Shampoo from Lustrasilk. My hair is doing well on that.

    I will definitely look into that rehydrating mask and some of these other cheats. Thank you so much for sharing. Folks that have “good” skin have no clue of the sadness that a severe breakout an cause. I am looking forwards to the end of May!


  6. Katrina March 23, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    Once you removed your makeup and washed with cetaphil, did you apply any products onto your acne?


    • Sarah March 31, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      The next section in the post about moisturizers covers what I used on my skin after washing. Unless you mean any acne-fighting treatments (such as products containing salicylic acid or retin-a) and in that case, NO. That is NOT a good idea!!! Accutane is strong enough as-is. No need for other treatments, you’ll only destroy your skin and probably make things worse.


      • Katrina March 31, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

        Thank you


  7. Shane April 17, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Second month of accutane, so glad I found this. The flakey jakes were starting to get to me, but I’ll try your tricks and products.


  8. Kita April 24, 2014 at 12:43 am #

    I’m on day six of the treatment. So far, just a few breakouts, but I’m expecting things to get worse before they get better. The flaking is no joke!! And I have a bit of a sore nose. My hands have always been dry and are even worse now. Thank you so much for posting your journey and the tips/ tricks I will have to try. I hate to say this, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone with my acne struggles. People who have never experienced acne can never know the pain and trouble a person goes thru when dealing with it. This is my last resort after trying MANY OTC products, antib


    • Sarah April 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      I totally get what you mean. I love reading comments from people who were helped by me sharing my experience – but I’m sorry that they have to suffer through acne at all! It’s something that’s so hard for people who haven’t been through it to understand, but that’s why we (the acne sufferers) have each other! If you need any support throughout your treatment know that I’m here for you, as well as many others. Accutane was a lifesaver for me. I have clear skin now, and a pimple here or there is the anomaly instead of the norm. I never thought I’d be at a point like this with my skin!!! Accutane was hell, but knowing now how great it was for my skin, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


  9. ola mi May 14, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    how do you use your accutane. once a day or twice.


    • Sarah May 14, 2014 at 10:06 am #

      It depends on your dosage. If you’re only taking 40mg, which is one pill, then it would be once a day. I didn’t find out until my treatment was over that I was supposed to space out my doses. I was taking my pills all at once, which is bad for your liver. If you’re on 80mg, for example, you should take one 40mg pill in the morning and one in the evening. But, as with anything medical, consult with your doctor if you have any big concerns.


  10. Dakota May 27, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    For someone who just started Accutane, this was incredibly helpful. I do have a question though. I have a beach vacation coming up, what do you recommend to prevent major sunburns?


    • Sarah May 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      I think if you just started Accutane you may not be super sun sensitive, but I may be wrong about that! In any case, I’d recommend getting at least an SPF 50 and apply it like crazy (Neutrogena makes amazing sunscreens that won’t break the bank – or make you break out further). Reapply every hour if you have to. And if you’re just sitting around on the beach, get under an umbrella. Being on Accutane is no time to try and get a tan.


  11. Jasmine June 24, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    Love, love, love your blog! I will be starting Accutane on the 21st of July and I’m super excited and nervous. You’ve made me less nervous with your postings though. I am going to buy all of the products that you listed. Thanks for sharing your experience! ❤ 🙂


    • Sarah June 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Thank you so much! Best of luck with the Accutane. It’s not easy – but in the end I think you’ll be glad you went through it!


  12. Ms.Spoto July 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Thanks for this — Your list is exactly what I was looking for 🙂


  13. Traci September 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    This is was so helpful! I start tomorrow and I am extremely nervous. How soon should I expect the dry and flaky skin? And how soon should I expect the first BIG breakout? I know everyone’s skin is different, but I work in a job that I am constantly in meetings and in contact with someone face to face. I am dreading this big break out, but know that it will be worth it in the end!!! Also- I currently use Bare Minerals Powder Foundation….would you suggest switching to a liquid foundation? I cant imagine flaky skin mixing well with powder foundation. I APPRECIATE YOU 🙂


    • Sarah September 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

      I APPRECIATE YOU TOO!!! Seriously, though, I do. A lot.

      On to your questions! I’d say the first month or two is going to just be more of the same, breakout-wise. You need to give those crazy intense drugs time to get ALL up in your blood and then the real fun begins! I did end up switching to Smashbox liquid foundation (mentioned in the post, as I’m sure you saw), but I experimented a lot to find what worked best for me. I think in addition to the Smashbox foundation and Bare Minerals concealer I also used Bare Minerals powder foundation as a setting powder/even more coverage. During the worst time I was wearing a LOT of makeup every day. BUT, the good news is that now I wear makeup because I like it, and if I don’t want to wear it, I don’t. I no longer feel like I need to put on my armor every day to feel confident enough to leave the house!

      Best of luck and thanks for reading! Let me know if there’s anything else on your mind!


  14. Lauren Pae September 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    I am so happy I found this post! I’m only on Day 2 of Roaccutane (and my skin already feels drier) but I took it before about 10 years ago. I don’t remember too much about it except for the ridiculously sore dry cracked lips and hands. I could barely open my mouth at times without the sides of my mouth splitting and bleeding. I did tear up reading this article – it’s so comforting to hear other people going through the same thing. My skin on my face and back is always so sore and itchy and I’ve been trying to date for a while now but my self-confidence has taken such a huge hit since my acne got so bad. I’m over in the UK so sadly some of the products you have suggested I can’t get over here like the Boscia and Aveeno creams (we do get Aveeno but not the one you suggested) so I’ll need to see what else is out there. My dermatologist said to avoid things with oil in but it sounds like some of these products do have oil in…is that ok for our skin?
    It sounds like it’s going to be an expensive few months with all these creams but it’s absolutely worth it if it reduces the dryness and makes me feel better about myself. People don’t realise how much acne can affect your self-esteem – it’s lovely to see women rallying together to information share and support one another. Good luck to you all on your tablets – hope the side effects are the least bad they can be!


  15. Amber Weatherby September 10, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    Thank you, Sarah for this post! I’m halfway through my first month and got my first bad breakout. I suffer from nodular acne, and my dermatologist gave me a steroid shot in the hip today to reduce inflammation. I use Philosophy’s take a deep breath moisturizer and SPF in the mornings but it hasn’t been cutting it. I’m definitely going to try your Aveeno trick, and stock up on Aquaphor. I have found that BareMinerals new liquid serum foundation (and liquid foundation application brush) followed by their mineral veil then concealer has really helped in covering up the spots. I do love how lightweight their makeup is so I don’t feel caked. Has anyone experienced eczema while on accutane? I have had small patches pop up around my ears, shoulders, and creases on my arms. What about excessive hair shedding? I’ve read about this in some blog posts. I consider myself a shedder as it is, so I haven’t noticed more than the usual. Good luck to all you! I know I’m so excited to have clear skin so soon!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: