How To Craft A Solid Skincare Routine While Taking Accutane, According To Our Dermatologist

Isotretinoin, sometimes called by the now-defunct brand moniker Accutane, has made a name for itself as a high-powered treatment for severe acne. Usually, this nuclear option is prescribed only when other treatments haven't worked (per Healthline). For instance, Isotretinoin is considered one of the last lines of defense when trying to treat cystic acne. However, it's important to know what to expect when going on Accutane – and why most physicians only recommend this drug after everything else has failed. Yes, Isotretinoin has established an effective reputation, but it comes at a cost: an array of potentially serious side effects. The most common symptoms that come with using any Isotretinoin drug include dry skin or eyes, rashes and itching, sore throat, headaches, and muscle or joint pain. In rarer cases, though, it can also lead to blood clotting disorders, pancreatitis, liver and kidney problems, birth defects, and more (via the U.K. National Health Service).


This doesn't mean you should avoid Isotretinoin products at all costs, but it does merit a careful approach to their use. As a brand, Accutane may have fallen by the wayside, but Isotretinoin is still available under other aliases like Absorica, Absorica LD, Amnesteem, Claravis, Myorisan, Sotret, and Zenatane (per Cleveland Clinic). If you're a candidate for any of these drugs, you'll need to adjust your lifestyle and skincare routine to accommodate the effects.

To help ease this process, we spoke exclusively to Dr. Jennifer Gordon from Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery to find out how to successfully nourish and care for your sensitive skin while following an Accutane regimen.

Skincare products to avoid while using Accutane

In the fight against severe acne, turning to Isotretinoin is akin to bringing out the big guns, so there's no need to keep smaller armaments in the fight. In fact, when starting on Accutane, it's essential to tone down the use of other acne products to avoid stressing your complexion. "Typically we recommend gentle face products during Accutane since the skin is very sensitive during treatment. You do not need to use your topical acne medicines or any over-the-counter acne medications. These will likely cause too much skin irritation and dryness," Dr. Jennifer Gordon exclusively tells Glam.


In other words, Isotretinoin is such a robust treatment that you can and should set aside any acne-fighting face washes, creams, or medicated products. This includes products with ingredients like topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and salicylic acid (via The Strategist). You should also scale back on physical and chemical exfoliants, which may be too harsh and stripping for your skin while using Isotretinoin. As a rule of thumb, if the product boasts any active ingredients — up to and including seemingly benign ingredients like vitamin C — it's best to hit pause for now.

When taking Accutane, it's also crucial to avoid overdosing your skin with vitamin A. Isotretinoin is a retinoid, making it a vitamin A derivative. But getting too much of this nutrient can cause it to build up in your body. To avoid this, you should immediately stop taking vitamin A supplements when starting an Accutane regimen (per the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology).


What to include in your Accutane skincare routine

Using other medicated acne products may be verboten while on Accutane, but that doesn't mean scrapping your entire skincare routine. On the contrary, it's vital to support your overall skin health while taking any form of Isotretinoin. "We highly recommend extra moisturizers and plenty of SPF since you are much more sun sensitive on Accutane," Dr. Jennifer Gordon exclusively tells us, going on to emphasize that sun protection and moisturizer are the two most important skincare steps while taking Accutane. "Accutane makes you extremely susceptible to sunburn, so you have to make sure you always have sunscreen or sunblock on and re-apply every hour. Also, you will be dry from the inside-out, so a good non-comedogenic moisturizer is key to use multiple times daily if needed."


"I recommend a gentle cleanser (or Micellar water or Cetaphil wipes) twice daily, followed by moisturizer," Dr. Gordon suggests. "Lips also are typically the first and worst place you will notice dryness, so I recommend having Aquaphor readily available." For the general well-being and appearance of your skin, Dr. Gordon advises that you are also welcome to continue the use of antioxidants and growth factors.

Not sure whether a certain step in your skincare routine will play well with your new Accutane prescription? When in doubt, pay attention to signs from your body. As Dr. Gordon points out, "Your skin will tell you if what you are using is too irritating."