Accutane is one of the most common prescription medications for treating moderate to severe acne. Typically taken over a course of 3-4 months, Accutane can drastically reduce the appearance of acne by preventing new breakouts. But does Accutane help with acne scars, especially old and existing ones?
While Accutane can help improve the appearance of pimples and prevent further breakouts, it doesn’t necessarily help acne scars. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how Accutane works, why it helps acne and why it won’t necessarily clear up your acne scars – but what will. So, let’s dive in.
What Is Isotretinoin and How Does It Work?
Accutane – also known as Isotretinoin – is a Vitamin A derivative that works by reducing the size of the sebum glands. By reducing the size of these sebum glands, the skin produces less oil and is less able to clog the pores and cause pimples.
Isotretinoin risks & side effects
Accutane doesn’t come without its fair share of side effects. In fact, it’s known for three key side effects that most users will experience during the length of their treatment:
- Skin sensitivity
- Sun sensitivity
- Extreme skin dryness all over the body
Birth Control and Accutane
Due to the massive risks that isotretinoin poses to fetuses, female Accutane users are also encouraged to take two forms of birth control during the length of the treatment, or refrain from penetrative sex until their treatment is complete.
This is because exposure to isotretinoin can cause extreme birth defects for an unborn baby, and can even cause major complications for the mother. For someone like me who developed acne while pregnant, Accutane simply wasn’t an option.
As you can probably already tell, Accutane isn’t just a quick-fix for acne, and can often actually create more problems than it fixes.
So, Does Accutane Reduce Acne Scars?
Accutane isn’t an acne scar treatment. It also isn’t a topical product, meaning it doesn’t touch the skin nor ever come into contact with acne scars on the surface of the skin.
While Accutane can’t directly remove acne scars, it can help their appearance. By reducing skin inflammation and increasing skin cell turnover, you might notice that your acne scars improve.
Does Accutane Prevent Scarring?
Accutane prevents further breakouts, so yes, it can prevent acne scarring. However, you might find that your old or current acne scars actually appear more pronounced after or during your time on Accutane. This is due to two factors:
- Accutane dries out your skin. When your skin is drier, any imperfections, blemishes and signs of aging are going to be more visible and appear more pronounced.
- If your Accutane treatment is successful, you’ll begin to see the results after a few months. With fewer pimples and blemishes on the skin, your acne scarring will be more visible.
You can combat drier skin with a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer during your time on Accutane. And don’t forget to protect your skin with an acne-friendly sunscreen, as your skin is going to be a lot more sensitive to sunlight. Many Accutane users report sunburn during the length of their treatment, so I’d also recommend being careful about exposing your skin to direct sunlight.
How To Get Rid Of Acne Scars While On Accutane
Because Accutane is already going to make your skin super sensitive, I wouldn’t actually recommend trying to get rid of your acne scars during the length of your treatment.
Accutane causes skin sensitivity, sun sensitivity and makes your skin thinner, so any abrasive treatment typically used to treat acne scarring (such as a microdermabrasion treatment or a chemical peel) is going to be way too harsh on the skin.
In order to keep your skin healthy and avoid skin damage, I’d recommend waiting around 6 months following the end of your Accutane treatment before attempting to remove any acne scarring.
Best Topical Treatments For Acne Scarring
While there are various professional salon treatments available to treat acne scarring (I’ll get onto those in a moment), there are plenty of different topical treatments that you can use at home to reduce acne scarring on the surface of the skin.
Gentle, exfoliating cleansers
While treating your acne scarring, I’d recommend using a mild exfoliating face wash. When it comes to cleansing, the most effective ingredients for treating acne scars include AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, and lactic acid.
I’m going to talk about retinol further on in this article, but topical retinoids are a great way to get rid of acne scarring. Retinols increase skin cell turnover while stimulating the skin’s natural production of collagen, helping fill out all types of acne scars, whether boxcar or icepick. You need to be careful when using retinol, however, as it’s incredibly strong on the skin. You should begin by using a retinol treatment just 1-2 times a week.
Another way to boost collagen in the skin and help fill out acne scars is by using a collagen serum, such as this one by Clearstem. This serum was expertly designed to help treat acne scars, and is enriched with palmetto, green tea, and reishi mushroom to balance the skin and prevent breakouts at the same time.
Best Professional Treatments for Acne Scarring
If you want to go the extra mile and opt for a salon treatment for your acne scarring, you can do so with the following treatments.
- Microdermabrasion treatments (or, you can bag yourself an at-home microdermabrasion tool such as this one.)
- Chemical peels
- Laser therapy
- Dermal fillers
Can Accutane Cause Scarring?
In short, no. But it is true that Accutane can cause skin damage. This is because Accutane contributes to skin thinning, which can damage your skin’s barrier. When your skin’s barrier is damaged, it can throw off your skin pH balance, leading to problem skin and the development of dryness, flakiness and other problems.
Plus, it can take up to 6 months for your skin to recover from Accutane. That means six months avoiding sun exposure, alcohol, and potentially dealing with problem, irritated skin.
Due to the various potential side effects and possibility for skin damage, many who suffer from acne decide against an Isotetroin prescription, and instead are opting for natural, safer methods.
Natural Alternatives to Accutane
So, what are some natural alternatives to Accutane? If you want to try healing acne the natural way, here are a couple of methods that I’ve personally found to be effective:
A derivative of Vitamin A, retinol has been typically used to reduce signs of aging. However, recent studies prove that the skincare ingredient is also super effective at curbing acne and clearing up problem skin. A study in 2017 proved retinol to be effective against all forms of acne (both inflammatory and non-inflammatory) and another study from the same year proved that topical retinol use can even reduce sebum production.
Incorporating a retinol product into your skincare routine can help clear up your skin without the side effects that come with an Accutane prescription. Although do be careful when using retinol products – retinol is a strong ingredient, so read our guide if you want to make sure you use it safely.
There is an intricate, undeniable link between the condition of your skin and your gut health. The old adage of “you are what you eat”, isn’t far from the truth when it comes to your skin. All you need to do is search Reddit’s various skincare subreddits to find endless testimonials from those who cut out sugar or dairy from their diet, only to find that their skin clears up in no time.
The science backs it up, too. While many once considered the acne-food link a cultural myth, a 2020 study proved that those whose diets included high levels of sugar, fat, and dairy, were more likely to report current acne than those who didn’t.
So, how can you fix acne with your diet? It’s simple, your diet directly influences your hormones. Your diet can cause inflammation. Your diet can increase levels of glucose in your body. All you need to do is find the foods that cause inflammation or cause blood sugar spikes, and try to reduce them from your diet.
If you want to save yourself hours scrolling Google searching for acne-friendly foods, you can take a look at my colleague Sam’s eBook, Unmasking Acne. Here, he lists hundreds of foods and ranks them by their acne-friendliness. I’ll tell you now, I was surprised how many bad “clean” foods I’d been consuming, under the impression that were going to clear my skin. Spoiler alert: soy milk and oat milk are not your friends!
So, does Accutane help with acne scars? Only moderately. Accutane can help increase skin cell turnover and prevent further breakouts, but it isn’t going to drastically change your scarring.
If you want to clear up your acne scars without having to suffer long-term skin dryness and skin sensitivity, I’d first recommend trying out some natural methods.