Many teenagers and some adults report getting some pimples, many of which they can treat with over-the-counter acne products. Fighting severe acne -- especially cystic acne, which can lead to scarring -- sometimes requires a potent prescription drug known as isotretinoin, a derivative of vitamin A. Pharmacies in the U.S. sell isotretinoin under the brand name Accutane, produced by drug manufacturer Hoffman-LaRoche. Cipla Ltd., a company based in India, also manufactures a medication in India and Greece that contains isotretinoin. Marketed under the brand name Isotroin, it is available in those countries in 10 and 20 mg strengths.
Severe acne plagues a small minority of people; if you have it, it can affect many aspects of your life, including your social life and even your employment prospects. The cysts formed as your acne-plagued skin develops inflammation and infection can cause deep pits that eventually become scars. People who didn't treat their severe acne in time often have telltale signs of it on their faces for the rest of their lives in the form of acne scars.
Dermatologists use isotretinoin to treat severe acne when other medications, such as antibiotics, have failed to bring the condition under control. The American Academy of Dermatology considers it to be the most effective acne medication on the market. You normally take the medication for four or five months, once or twice each day. In some cases, your physician may recommend slowly ramping up your dosage, since starting with a large dose may cause your acne to temporarily worsen. Often, taking isotretinoin for five months sends your acne into long-term or even permanent remission.
Dermatologists often think twice before prescribing drugs such as Accutane and Isotroin, however, because it carries a list of fairly severe potential side effects. For example, if you get pregnant while taking isotretinoin, your baby likely will suffer from severe birth defects. Therefore, women in the U.S. who are prescribed Accutane must sign an FDA-required form confirming they use two forms of birth control and agree to undergo pregnancy testing before they obtain monthly refills. In addition, isotretinoin may cause depression and even suicidal thoughts in some people, especially teens, taking the medication. It's also been linked to blurred vision, severe headaches, hearing loss, seizures and liver damage. If you're taking isotretinoin and experience any of these side effects, contact your physician immediately. Less serious side effects, which more people experience, include dry skin and lips, drowsiness and joint pain.
Isotretinoin, whether it's in the form of Isotroin or a product from another manufacturer, works effectively to clear even the worst cases of acne. Not everyone will be willing to risk isotretinoin's side effects, however. If you're concerned about those potential side effects, discuss them in detail with your physician and ask her to explain how likely they might be in your specific case. In addition, before trying isotretinoin, make sure you've exhausted all your other potential acne pharmaceutical treatment options. If you're in the U.S., don't try to buy Isotroin over the Internet; see your doctor instead for a prescription for a drug that's approved in this country.