What Does Accutane Do to the Skin?


Accutane or Roaccutane, as it is also known, is a common medication prescribed by doctors and dermatologists for severe and nodular acne that does not respond well to other forms of treatment. It is a potent drug that has a high success rate in treating acne, but can have a variety of side effects.

Type and Dosage

Accutane and other Isotretinoin medications are approved for treatment of severe acne. Accutane is an oral pill that has been on the market since 1982 and is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche. Isotretinoin is derived from vitamin A and is known as a vitamin A analog or retinoid. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, Accutane is normally prescribed in dosages of 10 to 40 milligrams a day and in most cases it must be taken for four to five months to be effective.


Accutane works by drastically decreasing the size and sebum (oil) production of the skin’s sebaceous glands. Excess sebum causes oily skin that can lead to clogged pores and decrease the natural shedding of dead skin cells. Excess oil and dead skin cells can stick together, creating plugs in pores that can become inflamed because of bacterial growth, causing acne.


Accutane and other Isotretinoin drugs help to normalize the keratinatization or shedding of dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. This helps reduce clogged pores and acne, minimize pigmented blemishes and acne scar and even out skin complexion. Accutane also helps reduce inflammation that causes skin redness and raised bumps in acne break outs. As sebum output is dramatically reduced, the bacteria that causes acne, P. acnes is also reduced in the skin.

Skin Changes

Accutane is an aggressive form of acne treatment and it is only recommended if other treatments do not work. It is not prescribed for minor or occasional acne because it can cause some unfavorable side effects such as dry skin. Because the sebaceous glands in the skin are altered by Accutane to decrease sebum output, this can cause excessive dryness in the skin. Moisture and natural oil production is important to keep the skin hydrated and plumped; the strong drying effects of Accutane can cause skin flaking, peeling and roughness. Small lines and wrinkles may form faster in very dry, fragile skin.

Side Effects

Accutane and other isotretinoin medications may cause increased sensitivity to the sun and ultraviolet radiation, causing the skin to become irritated or burn easily, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s Medication Guide. It may cause dry, irritated eyes that may not be able to tolerate contact lenses. The lips may become dry and cracked. Less common effects of Accutane on the skin include skin itching, skin rashes, delayed wound healing, peeling on the palms and soles and skin infections. Skin dryness can make the inner membrane of the nose more fragile causing nosebleeds. Higher dosages of Accutane may have more severe side effects than lower dosages.

The risk of birth defects is so severe that women must promise to use two forms of birth control while using Accutane, according the FDA Medication Guide. Anyone using Accutane must not give blood because a pregnant woman getting the blood runs a high risk of birth defects. The FDA guide also warns of serious mental health problems.