Nothing works better for acne than Accutane. However, a new topical cream called Winlevi may prove safer, yet still effective in treating acne.
Winlevi may be safer than Accutane, but Accutane works
My acne was stubborn. I scrubbed and cleansed and deployed all manner of potions. Nothing worked until I tried Accutane. Sure, the side effects were bad — scary even. My eyes were parched, red, and itchy. Then my entire face dried up and sort of just fell off. I was like a snake shedding its skin.
The other end of this unsettling rebirth, though, was miraculous. My skin transformed. The ever-evolving collage of clogged pores and whiteheads vanished. As my skin cleared, so did my cloudy disposition. My depression and self-consciousness evaporated. It seemed like a dream come true. But did it come at a cost?
What is Accutane exactly?
Accutane, also called Isotretinoin, is a pill chemically related to vitamin A. Topical vitamin A treatments, like prescription Retin-A, and over-the-counter retinoids, treat both acne and aging skin and do so effectively.
Accutane works by blocking the production of sebum, or oil in the skin. This can be very unpleasant at first. Your once-supple skin parches and cracks like a desert. But, in the long run, Accutane will likely cure even the most stubborn propensity breakouts. And, you likely only need one course of treatment. A single cycle lasts about 4-6 months and then you’re done for good.
Maybe best of all, unlike most hit-or-miss topical treatments, from salicylic acid to benzol peroxide, Accutane has a roughly 90% success rate, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.
The main side effect of Accutane is almost guaranteed
The most common Accutane side effects are mild and include dry skin. That’s basically guaranteed. It’s also the whole reason you take it, so no big deal. Anecdotally, this is the only thing that happened in my case.
Your lips will also likely crack and probably hurt. Prepare for your course of treatment beforehand by stocking up on thick moisturizers and a big tub of petroleum jelly. It’s a good idea to schedule some time off work or school too. I did. If you’re already self-conscious about your skin, showing up at your desk looking like a lizard person could be difficult.
For contact lens wearers, switch to glasses temporarily. Your eyes will likely be too dry.
Photosensitivity is an issue too. Stay out of the sun and make sure you wear an SPF 30 daily. This is good advice for topical vitamin A treatments too.
The rare but scary Accutane side-effects
The biggest reason to consider alternatives like Winlevi though are Accutane’s rare but more troubling side effects.
Fewer than 1 in 10,000 will have their night vision impaired.
Liver and pancreatic damage are also possible because Accutane can increase the amount of fat in your blood.
Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis developed in very rare cases too.
Accutane could cause changes to your brain too. Fewer than 1 in 10,000 have experienced severe problems with mood. Suicide attempts have even been reported. These side effects are thankfully so rare however that it’s unclear if they can actually be linked to Accutane, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Pregnant women can not take Accutane. Ever.
Winlevi may be a safer yet effective alternative to Accutane
Winlevi may be a safer alternative than Accutane but it also shares some of the older drug’s strengths.
In 2021, the FDA approved Winlevi. Winelvi became the first new prescription drug for acne since Accutane came on the market in 1982, according to Clinical Therapeutics.
Shockingly, that’s almost 40 years without any new therapeutics and it comes at a time when more patients are understandably asking tough questions about drug side effects.
Winlevi (also called clascoterone cream 1%) is partially so promising because it has a similar mechanism to Accutane. It targets androgen receptors linked to oil production, and thus, breaks the hormone-related cycle of inflammation in the skin.
Long-term data is a while off but Winlevi may indeed prove far safer than Accutane. That’s a fair assumption since you’re not asking your body to metabolize it internally. Side effects so far are reportedly mild and the efficacy is reasonably high. It’s definitely worth asking your doctor about this new anti-acne drug if the potential dangers of Accutane have you spooked.