Monday, 13 August 2012

Teens, Acne & Accutane...

It's long been a noted teen rite of passage that a little acne at times throughout the teen years is normal. The drugstores shelves are loaded with products designed to combat this common teen problem and there is also an expensive acne "treatment' peddled by celebrities on tv. They all promise cleaner and clearer skin...all you have to do is shell out the dough to buy the stuff. We tried all of them and spent hundreds of dollars on a drawer full of products. In the end....they just weren't helping. Today I am going to share our story of our journey with this teen issue.

Let me give you a bit of history. My daughter has always had beautiful skin with hardly any acne that was noticeable. Then last fall, something changed...either hormones or the stress of high school  or some factor unknown to us. Her forehead became an angry hotbed of acne. She became increasingly upset about this and our response was to spend more money on more products and her nighttime skin regime kept getting longer and more frustrating as she was not getting the results she hoped for. 

She started asking me if she could go see a Dermatologist. I didn't think it was necessary at first because I didn't think it was that bad, or I was just in denial. Then she started doing her own research online and she came to me asking about Accutane. I was so reluctant to entertain this idea because I had heard about the side effects of Accutane....extremely hard on the liver, and a reported increase in suicide among teens. Scary, right?

After looking at her forehead after a shower one day, and noticing that the acne was starting to spread down the sides of her cheeks, I became more concerned,  and I decided to make an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss our options for handling this. We went to the appointment and spent an hour with the dermatologist as he examined her skin and went over possible courses of treatment. Just by looking at Hunter's face, he didn't think her acne was bad until he lifted  up her bangs....and then he agreed that there was some serious acne that needed treatment. He suggested a low dose course of Accutane for a number of months.As soon as I expressed my reluctance to try Accutane, big tears started sliding down my daughter's cheeks and she looked at me with those blue eyes and said softly, "Mom, I 've had enough." I truly felt heart-wrenching  pain for her and I immediately had a complete change of heart. If the Dermatologist recommended Accutane as a course of treatment, then we were going to give it a try. After all, if I could prevent my daughter from living a lifetime with scars on her face, why wouldn't I do everything in my power to make that happen? My husband was totally supportive of my decision.

The dermotologist  explained to us that when Accutane first came on the market in the early 1980s, it was considered a 'miracle drug' because it  worked for patients with hard-to-treat face & body acne. It works by shutting down the oils glands in the body...which is the source of the acne cycle. In doing this, it also lowers serotonin levels...the body's feel-good hormone. Other side effects include extreme dryness as a result of shutting down the body's oil glands....especially around the lips and mouth, as well as affecting the liver. And staying out of the sun while taking Accutance is a must. He explained to us the need for a once-a-month blood test to monitor the liver function and a monthly visit to his office to monitor progress. He also suggested some gentle cleansers Hunter could use on her face while being treated. as well as moisturizing products to combat the dryness. We left his office feeling hopeful...and with a prescription for a low dose Accutane treatment. We stopped at a drugstore on the way home to have it filled and to pick up a gentle cleanser and some of the moisturizers that  the Derm had suggested.

Hunter started taking Accutane that day and within a month, we noticed a difference. When we went back for the 1 month appointment, the dermatologist agreed the treatment was working and advised her to continue. Hunter found that basic Vaseline worked on her lips to combat dryness and used it several times a day. I bought her a large jar of Vaseline for at home and a smaller sample size tube for her school bag. I took her for her monthly bloodwork and the liver function was fine.The Accutane continued to slowly work and by the 2 month appointment, Hunter had started wearing her bangs off of her forehead at home.

As I shared our Accutane treatment with a few girlfriends, I heard stories  that I had never heard before.One girlfriend told me that Accutane had "saved her life!". She had taken it when she was 17 to treat acne that she described as "horrible" and it had cleared her skin completely. Another girlfriend told me how her nephew had taken Accutane as a teen to treat severe back acne and she would not hesitate to use it for her son if he got bad acne during his teen years.

I  have to honestly say that we struggled with Hunter's emotions at times.She seemed to be more sensitive then usual...but we knew it would be a short-term situation for long-term benefits.Every week that passed was a week closer to the end of treatment and  the end of acne {hopefully}.

We are now at the 5 month mark and  Hunter has finally crossed the 'finish line' of treatment. We are relieved that the course of treatment is over, but mostly we are SO happy that our daughter can choose to wear whatever hairstyle she likes because she has nothing to hide! Oh Happy Day!
Although this is our experience with choosing Accutane as a treatment plan, I know every parent has the right to choose a course of action that works best for their child and their situation. Looking back, I really regret not taking her to see a Dermatologist sooner, in fact, I could kick myself. No one in my family or circle of friends had shared any experience with Accutane before, and I was left  initially feeling very alone on this path. But as I shared this story with  some best girlfriends and learned of how it had changed people's lives, I am so glad that we tackled this problem straight on as we did. It was the right thing to do...especially when I see my daughter's beautiful, confident smile.


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