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What Is Isotretinoin Used For?

Isotretinoin is used for treating adults and adolescents (age 12 and older) who have severe nodular acne. Specifically, this prescription acne medication is approved for use when other acne treatments have failed. It works by decreasing the production of an oily substance under the skin, called sebum. Possible "off-label" isotretinoin uses include chemotherapy treatment for certain types of cancer.

An Overview of Isotretinoin Uses

Isotretinoin (Accutane®, Absorica™, Amnesteem™, Claravis™, Sotret®) is a prescription acne medication. It is reserved for people who have severe nodular acne that has not responded well to other acne treatments.
There are many types of acne. The most common types are:
  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Papules
  • Pustules
  • Nodules
  • Cysts.
Isotretinoin is approved to treat nodular acne, one of most severe types. Nodules are large, painful, solid lesions that are lodged deep within the skin. Your dermatologist may prescribe isotretinoin if other acne treatments have not worked. Because the medication can also cause birth defects, it is important that you are not pregnant and do not plan on getting pregnant while taking it. You must use two methods of birth control at the same time during treatment. This is done for one month before acne treatment begins, during acne treatment, and for a full month after stopping isotretinoin. Talk with your dermatologist about when it's safe to get pregnant.

How Does It Work?

Isotretinoin is a retinoid, which means that it is similar to vitamin A. It works by affecting the sebaceous glands. These glands produce sebum (an oily substance), and isotretinoin works by reducing the size of the sebaceous glands and decreasing sebum production. The medication also corrects abnormal keratinization (which causes a buildup of cells within hair follicles), a problem that contributes to acne. It is not entirely clear as to why isotretinoin causes long-lasting, anti-acne effects (one 15- to 20-week course often clears up acne permanently).
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Isotretinoin for Acne

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