Clean and clear

Many teenagers have made popping zits part of their daily routine. However, some have taken new routes to get rid of their acne; students are now using prescription pills to clear skin.
Steven* ’09 began using the acne medication Accutane last year when his doctor suggested it after oral antibiotics did not clear up his skin.

Accutane, a pill taken daily, is a form of vitamin A that reduces the amount of oil produced by the skin. As a severe drug, Accutane is only prescribed when patients haven’t responded to antibiotics or topical treatment and usually have cystic acne. Common side effects include dry skin and lips as well as achiness of the joints, according to dermatologist Dr. Larry Rivkin (Alex ’09).

Rare side effects can be as serious as depression, colitis, inflammation of the colon and in some cases, suicidal tendencies. Before starting the treatment, patients must sign a consent form acknowledging that they are aware of the mental side effects.

A program called iPledge monitors the distribution of Accutane. One of the most important precautions for women while on Accutane is taking an oral contraceptive and a pregnancy test every month, Rivkin said, because Accutane can cause severe birth defects.

Steven did not experience any mental side effects while on the medication, but he did suffer from dryness all over his body.

Jessica* ’09 started taking birth control pills two years ago when other acne medications failed. She now has clear skin, but before a successful trial with the birth control pill, taking care of her skin was a large part of her life.

She had facials every month and would wash her face with up to three different cleansers. To top it off, Jessica would have to layer her skin with heavy liquid foundation to cover her skin blemishes, a routine she doesn’t miss.

“[Facials] throw out any impurities and exfoliate which would help get rid of any dead skin cells,” an esthetician for the Burke Williams spa, Megan Forrest, said. Forrest recommends getting facials every four to six weeks to treat severe acne but stresses that getting too many would overstimulate the skin and cause dryness.

Before Jessica found this antidote to her acne, she experienced some failures with other medication. She tried Accutane, but her skin became chapped and she developed feelings of depression.

Jessica’s depression was severe enough that the risks outweighed the gain, and she quit using the strong medication after using it for six months. While on Accutane, Jessica had to take blood tests every month to make sure her vitamin levels didn’t drop below a certain level. Every day, she took different vitamin supplements to ensure she was maintaining the proper amount of vitamins in her system, unlike Steven, who did not take any supplements.

Jessica then switched to using the birth control pill Yaz to control her hormones, which caused her acne.

The attempt ended in failure when the pill returned Jessica to the depressive state she experienced while on Accutane. Her third try was with another birth control pill, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. She stayed with this medication for a year and a half but eventually switched pills.

“My body kind of got used to it and my gynecologist thought I should try something different to see if it worked better,” Jessica said.

She has now been on the pill Zovia for four months.

Delilah* ’09 also uses birth control pills to clear up her skin and control her acne. She did so after having mediocre results with the ProActive skincare line. Although it helped, she found birth control to be a much easier way to control her acne. However, her mother did have some doubts as to why she wanted to go on birth control.

 “My mom was skeptical at first because she thought I wanted to go on birth control so I could have sex, but once I explained my situation, she was more than happy to take me to the doctor to get a prescription,” she said.

For the first month, Delilah experienced some nausea, but it soon subsided, as did her breakouts. She has been taking the pill regularly now for about five-and-a-half months and is extremely happy with the results.

“Not having to worry about my skin makes me feel carefree and confident,” Delilah said. “It makes my life a whole lot easier.”

Unlike Delilah, Lily* ’09 was able to control her acne using the ProActive skin care products. She was unhappy with her skin so when she was at a mall with her mom, they saw a kiosk advertising the ProActive skin care line. She thought she would give it a try, hoping it would clear her skin.

She had been using over the counter Stridex pads, but instead of fixing her problem, the pads caused facial dryness.

Lily’s results were exactly what she wanted. Her skin is clear and now she occasionally uses the ProActive spot treatment when she has an outbreak or two.

“Using ProActive boosted my confidence because now my skin is acne free,” she said.

When acne is not severe enough for Accutane or antibiotics, prescription topical ointments with Benzoyl Peroxide or Retin-A are possible treatments for acne, Rivkin said.

Even to treat minor acne, Benzoyl Peroxide in a lower dosage and salicylic acid are sold over-the-counter in drug stores as quick spot treatments. Rivkin expressed that acne is typically due to genetics, hormonal changes in women and stress, disregarding the idea that certain foods can cause breakouts.

*Names withheld upon request