Isotretinoin: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Isotretinoin is a medicine used to clear acne.

This medicine works by unclogging skin pores and shrinking oil glands. It can take 6 or more months to fully treat acne. If acne returns after treatment is done, it usually is not as bad as it was before.

Common side effects include dry skin, nose, mouth, eyes, and lips. Some people also feel more tired than usual, sunburn more easily, have problems with night vision, or lose more hair than usual.

Isotretinoin can have serious risks, especially during pregnancy. Just one dose can cause severe birth defects or miscarriage. It can also cause severe headaches, arm or leg pain, or changes in your liver or blood. When taking this medicine, you will have regular blood tests to see how it is affecting your liver, and to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Testing is usually done every month.

Some reports state that taking this medicine may increase the risk of getting inflammatory bowel disease. But experts don't have enough information to know if this is true.

There may be a link between this medicine and depression or other serious mood problems. Your doctor will want to know if you have mood changes.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not take this medicine if there is any chance you are pregnant.
  • Protect against pregnancy if you are a teen or woman in your childbearing years. Use two forms of birth control if you have sex while you are taking isotretinoin and for 1 month after you stop taking the medicine.
  • Do not take vitamin A when using this medicine. It can make side effects worse.
  • Do not breastfeed a baby when you are taking this medicine or if you have taken it within the past month.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your bedroom. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.
  • Relieve eye dryness with eyedrops, such as preservative-free Artificial Tears.
  • Relieve skin dryness with lotion. Apply it to damp skin right after you shower. Use lip balm.
  • Relieve mouth dryness with sugar-free gum or candy such as lemon drops. Drink fluids throughout the day. Try rinsing your mouth a lot and taking small sips of water often.
  • Relieve nose dryness with saline (saltwater) nasal washes.
  • Protect your eyes and skin from the sun. Stay in the shade, or cover up with a wide-brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing when outdoors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses. Put broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) on any exposed skin, even when it's cloudy.
  • Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You think you may be pregnant.
  • You think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.