Accutane Purging: Is it Really That Bad?

Accutane Purging: Is it Really That Bad?

You may have already heard the horrors of the Accutane purge, but is it really as bad as people say it is? Learn other skincare solutions to treat acne.

When you’ve dealt with extreme acne for a long time, it can feel like any solution would be better than allowing your skin concerns to stay as they are. Intense breakouts cause physical and emotional pain, so it’s no wonder why many people opt to find relief through medical treatment like Accutane. 

Accutane is famous in the skincare community for many reasons. Many people praise this medication for its ability to clear up severe acne, but at the same time, it has gained a notorious reputation for its ability to bring about unwanted side effects. 

One of its most infamous side effects is “purging,” or the process in which a patient’s skin condition becomes worse before the acne improves when they first start taking Accutane. The onset and severity of Accutane purging are different for everyone—but it is certainly something to know about if you’re thinking of going on Accutane.  

What Is Accutane Purging?

Accutane purging refers to a transitional stage some patients go through at the beginning of their journey with Accutane. For some, this medication causes skin concerns to get much worse before the medication starts alleviating acne and healing the skin.

But why would an anti-acne treatment involve a phase that makes your skin worse?

Some people believe that Accutane skin purging happens because the medication is digging deep to pull hidden impurities out of the skin. According to this theory, more acne breakouts occur during the “skin purge” because the medication is pushing out contaminants like:

  • Dead skin cells
  • Oil
  • Debris

Meanwhile, other sources suggest that Accutane purging happens because the acne medication causes pores to lose control and become more inflamed, which leads to a more intense bout of breakouts as well as skin irritation.

Although opinions on the exact cause of Accutane purging may differ, it’s widely accepted that some percentage of patients who start taking Accutane should expect to see their acne flare up before it starts to improve. 

Understanding How Accutane Works

Accutane (also known as isotretinoin) is an ingestible retinoid oral medication derived from vitamin A.

This medical-grade skin treatment works to reduce:

  • Sebum production
  • Acne-causing bacteria
  • Inflammation and redness

Essentially, Accutane is designed to decrease the onset of an acne breakout at a higher rate due to its ability to limit the amount of oil produced by the pores while simultaneously cutting down the amount of bacteria on the skin that would otherwise instigate breakouts.

Expected Side Effects During Treatment

Some common side effects that many patients experience during their Accutane treatment journey include:

  • Dry skin and chapped lips
  • Dry, irritated eyes
  • Sun sensitivity 

In addition to these physical symptoms, many people who take Accutane experience mood changes such as:

  • Feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Irritability and hostility

Finally, because Accutane can cause severe birth defects if taken while a patient is pregnant, women who want to get a prescription for this medication must take two pregnancy tests before starting. They must also agree to use two forms of birth control and take a monthly pregnancy test while they remain on oral medication.

How Long Does Accutane Purging Last?

If you’ve heard horror stories of Accutane purging, you may have found yourself wondering, exactly how long does Accutane purge last?

It’s a reasonable question—after all, nobody wants to start taking a new acne medication just to see that it’s exacerbating their skin concerns. The skin purging process looks a bit different from patient to patient, but most people find that it typically doesn’t last longer than six weeks.

If you’re experiencing a longer purging period, that can be a sign that you need an Accutane alternative like a hormonal acne supplement. MINDBODYSKIN® treats acne from within by supporting your entire body functions that cause hormonal imbalances, which trigger acne. We highly recommend this product as it’s a non-drying and effective method to treat hormonal acne.

Identifying Signs of Severe Reactions to Accutane

Accutane side effects like purging and dry eyes can be annoying to deal with, but there’s a difference between minor symptoms and severe reactions that demand serious medical assistance. 

If any of the following side effects impact you during your Accutane journey, consult with your doctor immediately:

  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Decreased visual acuity

The Accutane side effects can come in many different forms, so if you notice anything off about your physical or mental health while you’re taking this medication, it’s always best to seek professional help from your doctor. 

Coping Strategies and Skincare Tips During Accutane Purging

The Accutane purge might be unavoidable for some people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to make this process more bearable as you wait for it to pass. 

Use these two skincare strategies during the purging stage: 

  • Cleanse your skin gently – Accutane can cause the areas around your eyes, mouth, and nose to become dry and irritated. To avoid further stripping your skin of its natural oils, be sure to invest in a gentle facial cleanser that will wash off the day’s dirt without taking any of your skin’s “good stuff” along with it. 
  • Replenish your skin’s moisture – This medication is known for sucking the skin dry of its essential moisture, so give your parched complexion a helping hand by rehydrating it with a high-quality, non-comedogenic moisturizer

Is Accutane Worth It?

Taking Accutane involves making some sacrifices in exchange for the payoff of clear skin.

For some people, the purging process and other possible side effects of an extreme medication like Accutane will be a deal breaker that stops them from using this treatment. For others, the later results of clear skin may be worth it. 

Alternatives to Accutane

There are alternatives to Accutane and its purging stage, however. 

If you’re experiencing severe and consistent cystic acne, you can consult with your doctor or board-certified dermatologist about other medical-grade solutions such as: 

If your acne is more sporadic or less severe, a well-formulated skincare routine may be an easier solution to your concerns. If you’ve been trying product after product with no results, the products you’re choosing might not contain the ingredients your skin needs to heal from the inside out. Those are the ingredients we specialize in at CLEARSTEM. 

Find Acne-Fighting Ingredients at CLEARSTEM

If you want to avoid the Accutane purge and opt for gentler, easier treatment methods, give our CLEARSTEM anti-acne solutions a try. 

Sometimes, the only reason why you haven’t been able to banish your breakouts is that you’re not tackling the root of your acne problem with the right ingredients. Our advanced solutions are specially formulated by dermatology experts to help you feel and see a real difference in your skin. Whether you’re concerned about hormonal acne, acne-prone skin, or dry and dull skin, our experts are ready to help you find clearer skin ahead. 


Apotheco Pharmacy Group. Accutane and Its Effects on the Body.


National Library of Medicine. The use of isotretinoin in acne.