Isotretinoin (formerly known by the brand name Accutane) is an effective treatment option for severe acne, but it can take a toll on your skin. A lot of people may experience dry skin, chapped lips, and dry eyes while on the medication.¹
Although side effects usually stop when your prescription ends (which is usually between 4 and 6 months, depending on the severity of your condition), they’re still uncomfortable while they’re happening.
In this article, we’ll give general tips you may consider trying if you’re experiencing side effects from isotretinoin. We’ll take a look at what you can do to take care of your skin while using isotretinoin, some of the best lotions for isotretinoin, and what to avoid while taking isotretinoin. That said, if you are experiencing any of these side effects, it’s important to let your medical provider know!
We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Isotretinoin is a medication used to treat severe acne when other treatments don’t work.²
Isotretinoin is an oral retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A. Here’s what typically happens to your skin when you use isotretinoin:³
Your sebum production decreases (which minimizes oily skin)
You have lower levels of C. acnes bacteria (which contributes to acne)
You may have less inflammation
Your pores become clearer
Because isotretinoin decreases oil production, one of its most common side effects is dry skin (along with dry eyes and a dry mouth). You can use a skincare routine that moisturizes the skin to help alleviate these side effects.
You can experience side effects like dry lips from isotretinoin. Follow these simple steps to keep your skin hydrated:
The first step is to regularly moisturize your dry skin. While on isotretinoin, look for moisturizers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid⁴ (which keeps your skin hydrated) and glycerin⁵ (which attracts water to your skin).
It’s also vital to use daily broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.⁶ Sunscreen is a requirement for isotretinoin users, as is avoiding direct sunlight (at least, as much as possible).⁷
While isotretinoin works at treating your acne, it can make the outer layer of your skin more susceptible to sunburn, so be sure to use a moisturizer with a high SPF rating (at least 30).
If you’re dealing with chapped lips, find a lip balm that has soothing ingredients. For example, shea butter is a good choice for softening rough lips. Castor oil and jojoba seed oil are also helpful for retaining natural moisture. Stop the cycle of buy, try, and DIY by testing Curology's moisturizing lip balm.
Ingredients in this lip balm include shea butter, jojoba seed oil, and carnauba wax to help moisturize your lips.
If you find yourself with dry eyes, use of eye drops can help ease the irritation.⁸ Artificial tears are applied to the surface of the eyes to help keep them lubricated. Consult with your eyecare professional to determine which types of eye drops will work best for you.
Disclaimer: Be sure to read the instructions for the specific drops you’re using.
Here are some of the things you’ll likely need to avoid while using isotretinoin.
Vitamin A. Because isotretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A,⁹ you should generally stay away from additional vitamin A supplements while you’re on it—though you can certainly still eat vitamin A-rich foods, like sweet potatoes and carrots. Retinol-containing products should be used with caution.
Direct sunlight. As mentioned, your skin will likely be more sensitive to the sun while taking isotretinoin. To avoid damage to your skin, you’ll want to stay out of direct sunlight whenever you can. If you do go in the sun, be sure to use sunscreen.
Skin resurfacing procedures. Skin procedures such as waxing or peeling treatments should stop while you’re using isotretinoin, as these may cause skin irritation and scarring.¹⁰
Disclaimer: Talk to your doctor or dermatologist to confirm what you should or shouldn’t do while taking isotretinoin.
There are several things you may want to incorporate into your skincare routine while on—and after using—isotretinoin.
A gentle, hydrating cleanser. Look for a cleanser that’s mild and gentle. It should be free of potentially irritating ingredients, like denatured alcohol or added fragrance. Find out more about cleansers for acne-prone skin here.
Use non-comedogenic products. Non-comedogenic products include ingredients that won’t clog your pores, such as aloe vera, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid. Using non-comedogenic products during (and after!) a course of isotretinoin will help reduce the chances of your pores clogging. You can use our guide to help check your products.
Stay away from harsh scrubs. Over-exfoliating already dry skin can lead to increased irritation.
Although the side effects of isotretinoin can be uncomfortable, there are ways to help. The most common side effect is dry skin, so having a hydrating skincare routine can help relieve the symptoms so that you can focus more on treating your acne and less on worrying about a dry, flaky complexion.
Even after your isotretinoin cycle finishes, it’s important to maintain a good skincare regimen. This is where using Curology can help.
At Curology, we offer personalized treatments for acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, and anti-aging concerns. All you have to do is complete a questionnaire to inform us of your medical history and skincare goals, as well as submit photos of your skin. Our team of licensed dermatology providers will then prescribe a formula to help meet your skin goals.* Not to mention, they’ll be there to help support you throughout your skincare journey and answer any questions you may have.
Yes, a skincare routine while using isotretinoin can help relieve the potential discomfort caused by its side effects. It’s also crucial that you protect your skin from the sun—the best sunscreen while taking isotretinoin is one that you’ll wear every day.
While using isotretinoin, you should generally avoid vitamin A supplements and certain products, direct sunlight (as much as possible!), skin procedures such as waxing, and certain other acne treatments. For a full list of what to avoid, talk to your doctor or dermatologist.
Generally speaking, no, the side effects of isotretinoin should subside when you stop taking the medication. If they don’t, talk to your doctor.
In general, yes, you can. Niacinamide helps to improve skin barrier functions and reduce skin inflammation,¹¹ which can be helpful for isotretinoin users. That said, it’s important to talk to your dermatologist about what to use while taking isotretinoin.
Pile, H.D. and Sadiq, N.M. Isotretinoin. StatPearls. (2022, May 8).
Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (May 2016).
Layton, A. The use of isotretinoin in acne. Dermatoendocrinology. (May-June 2009).
Papakonstantinou, E., et al. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermatoendocrinology. (2012, July 1).
Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. (May-June 2016).
Sander, M., et al. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. CMAJ. (2020, December 14).
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Isotretinoin: FAQs. (2021, December 15).
Semp, D.A., et al. Artificial Tears: A Systematic Review. Clin Optom (Auckl). (2023, January 10).
Al-Abadie, M., et al. Vitamin A derivatives use in the treatment of skin conditions. International Journal of Current Pharmaceutical Research. (2020, November 18).
Layton, A. The use of isotretinoin in acne. Dermatoendocrinology. Ibid.
Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. (December 2017).
Melissa Hunter is a board certified family nurse practitioner at Curology. She received her MSN from George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Disclaimer: Curology doesn’t prescribe isotretinoin, which requires in-person care.
*Subject to consultation.
**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.
Melissa Hunter, NP-C