Isotretinoin for Acne: How It Works, Potential Side Effects And Where To Buy In Singapore

Siena Team
19 Aug 2022
Isotretinoin for Acne: How It Works, Potential Side Effects And Where To Buy In Singapore

Image credit: Gabriella Cetrulo

Acne is a common skin condition that affects over 80 percent of people at some point in life. 

While over-the-counter acne treatments are usually successful for light acne breakouts, many products that are great for milder forms of acne are almost totally ineffective against severe or persistent pimples. 

Commonly known by its original brand name Accutane, Isotretinoin is a potent drug that is U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved in 1982 for hard-to-treat acne.

Read on to find out:

  • What is Isotretinoin;
  • How does Isotretinoin works;
  • How effective is Isotretinoin;
  • How to take Isotretinoin;
  • What to do if you missed a dose;
  • Potential side effects;
  • Pregnancy precautions; and
  • Where to buy Isotretinoin in Singapore.

What Is Isotretinoin?

Isotretinoin is available in capsule form and is a vitamin-A derivative (retinoid). Originally created to treat cancer, it is increasingly prescribed for the treatment of acne.

What Are The Requirements For Taking Isotretinoin?

Isotretinoin is typically used for patients with:

  • Severe, nodular acne or cystic acne; or 
  • Moderate to severe acne that has not responded to other acne treatments (such as over-the-counter treatments, topical benzoyl peroxide, topical clindamycin or oral antibiotics for acne); or 
  • Physical or emotional scarring.

What Is Moderate And Severe Acne?

In moderate acne, individuals present with more widespread blackheads and whiteheads, with many papules and pustules. Papules are small red bumps that may feel tender or sore. Pustules are similar to papules but have a white tip in the centre, which is a collection of pus.

In severe acne, individuals present with lots of large, painful papules, pustules, nodules or cysts; you might also have some scarring. Nodules present as large painful bumps and can be red or skin-coloured. Cysts are the most severe forms of acne. They are large and painful and often look like boils. Compared to nodules, cysts feel softer and are pus-filled.

What Is The Right Isotretinoin Dosage?

In Singapore, oral isotretinoin is available as 10 mg and 20 mg capsules (Acnotin® brand). Depending on your acne presentation and body weight, the dosage and treatment period required to treat the acne may vary among individuals. Many doctors start their patients on a graduated plan to help mitigate side effects and allow the body to adjust.

Which Brand Of Isotretinoin Is Better?

There are 4 brands of isotretinoin available in Singapore – Acnotin®, Nimegen®, Oratane® and Roaccutane®.

While the brand names are different, all of them contain isotretinoin as the active ingredient and are used for the treatment of moderate to severe acne, which has shown to be successful. They may differ slightly in the inactive ingredients but have little to no impact on the effectiveness of treatment.

How Does Isotretinoin Work?

Isotretinoin works by:

  • Reducing the size of oils glands in the skin and the amount of oil produced
  • Reducing the amount of bacteria in the skin
  • Slowing down the production of skin cells inside pores, preventing clogging of pores
  • Reducing skin inflammation

Unlike spot treatments, the drug addresses acne all over the body, including back, neck, and chest.

How Effective Is Isotretinoin?

First approved in 1982, Isotretinoin remains the most clinically effective prescription anti-acne treatment available that can clear acne and produce long-term remissions.

Isotretinoin is shown to be about 90% effective in reducing acne within 6 weeks of use. Most patients on Isotretinoin will be free of acne by the end of 4 – 6 months of treatment, depending on the dose administered.

How To Take Isotretinoin?

Follow these steps when you are taking Isotretinoin capsules:

  • Isotretinoin is usually taken twice daily for 15-20 weeks, or as directed by your doctor.
  • Swallow the capsule whole with a glass of water.
  • Do not chew or crush the capsule.
  • Take this medication with or after food.

What To Do If I Missed My Isotretinoin Capsule?

If you have forgotten to take a dose of Isotretinoin, take it as soon as you remember it. However, if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and take the next one at the usual time.

Do not take two doses to make up for the missed dose.

What Are The Potential Side Effects Of Isotretinoin?

As with all medications, Isotretinoin comes with its own set of side effects. These side effects may vary among individuals and tend to subside when you stop taking the medication.

Here are some of the common side effects associated with Isotretinoin:

  • Worsening of acne during the first few weeks before improvement
  • Red, cracked and sore lips. This can be managed by applying lip balm frequently.
  • Irritated and dry eyes. Apply eye drops or artificial tears to relieve the dryness. Do not use contact lenses if irritation persists.
  • Dry skin, sometimes with peeling. Apply moisturiser regularly.
  • Dry mouth. You may drink more water or suck on sweets.
  • Dry nose. In severe cases, nose bleeding may occur. Apply white soft paraffin to the lining inside of your nose. If unresolved, consult your pharmacist or doctor about decreasing the dose of Isotretinoin.
  • Increased risk of sunburn. Avoid direct sun exposure for long durations and wear protective clothing if exposed to direct sunlight. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen product with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.

Do not take vitamin A or any vitamin supplement containing vitamin A while using Isotretinoin, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. To do so may increase the chance of side effects.

If these side effects are persistent or severe, stop treatment immediately and consult your doctor.

Pregnancy Precautions

Isotretinoin can cause very serious birth defects in humans if taken during pregnancy.

Women of childbearing years should rule out pregnancy by taking a pregnancy test before starting treatment. 

For women who are sexually active, it is recommended to use 2 forms of effective birth control while on treatment and at least 4 weeks after stopping Isotretinoin. The most effective forms of birth control are birth control pills, patches, shots, implants or IUD. One of these forms of birth control should be combined with a condom, a diaphragm, or a cervical cap.

Avoid breastfeeding during treatment as it’s unclear if the drug passes to your baby through breast milk.

Blood donation by males and females on Isotretinoin is not allowed in case the blood is used for a pregnant woman.

Where To Buy Isotretinoin In Singapore?

In Singapore, Isotretinoin can only be obtained with a valid doctor’s prescription. 

While extremely effective, Isotretinoin can come with some serious side effects. It is important to use Isotretinoin under the supervision of a doctor. 

At Siena, a MOH-approved digital health clinic, we carry a wide range of acne treatments ranging from topical cream/gel, oral antibiotics, birth control pills to Isotretinoin (Acnotin®). Find out the root cause of your pimples and get a personalised, ongoing acne treatment care plan by connecting with one of our friendly doctors online. Click here to get started!