Does Accutane Cause Hair Loss?
If you battled acne at any point during the last thirty years, you're probably familiar with a medication brand called Accutane. This drug (generic name: isotretinoin) was prescribed by doctors for patients who struggled with severe acne. While it worked for many, there were enough reports of side effects that the brand Accutane is now defunct.
In spite of the fact that Accutane as a name brand is no longer on the market to treat acne, isotretinoin treatment is still available and prescribed by dermatologists under other generic names and brands. The side effects are still a cause for concern for some patients, with one of the chief concerns being isotretinoin-induced hair loss. Read on to find out if this acne-fighting drug causes hair loss and discover the best products for combatting thinning hair naturally.
Accutane was the brand name for the drug isotretinoin, as sold by Swiss multinational healthcare company, Roche. The drug was approved by the FDA in 1982 and was prescribed to help treat severe acne.
In 2009, after the medication was linked to numerous serious side effects including birth defects and Crohn’s disease, Roche discontinued the brand name Accutane and removed the drug from the market. They do however continue to distribute generic versions of isotretinoin under other brand names like Absorbica, Amnesteem, Claravis, Myorisan and Zenatane.
The drug itself is very divisive. Some patients have said it changed their life and cleared up their skin. Other patients reported instances of decreased mental health, including depression and suicidal ideations. In most cases, dermatologists will only prescribe the medication as a last resort if nothing else works, and most dermatologists now monitor their patient's mental health if they're on the medication.
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Why Isotretinoin is Prescribed
Isotretinoin is prescribed for severe cystic acne (the most severe form of acne vulgaris) that has not responded to any other treatments. Common topical acne treatments include products featuring benzoyl peroxide or clindamycin, or skincare products like Proactiv.
Isotretinoin works by decreasing sebum production in the facial skin. The drug is actually a synthetic version of a vitamin A derivative known as a retinoid.
Isotretinoin is the only acne vulgaris treatment that treats all four of the root causes of acne: excess skin oil (sebum), clogged pores, too much P. acnes bacteria on the skin and inflammation. While some people have hailed it as a life-changing miracle cure for cystic acne, there are also plenty of people who have claimed its side effects are dangerous.
Experts say the goal is to hit a cumulative dose of the medication that is appropriate based on your body weight. Once this is achieved the cure is often times permanent. But at what cost?
Isotretinoin and Hair Loss
A study published in 2011 found that isotretinoin-induced hair loss occurs because the drug affects the hormone levels in the pituitary gland that is responsible for growth during the hair cycle. About 10 percent of isotretinoin users reported experiencing temporary hair loss anecdotally while taking the medication. A 2018 study found that only high doses of the drug affected users' hair growth.
To complicate matters even further, a 2019 study seemed to refute the idea of isotretinoin hair loss altogether saying that those taking the drug might experience some hair fall and hair loss, but that there wasn't enough evidence to conclude the drug was to blame.
Still, experts in the field see it as common enough to merit a desire for more research. "Accutane (isotretinoin) can cause hair thinning or loss," said Dr. Enrizza Factor. "[This happens] by disturbing the normal hair cycle or affecting hair follicles, especially in people who are sensitive to it or are on high doses."
Studies seem to say the drug is safe and that accutane-related hair loss is only occurring in patients who have taken very high doses, while patients and dermatologists in the field are seeing occurrences of temporary hair loss like telogen effluvium during a course of the medication. In the interest of playing is safe, it seems wisest to do whatever you can to prevent hair shedding while on the drug.
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Additional Side Effects of Isotretinoin
Isotretinoin can cause pre-term birth and other birth defects. These potential risks are so severe that anyone who can become pregnant and is taking the drug has to ensure they are not pregnant by providing a negative pregnancy test before they can pick up their prescription medication. In addition, they also have to be on two forms of birth control to prevent pregnancy while on the medication. Anyone taking isotretinoin cannot donate blood while on the medication due to the risk that a pregnant person might be the recipient and thereby bring harm to their baby.
In terms of other side effects that Accutane users may experience, isotretinoin does dry out the skin and lips and can also cause skin rashes, dry skin, nosebleeds, joint pain, as well as red or itchy eyes. Some experts have also linked isotretinoin exposure to inflammatory bowel disease.
What to Do If Your Hair Is Thinning While on Isotretinoin Treatment
If your dermatologist has prescribed you isotretinoin, there are a few things you can do to help with preventing hair loss while you're on the medication.
Firstly, B vitamins are your friend. The medication can cause vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin B-9 (folate) so increasing your B-9 intake while under the guidance of your doctor can help. Lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet are also important. Upping your intake of folate-rich foods like avocados, bananas and broccoli has been shown to help.
Stress plays a huge role in hair fall or hair loss, so undergoing intense stress while taking isotretinoin can make hair fall worse. Try to reduce stress with practices like yoga, meditation or other mindfulness exercises. Regular exercise can also help.
Next, it's important to be gentle with your hair and scalp during treatment with isotretinoin as the hair's biome is under stress. So avoiding coloring or dying hair while in treatment is helpful. Also, brushing hair more gently is a wise practice to employ. In addition, protect the head from the sun's UV rays. You can also protect the scalp with nourishing oils like sweet almond oil, coconut oil or marula oil.
Use High-Quality Products
Using shampoos and conditioners that are gentle on the hair and scalp can also help. You want to be sure to use shampoos and conditioners that are free of parabens and sulfates, like VEGAMOUR GRO Revitalizing Shampoo and Conditioner. These can help to support a healthy hair and scalp biome.
Enhanced with clinically proven plant actives and our proprietary Karmatin™ (the first-of-its-kind vegan keratin), this clean, color-safe duo is perfect for stressed out strands. GRO Revitalizing Shampoo and Conditioner utilizes microencapsulated vegan b-SILK™ protein, which physically bonds to hair follicles and remains attached to strands even after rinsing. These nourishing formulas are the world’s first chemical-free keratin hair treatment products. Wild-harvested marula oil, organic murumuru butter and ximenia oil help to condition, hydrate and fight damaging free radicals without imparting pore-blocking residue. When used in conjunction with GRO Hair Serum, the results are even better.
GRO Hair Serum is a natural and holistic approach to hair wellness that is an effective way to promote sustainable hair health, especially during times of stress. The plant-based, multi-tasking hair serum uses a combination of clinically-tested, vegan phyto-actives that support a healthy and balanced follicular ecosystem while soothing the scalp and revitalizing hair roots. This is especially nourishing and healing if your hair follicles are under stress.
Free of toxic chemicals, carcinogens or harmful side effects, this 100% vegan and cruelty-free hair serum is formulated with powerful phyto-actives shown in multiple clinical studies to increase the appearance of hair density while reducing signs of shedding to bring you thicker, fuller-looking hair, which means it's the perfect way to combat thinning hair.
Remember, It's Only Temporary
In most cases, treating severe acne with isotretinoin therapy is temporary and potential hair thinning due to the medication is not the same as permanent hair loss.
If you notice your hair thinning and are concerned, speak with your dermatologist to see if they can adjust the medication dosage. Remember to be gentle on your body during treatment. Most important of all, if you feel any sort of negative shift in your mental health, depression or thoughts of suicide, seek professional medical advice right away.
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