We live in a world now where everyone is pressurised, even subconsciously, to look a certain way. The desire to meet these false expectations in terms of appearance takes its toll. This greatly affects people who suffer conditions that make their appearance less desirable than they would like. One such condition is acne.

Throughout the teenage years, many people suffer from the effects of acne, which is generally exacerbated by the hormonal activity that takes place during this period – with 80 per cent of teens being subjected to the condition at some point. However, for some teenagers this issue is not just a phase but rather a permanent condition that will continue throughout their lives, with severe and frequent outbreaks on their skin. This affects around 10-15 per cent of teens, which warrants them to seek treatment in some form. Throughout the last few decades, moves have been taken to relieve the constant stress faced by sufferers – the most effective possibly being the prescription of Accutane.

Originally used as a medium for chemotherapy, Accutane was introduced as a miracle acne drug thirty years ago. The ability to start a course of Accutane is by no means easily achieved, as there is a process of trialling alternative treatments beforehand, as well as blood tests to spot any causes for concern. Therefore, this means that only individuals in severe cases will receive such treatment, which perhaps justifies more the risk of taking such a potentially dangerous drug course.

However, with the ever-increasing presence of media scrutiny, specifically social media which is very popular with teenagers, more people are under pressure to look a certain way than ever before. The media makes any imperfections an issue that needs to be treated, even if it means sacrificing overall health in the process.

Accutane has been linked regularly to suicides, as it’s thought that there is a link between the drug and depression. What makes the issue even more complicated is the conundrum between depression developing as an effect of the acne treatment or just the acne itself, which obviously has a massive impact on any individual’s perception of self-worth and confidence. Consequently, taking either measure – to take Accutane or live with the condition – could equally potentially result in depression. So why shouldn’t a sufferer take the risk?

Perhaps the most infamous case that showed the cruel reality of side effects from the drug was the incident of a congressman’s son. In May 2000, Bart Stupak Jr., reportedly shot himself in the head having taken the drug. As a consequence, his father would link the cause to the Accutane and the issue became highly publicised. Congressman Stupak was quoted saying: ‘We are up over 100 reports, that’s just what is coming in to us, so I believe there are probably over a thousand cases. The average time is 88 days from when you start taking it, and the effect is very sudden…. You are doing strange things at 3 a.m. and you are dead at 7 a.m’.

According to USA Today, approximately 66 cases of suicide and over 1,300 cases of psychiatric problems by Accutane users were reported to the FDA as of December 2000. As a result of the publicity, in 2001 the FDA introduced new warning labels and consent forms for the drug, but by no means prevented its distribution.

This begs the question if doctors should step in and put a stop to such a notorious drug. Are the manufacturers taking advantage of people’s insecurities for an effective (though potentially hazardous) solution, in the prospect of financial gain without taking proper precautions? Perhaps doctors should be sticking with alternatives like antibiotics, that while less effective, pose much less of a health concern.

There is another side to this issue however, as while some people may have suffered at the hands of Accutane, many others have successfully changed their lives for the better and no longer have to bear the suffering that their skin once brought. One example is Megan Taylor whose livelihood was dependent on a good complexion, with aspirations of a modelling and acting career. Having been diagnosed with cystic acne and after trying numerous antibiotics, she was finally treated with Accutane. After six months of treatment she was acne free, and commented on the experience saying: ‘It gave me my life back and my career’.

So it seems every person has the potential to react to the drug in a different manner, whether this will be positive or negative is largely uncertain. Should it be up to the individual to decide whether to risk their health in order to possibly reap the benefits of such a drug? This still remains a controversial issue, and one that needs more research to gain a better understanding of whether it should be readily available to the public.


1) http://www.newsrt.co.uk/news/should-the-drug-that-transformed-megan-s-skin-be-banned-experts-think-it-s-a-wonder-cure-but-it-s-been-linked-to-depression-and-suicidal-thoughts-2116420.html
2) http://leflaw.com/accutane
3) https://wikileaks.org/gifiles/docs/34/3491492_popular-acne-medication-warning-get-compensation-.html

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