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Psych up for questions about mood changes due to acne and acne treatment

People requiring treatment for severe acne can expect their doctors to ask about their mental health before and during any treatment with the acne medication isotretinoin (e.g. Roaccutane, Accutane, Oratane). 

While it is one of the most effective treatments for severe acne, isotretinoin use has been linked to possible side effects such as depression and suicidal thoughts or behavior in some people. However research has struggled to tease out the contribution of mood changes caused by living with severe acne itself - irrespective of the type of treatment.   

A recent UK report about isotretinoin, endorsed by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has reiterated the advice that acne can be associated with mental health disorders, regardless of whether or not isotretinoin treatment is used.   

The UK report also emphasised that because of its potential for severe side effects, isotretinoin should only be prescribed for people with severe cystic acne who have not responded to other treatment options.   

Melbourne dermatologist and All About Acne spokesperson Dr Mei Tam said isotretinoin was a very effective acne treatment.  

“We have had years of experience with isotretinoin now and most people can use it safely and expect good results. The most common side effects such as dry, sensitive and irritated skin can be alleviated by the use of moisturisers.”   

“One of the other potential problems is that acne can initially flare up with isotretinoin use and look worse before it gets better. That can be very distressing for young people who are desperate for clear skin,” she said.   

Dr Tam said Australian doctors were well aware of the importance of screening and monitoring acne patients for mental health issues but family and friends can play a role too.   

“We know that physical scars aren’t the only consequence of severe acne.  Acne can erode people’s self esteem and contribute to depressed mood so it’s really important to ask how someone is feeling and to raise any concerns they have about mental health.”   

For more information on isotretinoin, talk to a doctor or pharmacist or read the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) about the prescribed medicine.

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