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Teratogenic Acne Medication

Teratogenic Acne Medication Teratogenic Acne Medication Teratogenic Acne Medication


Isotretinoin, sold under the brand names Accutane and Roaccutane, is a medication derived from vitamin A used to treat severe, treatment-resistant acne. Isotretinoin is a powerful teratogen known to cause severe, life-threatening birth defects when taken by women during any stage of pregnancy.


Isotretinoin is prescribed for the treatment of severe nodular acne. It may not be recommended for less severe forms of acne, such as blackheads or small pustules, and is generally viewed as a last line of treatment due to the potential for causing severe side effects. Other oral treatments, including zinc and the antibiotics minocycline or tetracycline, are often recommended over isotretinoin for less severe acne.


Isotretinoin differs from other acne treatments in that it directly affects DNA processes in cells, decreases the size of oil glands and prevents acne formation at the cellular level. According to, isotretinoin cures or significantly reduces severe acne in 95 percent of cases, making it the most effective treatment for severe types of acne like acne fulminans and acne conglobata.

Birth Defects

Isotretinoin is a potent teratogen, known for causing fatal defects in the skull, heart and brain of the developing fetus. According to March of Dimes, birth defects associated with isotretinoin include microencephaly (small brain and head), mental retardation, cleft palate, heart defects and facial malformations.

Isotretinoin is available only through the iPledge program, which requires patients of childbearing age to use birth control measures to prevent pregnancy while taking the medication. According to Drug Information Online, taking even one dose of isotretinoin while pregnant can cause serious birth defects. Both male and female patients taking isotretinoin are required to join the iPledge program.

Side Effects

In addition to its teratogenic effects, isotretinoin can also cause psychological side effects, which can sometimes be severe. According to RxList, depression, psychosis and suicidal ideation are possible side effects of isotretinoin.

Less severe side effects, such as dry skin, dizziness and drowsiness are more likely to occur. Physical side effects including skin infections, nosebleeds and joint pain may also occur in patients taking isotretinoin.


Not everyone taking isotretinoin will experience side effects. Certain factors may increase your chances of experiencing certain side effects like depression. Tell your doctor before taking isotretinoin if you have a history of psychological problems or physical conditions including osteoporosis, heart disease or liver impairment.

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