6 Alternatives to Accutane for Treating Acne

If you’re looking for an Accutane alternative to treat your acne, you probably have one of two needs: either a substitute brand for Accutane or a medication that does not contain Accutane’s active ingredient isotretinoin. No matter which camp you fall into, you’ll find all the info you need here.

 Verywell / Tim Liedtke

What Is Accutane?

Accutane is a former brand name of isotretinoin—a prescription medication used to treat severe or nodular acne.

Isotretinoin belongs to the family of medicines called retinoids. It works by reducing sebum (oil) production, clogged pores, the skin bacteria P. acnes, and inflammation—all of which can lead to breakouts.

Although this brand has been discontinued since 2009, some people still call any isotretinoin medication “Accutane,” simply because it was the first oral isotretinoin acne medication on the market, and the brand is the most well-known.

Is Accutane Safe?

Isotretinoin (formerly sold under the brand name Accutane) is a very effective treatment for severe acne. However, there are risks associated with this medication and it should only be taken under the close supervision of a healthcare professional.

Potential side effects of isotretinoin include:

  • Chapped lips
  • Dry skin and itching
  • Rash
  • Dry eyes
  • Nosebleeds
  • Eye irritation
  • Night blindness
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Temporary thinning of hair
  • Sun-sensitive skin
  • Stomach problems

Although not common, other serious sides effects may include:

  • Headaches (due to increasing pressure on the brain)
  • Liver damage

Pregnancy Risks

Isotretinoin can cause severe birth defects if taken while pregnant. Persons who can become pregnant are required to take a monthly pregnancy test and use two forms of birth control (or pledge not to have sex) while using this medication.

What are Accutane Alternatives?

Generic Options

Although the brand Accutane is no longer available, there are still plenty of medications on the market today that contain the same active ingredient—isotretinoin. They’re just sold under different brand names. 

Generic versions of Accutane have been available since 2002 and have the same active ingredient as the original. They include formulations marketed under the brand names Absorica, Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret, and others.

A prescription is needed for all of these medications, and they all have the same side effects as Accutane. Registration in the iPledge program is also required of anyone taking isotretinoin.

Just like with Accutane, these medications are not right for everyone. But, in the right situations, these options are great substitutes for the now non-existent Accutane brand.

For some people, though, isotretinoin medication isn’t an option. In this case, there are still plenty of treatment alternatives for people with stubborn inflammatory acne or severe acne breakouts.

Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids come in creams, lotions, and gels that you apply to the skin, rather than take in pill form. Topical retinoids do some of the same things for your skin that isotretinoin can. They exfoliate the skin, reduce oiliness, help keep the pores clear, and prevent breakouts from forming. 

Topical retinoid medications indicated for the treatment of acne include Retin-A (tretinoin), Tazorac (tazarotene), and Differin (adapalene). As with isotretinoin, retinoid medications require a prescription.

Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics are another option for treating severe acne. Since acne is caused, in part, by bacteria, oral antibiotics can help get breakouts under control. But because bacteria isn’t the only culprit, your healthcare provider will most likely prescribe other medications along with oral antibiotics.

Hormonal Treatments

Spironolactone (aldactone) is another effective medication that is for adult women only. It’s not specifically an acne treatment but can be used in certain circumstances to treat hormonal fluctuations that contribute to breakouts. Certain oral contraceptive pills can also be beneficial.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are sometimes used to help reduce pain and inflammation associated with severe acne. Corticosteroid shots can help clear large acne nodules or cysts that won’t heal on their own.

A healthcare professional injects the corticosteroid directly into the blemish. This type of treatment can flatten the majority of nodules and cysts within 48 to 72 hours.

Acne Removal

Physically removing blemishes is another treatment method that can help with some forms of acne.

Acne extraction may be performed when acne treatments fail to clear blackheads and whiteheads. During this procedure, a healthcare professional uses sterile tools to carefully clear clogged or compacted pores.

Incision and drainage is another type of treatment used to remove large or painful acne cysts or nodules. This type of acne surgical procedure uses a sterile needle or blade to drain pus and debris from a pimple.

Summary

If you’re struggling with severe or cystic acne, the best advice is to see a dermatologist. These serious forms of acne just don’t go away on their own, don’t improve with over-the-counter products, and can easily cause scarring.

Your dermatologist can help you devise the ideal treatment plan for your acne, utilizing isotretinoin or an isotretinoin-free medication that will work for you. 

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Isotretinoin: Overview.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Isotretinoin capsule information.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Isotretinoin: The truth about side effects.

  4. MedlinePlus. Isotretinoin.

  5. Leyden J, Stein-gold L, Weiss J. Why topical retinoids are mainstay of therapy for acne. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2017;7(3):293-304. doi:10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2

  6. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What can clear severe acne?

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Pimple popping: Why a dermatologist should only do it.

Additional Reading

  • Baldwin HE. Pharmacologic treatment options in mild, moderate, and severe acne vulgaris. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2015;34(5 Suppl):S82-5. doi:10.12788/j.sder.2015.0162

  • Webster GF. Isotretinoin: Mechanism of action and patient selection. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2015;34(5 Suppl):S86-8. doi:10.12788/j.sder.2015.0163

By Angela Palmer

Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.

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