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Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 09:43 UK
Warning over acne 'wonder drug'

By Charlotte Ashton
Revealed reporter

Roaccutane has become known as an acne wonder drug but the side effects can be severe. A top dermatologist has told Newsbeat that doctors are using it as a quick fix for patients who could be treated with milder medication.

Boy wth acne
Roaccutane can cause exhaustion, aching joints and dry lips

Roaccutane works for thousands of acne sufferers in the UK every year - nearly 12,000 prescriptions for the drug were handed out last year.

The leaflet you get with the tablets warns about depression and even suicidal feelings.

It can also cause physical side effects like exhaustion, aching joints and severely dry lips and eyes.

It is licensed in the UK as a last resort for patients with severe acne who have already tried two other forms of treatment.

But top skin doctor Tony Chu says this isn't happening.

'Off the books'

"An awful lot of people are being offered Roaccutane almost as a first-line treatment," she said.

A few months of hell is nothing for a lifetime without spots
Luke from Hereford

"It's bad medicine. You know with Roaccutane you can get patients clear and off your books in six months rather than go through the mill and try them on a variety of things until you hit on the thing that will actually work for them."

Dr Chu says doctors have no way of knowing which patients will get mental health side effects.

But it can take many months to find the right combination of alternative treatments like oral antibiotics and skin creams which is frustrating if acne's ruining your life.

Different treatments

After spending two years trying different antibiotics and creams 22-year-old student Charlotte Bowser from Truro was desperate to try Roaccutane.

"When I heard about it I was like: 'Wow! Give it to me now'. I'd tried so many different lotions from my GP.

Luke says taking Roaccutane made him feel like he had no energy

"I had one that bleached my hair and clothes. And I had another one that was like pouring lemon juice on a cut. That was horrible. I hated it."

Roaccutane gave Charlotte bad mood swings, but it did get rid of her spots. It also worked for 17-year-old Luke from Hereford.

He said: "I didn't feel depressed but what I definitely did get, and what a lot of people do say, is that your energy levels are so incredibly low. I always wanted sleep.

'Try other medication'

"It's one of the most life-changing things I've ever done. A few months of hell is nothing for a lifetime without spots."

Alison Dudley, founder of the patient-support group The Acne Foundation, says it's important that patients try other medication properly before asking for Roaccutane.

"It is very difficult to have to remember to use creams or take tablets every day for months on end and understandably many people get fed up," she said.

"But if you stick to your treatments for at least two months before you start to judge whether it works or not, then you are giving your skin a good chance to recover.

"Try thinking of using spot treatments like you would cleaning your teeth - unless you keep it up regularly you'll get problems, but used everyday helps to keep the bacteria away."

So what is the best way to get rid of spots? BBC News programme Revealed…. has been investigating. Revealed….how to beat spots is on Saturday 16 May, on BBC Two at 1.40 pm or visit for more information.

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