When the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, approved Accutane they knew
the potential side effects during pregnancy and for pregnant women. Products containing Accutane or retinoic acid were placed on the category X list for pregnancies. According the category description, under no circumstances should products listed as category X be used during pregnancy. Among the list of known side effects are hydrocephaly, microcephaly, mental retardation, ear deformities, cleft lip or palate, missing ears, defects of the heart, deformities of the face and lowered IQ.
Most often, women who find out they are pregnant are already 5 to 7 weeks into the pregnancy before testing positive. The effects of Accutane and retinoic acid often occur in the first 3 to 5 weeks. For this reason, women who are able to conceive should think twice about using Accutane or retinoic acid products even if they are not trying to conceive. Retinoic acid is the active ingredient in Accutane acne treatment.
The risk of birth defect is listed at 25 to 35%, but this percentage does not include children born with learning disabilities or lowered IQ. It is estimated that between 1982 and 1987, nearly 10,000 fetuses were affected by Accutane or retinoic acid. Of these, up to 8,000 fetuses were aborted either spontaneously or electively due to Accutane exposure.
Most dermatologists will require a woman take a pregnancy test before taking Accutane and pregnancy tests throughout the course of care. Women who are prescribed Accutane but discontinue dermatology care, may be at increased risk of fetal Accutane exposure. Accutane should be a last resort medication for women of childbearing age due to the significant risk of fetal birth defects.
Alternatives to Accutane do exist. Though no woman wants to live her life with severe acne, antibiotics, natural skin care products, and acne gels can be prescribed by a dermatologist. When Accutane is the only medication that clears skin, it can be hard to stop taking for nearly a year – or more if breast-feeding.