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What Do TikTok Videos Have To Say About Isotretinoin? | AAD 2024


A content analysis of 75 TikTok videos showed that most have positive information about the oral acne medication, which was previously sold under the brand name Accutane. But larger majority (77%) of the videos have negative information about isotretinoin, and a large percentage of those videos give the positive effects only a passing mention, if any at all.

Most of the TikTok videos about isotretinoin have positive information about the acne medication for severe cases of the disease, but a larger majority have negative information with just a brief mention of the positive effects, according to an analysis presented in a poster today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in San Diego.

Researchers have turned their attention to TikTok, Instagram and YouTube as they have become sources of healthcare information and opinions for an increasing number of people in the U.S. and around the world.

Isotretinoin, which is derived from vitamin A, is an oral drug used to treat severe acne, become important channels of healthcare information. It used to be sold under the brand name Accutane, which was taken off the market in 2009, and many people still refer to it by that name. Isotretinoin has been the subject of controversy and debate because of its side effects, which according to some disputed research include depression and suicide.

Karen Geletko, M.P.H.

Karen Geletko, M.P.H.

For this research, a research team of three Florida State University College of Medicine students — Kimia Targhi, Catalina Villafane and Aanchel Shah — and Karen Geletko, M.P.H., a research instructor at the school, identified 75 TikTok videos about isotretinoin by searching on “Accutane” in the short-form video website’s search function. They classified the information in videos as positive, negative or neutral about isotretinoin. The videos were then rated as being balanced, partially balanced or mixed and then analyzed further for the dominant perspective as measured by the amount in the video spent on that perspective.

Targhi and her colleagues found that 60% (45 of 75) of the videos mentioned the positive effects of isotretinoin and 77% (58 of 75) mentioned negative aspects. Side effects were featured in most (59%) of the videos. Dry lips (39%), dry skin (36%) and psychiatric effects such as depression and suicidal thoughts (19%) were among the side effects that were mentioned most often. Some patients treated with isotretinoin develop a temporary worsening of acne; 36% (27 of 75) of the TikTok videos mentioned that phenomenon.

In their analysis of the balance of the information presented, the Florida State University researchers found, not surprisingly, that side effects were the negative topic that received the most mention.

Some dermatologists believe that isotretinoin is not used enough to treat severe acne, and they would presumably be pleased to see that 60% of the top TikTok videos mention the positive effects. But only in approximately one-half of those video was the positive effect dominant. In contrast, 77% of the TikTok videos mentioned some negative aspect of isotretinoin, a list that includes side effects, contraindications, the flare-up of acne that some patients experience when they start the medication and the need for multiple treatments. Among those videos, the negative information dominated, with 59% mentioning positive attributes briefly if at all.

“Thus it can be concluded,” Targhi and her colleagues wrote, “that while oral isotretinoin’s positive skin effects were acknowledged across a majority of the analyzed videos, they were not the central point of discussion in nearly half of them.”

“Yet,” they continued, “in the videos that mentioned the negative aspects of oral isotretinoin these negative topics were the main focus.”

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