Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Cost of Treating Acne: See the Receipts

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Welcome to Show the Receipts, a new series where we ask interesting people to share exactly how much it costs to get shit done. No matter the task, we’re tracking every last dollar from start to finish. Up next: treating severe acne.

Nicole Herbig never had acne as a teenager. While all her friends were dealing with hormonal breakouts, she thought she had gotten by “scotch-free,” until she turned 19 years old. “I got acne, and it wasn’t just traditional acne — it was severe, adult-onset cystic acne,” she tells PS. It didn’t start slow with an occasional pimple here and there; seemingly overnight, her face was covered. “Nothing I did ever really helped to make it better,” she says.

A dermatologist recommended Accutane, a prescription treatment taken orally, but she was hesitant. The side effects sounded scary, and it seemed everyone had an opinion on it, which she says “was really anxiety-inducing to me.” Up until that point, though, she had spent hundreds of dollars on over-the-counter topicals, prescription creams, and natural remedies. So three years later, she went on Accutane. “That absolutely changed my life.”

She stayed on the medication for six months. During that period, Herbig was no longer spending money on acne products that didn’t work, but the decision meant she would have to account for visits to her dermatologist and prescription costs. While her treatment plan was effective, it wasn’t cheap.

Even though she’s now off the medication, she wouldn’t say her acne is “cured” exactly. “Even now, I sometimes don’t even have a handle on it, to be totally honest.” But it certainly helped. For the rest of the year, she relied on over-the-counter treatments, plus monthly facials, to keep her breakouts in check.

Here’s the full cost breakdown.

Task: Treating acne
Occupation: Content creator
Location: New Jersey and Florida
Timeline: 1 year

The Receipts

Dermatologist appointments: $70 monthly copay with insurance, or $840 total
Prescriptions: $20 for one-month supply with insurance, or $240 total for a year
Accutane: $150 a month for six months with insurance, or $900 total
Bloodwork: $0 monthly with insurance
Over-the-counter products: $125 monthly, or $1,500 total
Facials: $84 per month, or $1,008 total
Total cost: $4,488

How I Did It

Herbig considers herself lucky to have insurance to cover some of the costs of her treatments (without it, she would be spending $300 to $400 more), but it still left a big chunk for her to take care of on her own. Here, she’s sharing some of the big takeaways worth noting.

PS: What was the most surprising expense of this process?
Nicole Herbig: Going on Accutane was the most expensive. I can’t imagine what that would cost without insurance because you’re getting monthly bloodwork done, you have to go to the dermatologist every month, you have to pay for the medication. There were certain points during treatment where the brand of the medication randomly changed and it increased in price with insurance.

The biggest kicker of it all is that Accutane is put out there as this cure-all for acne, but it’s still not even a guarantee. So you’re spending all of this money on a pill that so many people end up needing to go on two or three times, and even then it might not work. There’s still no cure for acne; no matter how much money I put into it, it’s always going to be something that I’m working to take care of.

PS: Were you surprised to learn what insurance would and wouldn’t cover?
NH: I was a little bit naive as to what insurance would cover. I didn’t really have many experiences with consistent healthcare costs at that point in time. So that monthly ‘script of Accutane was the first monthly prescription that I ever really had to take, and that was kind of shocking how much I was still expected to pay.

PS: What other skin-care products have you invested in?
NH: LED skin-care devices is another category. If we get super specific, I also have to buy separate hypoallergenic detergent because I’ll break out and that’s about $15; I even purchase special silver threaded pillowcases for $50 a piece. I have to use specific hair-care products because of my skin and that’s another $45 every other month. Then how about tackling those acne scars? If you want to do laser, you’ll need at least four sessions to see results, and that’s going to be another $1,500 to $2,000. And insurance isn’t going to cover that, which I haven’t even begun to tackle.

A lot of what I went through was in Central Jersey. Now, I live in Florida, about an hour south of Orlando. But I used to live up north, and there was a lot more accessibility to doctors and to treatment, but also, I feel like the cost was a little bit more than it is down here.

PS: Where did you cut costs and make sacrifices financially to accommodate your treatments?
NH: One perk of going on Accutane is that they really want you to simplify your routine. I pretty much only use Cetaphil and CeraVe, which are super cheap, bare-bones basic skin-care products. That’s all that they really want you to use.

Final Thoughts

Though Herbig’s skin has improved since she first started Accutane, she still has acne. Financials aside, one of the hardest things to deal with during this process has been external pressures and expectations from peers (and complete strangers).

“We all see that I have acne, I have scars, I have texture, and it makes other people so uncomfortable that they expect you to do something about it; they need you to fix it,” she says. “There’s this constant social pressure to put money into it.” When people see Herbig is still actively dealing with acne, she assumes they think she hasn’t put in enough effort, when in reality, “You don’t know how much money or how much time I’ve already put into it.”

Jessica Harrington is the senior beauty editor at PS, where she writes about hair, makeup, skin care, piercings, tattoos, and more. As a New York City-based writer and editor with a degree in journalism and over eight years of industry experience, she loves to interview industry experts, keep up with the latest trends, and test new products.

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