The active ingredient in Differin Gel is a synthetic retinoid known as adapalene. First approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 1996, adapalene debuted as Differin, a sheer gel formula designed to treat acne and its symptoms in a slightly different (some would say more precise) way than previous-generation retinoids such as tretinoin, aka Retin-A.
After over 20 years of only being available by prescription, Differin was given approval to be sold over-the-counter. What you're getting is the original strength in the exact same ultra-light, opaque tube-packaged, fragrance-free formula, which is great.
What's not so great—and why this missed our top rating—is that Differin missed an opportunity to retool its original formula to make it even better for reducing acne.
As an example, the company could've added some proven soothing ingredients to better target redness. Despite this letdown, Differin's active ingredient can still make a big difference for many people struggling with acne and clogged pores. And of course, now you don't need to bother getting a prescription to see how Differin might work for your breakouts.
Just as with the prescription form (and note that stronger versions of Differin containing 0.3% adapalene remain available by prescription only), you're directed to apply a sheer layer of Differin Gel to cleansed skin once daily. As with any topical retinoid, pay close attention to how your skin responds, and adjust frequency of application as needed if you see redness, flaking, or signs of sensitivity.
In terms of cost, while the OTC version of Differin Gel is certainly less expensive than the prescription versions—including generic adapalene—there are other prescription retinoids available as generics that could end up costing less depending on the product and if you have a prescription coverage plan.
One more comment: Differin may be used with other topical anti-acne products, including those medicated with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid and/or other non-retinoid topical prescription products. Consult your physician or pharmacist for advice on how to combine use of OTC Differin with topical prescription acne products.
- Ultra-light sheer gel texture is easy to apply and won't clog pores.
- Can be used with other topical anti-acne treatments.
- Fragrance free.
- Other than the retinoid, there's nothing special about the formula.
- Despite OTC status, can be more expensive than generic prescription retinoids.
As a brand, Differins come a long way in just a few short years. Originally Differin was the brand-name of the prescription retinoid adapalene, but in addition to the original adapalene-containing Differin Gel, they now offer a growing number of products available over the counter with a focus on treating and preventing acne.
The biggest change for Differin came in 2016, when, after two decades of being prescribed by doctors for acne, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the original Differin Gel for use over-the-counter. The move marked the first new drug approved for OTC acne treatment since the 1980s!
With the formula essentially unchanged since its introduction, Differin Gel remains a good alternative for those with stubborn acne that hasnt responded to more traditional treatments. To supplement their star product, Galderma, the parent company behind Differin, now offers additional products, such as a cleanser and a few moisturizers, each designed for breakout-prone skin. Overall, theyre relatively stripped-down formulas and dont offer much in the way of cutting-edge ingredients, but they are fragrance-free and gentle on acne-prone skin for the most part.
For more information about Differin, visit https://www.differin.com or call 1-866-735-4137.
Note: Because Differin is a pharmaceutical company, the original Differin Gel formula was tested on animals. However, the brand has stated in an email that their other non-drug skin care products are not tested on animals. As such, this brand's animal-testing status is a sort of grey area for consumers and we've decided to err on the side of caution and keep them on our list of brands that do test on animals, with this caveat, so each individual can make this very personal decision for themselves.
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The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
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