Available by prescription, Differin is a topical retinod acne treatment that contains adapalene. Adapalene penetrates deep into the surface of your skin to clear existing acne, as well as prevent future breakouts by destroying bacteria causing acne at the source. Differin is available in two strengths - Differin (adapalene) Gel 0.3% or Differin (adapalene) Gel / Lotion Pump 0.1%. Your dermatologist will help you decide which strength is appropriate given your specific skin needs.
Differin cream or gel is available by prescription for insured patients for no more than $35 according to the Differin website.
Product Report Card Grade
We give Differin Cream and Gel a B because it is an effective treatment even for people suffering with severe acne. It is the #1 prescribed topical acne medication by dermatologists, and many people find it more tolerable than other retinoid-based treatments (ex. Retin-A). We deducted points, however, because you can only get it from your dermatologist and it can be relatively expensive, especially if you don’t have insurance. Additionally, the side effects can be quite uncomfortable and your acne will get worse before it gets better. You really need to be diligent about applying it for 8-12 weeks to see the best results.
very effective treatment for mild to severe acne; available in different strengths/formulas (ie lotion developed for more sensitive skin); light, non-greasy formula; said to be gentler than other topical prescription-strength retinods (ie Retin-A); helps regulate oil production; can also reduce hyperpigmentation
enhances effectiveness of current acne treatment routine and is gentle on skin; convenient size for traveling; 100% natural; good for reducing redness and inflammation
inexpensive; effective treatment of mild acne and blackheads; 3-1 makes nightly routine easier
expensive if you don't have insurance; takes 8-12 weeks to see results and acne can get worse before it gets better; increased skin sensitivity and irritation
time-consuming; expensive (especially if you end up buying the "Power Pack")
won't fade acne scaring; fragrance and coloring agents may irritate sensitive skin; may be overly drying for some users
Active Ingredient or Technology
Two formulas contain different strengths of the adapalene, a retinoid. The gel is 0.3% adapalene and the lotion is 0.1% adapalene.
Device uses phototherapy.
Gel contains 2% Salicylic Acid.
Mild to severe acne
Mild to moderate acne
Mild acne and blackheads
Normal, Oily or Combination
Normal, Dry, Oily, Combination, Sensitive
Normal, Oily or Combination
$35 (with insurance)
Gel is 1.6 fluid ounces (45 grams) and the lotion is 2 fluid ounces
Device is 6.5" tall and the head is 1.25" in diameter. It weighs less than 8 ounces.
2 fluid ounces
Varies based on usage
Varies based on usage
How It Works
As a retinoid, adapalene works by normalizing the shedding of skin cells to prevent pores from clogging and blemishes from forming. Since the medication draws existing bacteria to the surface of the skin, your skin may look worse before it gets better. It takes about 8-12 weeks to see results.
Releases wavelengths of blue light that penetrate deep into your skin to kill acne-causing bacteria, P. acnes, and soothe inflammatory acne vulgaris. Basically, within P. acnes bacteria, there are small molecules known as porphyrins. When exposed to 420 nm and shorter wavelengths of light, porphyrins generate free radicals that attack and kill P. acnes bacteria.
Powerful MicroClear™ technology helps the key acne medicine, salicylic acid, unclog congested pores and penetrate deep under the surface of your skin to fight acne at its source. At the same time, the unique formula contains moisturizers to hydrate and soften skin, as well as calming ingredients to reduce redness and irritation.
Itching, dryness, redness, burning or peeling are possible side effects.
Increased dryness and peeling are possible side effects.
Warranty/Money Back Guarrantee
5-year warranty and 60-day money back guarantee
ProductReportCard Editors' In-Depth Review
Pros And Cons
- Effective at clearing mild to severe acne
- Available in different strengths/formulas (ie lotion was developed for patients with more sensitive skin)
- The gel is colorless, odorless, oil-free and alcohol free, and it feels light and non greasy on your face
- Differin is said to be gentler than other topical prescription-strength retinods (ie Retin-A)
- Differin helps regulate oil production
- Differin also can reduce hyperpigmentation
- Expensive if you don't have insurance
- Takes 8-12 weeks to see results and acne can get worse before it gets better.
- You need to avoid drying skincare products as they can increase skin irritation. This includes: exfoliating scrubs, aftershave, astringents, or products containing alpha hydroxy acids or alcohol. You should discuss any products you use with your dermatologist.
- You need to be diligent about using moisturizer and wearing sunscreen and/or protective clothing when going outside. Even extreme wind/cold can increase potential for irritation.
- You should not wax hair on your face while using Differin
- You should also not use it if you eczema or sunburn.
- Not appropriate for "spot treating"
- You shouldn't use the product if you are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
Lotion is 2 fluid ounces and the gel is about 45 grams
Oily, Normal or Combination (not appropriate for very sensitive skin)
Mild to severe acne
How it works
Adapalene works by slowing down the accumulation of skin cells that shed in the pores, thus preventing the clogging of pores by dead skin cells. It pulls bacteria out of the skin and actually makes your acne look worse before it gets better. It takes about 8-12 weeks to see results.
You will use Differin once daily, right before bedtime. First, you will gently cleanse your face with a mild non-soap cleanser (ex. Cetaphil) and rinse it thoroughly with warm water. Then, you will use a soft towel to pat your face dry. Dispense a pea-sized amount of the medication onto your finger and dot a bit of product on your cheeks, forehead and chin. This will help you spread the medication evenly across your face (avoiding your eyes and lips) without using more than the recommended dose. You do not want to use more than the recommended amount.
As with all retinods, typical side effects include itching, dryness, redness, burning, or peeling. These side effects are usually at their worst during the first few weeks of treatment, and diminish to a certain extent over time.
Differin is the #1 prescribed topical acne medication by dermatologists. It has received good feedback from users on Acne.org (3.2/5 out of 1656 reviews) and Makeupalley.com (3.9/5 out of 115). Most of the negative reviews were from people who experienced some of the side effects, but Differin does work for mild to severe acne if you follow the directions and are patient enough to make it through 8-12 weeks of treatment. Some experts say that Differin is more tolerable than other prescription-strength retinods (such as Rentin-A), and that the side effects (burning, peeling and redness) shouldn't last for very long. Some reviews say that Differin is best when combined with other topical treatments (ie benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid), but this is something that you should discuss with your dermatologist before trying out. If your acne is mild, you might be better off trying an over-the-counter treatment before seeing your dermatologist for Differin.
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