The active ingredient in Differin is adapalene, a topical retinoid that is only available with a prescription. It's available in both cream and gel formulas and comes in various strengths. Reviewers say that while Differin is effective on all types of acne, those with mild cases may see similar results by simply using an over-the-counter treatment such as La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo (*Est. $40 for 1.35 oz.) .
Fewer side effects compared to other prescriptions. Experts say Differin dramatically improves acne, especially when combined with other topical treatments, namely benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Differin is a prescription-strength retinoid, which critics say causes milder side effects than other prescription treatments. Researchers say Differin is more tolerable than other retinoids, tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova) and tazarotene (Tazorac). All retinoids can cause mild side effects, such as burning, peeling and redness of skin, but experts agree that these effects tend to diminish with continued use. Manufacturers advise using only a pea-sized amount of Differin with each application. Using more will cause more irritation and won't speed up the results.
Available in both cream and gel formulas. The texture of Differin varies depending on the type of formula. It's available in a cream or a gel. Both formulas are fragrance-free.
Review Credibility: Excellent Paula Begoun relies on medical studies and documented research to evaluate thousands of beauty products. She gives Differin her highest rating because there is a lot of research proving its effectiveness. Furthermore, this product can be used with benzoyl peroxide, unlike other retinoids.
Review: Differin, Paula Begoun, Nov. 23, 2012
2. Dermatology Times
Review Credibility: Excellent This article cites a study that shows that topical retinoid adapalene gel 0.1 percent (Differin, Galderma) hastens the clearing of acne lesions when used in combination with one or more topical and/or oral treatments. The study involved nearly 2,000 patients and took place over a 12-week period.
Review: "Real-World" Acne Study Documents Benefit of Retinoid-Based Combo TX, Cheryl Guttman, June 2006
3. Dermatology Times
Review Credibility: Excellent This article documents the results of a study that compared adapalene 0.1 percent, tazarotene 0.1 percent and a combination of the two retinoid treatments. While results show that there is no difference in effectiveness among the three treatments, adapalene proves to be the least irritating.
Review: Reaching for a Retinoid? Less May be More, Karen Donley-Hayes, April 2007
4. Good Housekeeping
Review Credibility: Good The editors of Good Housekeeping recommend prescription-strength retinoids for the treatment of adult acne, but they suggest that Retin-A may be too harsh for adult skin. They say women in their 30s suffer from hormonal breakouts but are less tolerant of harsh treatments. Editors suggest Differin cream as an alternative because it is less irritating.
Review: Beautiful Skin at Any Age, Editors of Good Housekeeping
Review Credibility: Good Consumers posting to Acne.org say that Differin is very effective at treating acne. While a handful of users did not see any results, the majority seem pleased. Some complain that it is on the expensive side and that it caused minor irritations, but most suggest that given enough time, the treatment is very effective at diminishing blemishes and scars caused by acne.
Review: Adapalene (Differin), Contributors to Acne.org, Not dated