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- Differin Gel is a prescription strength retinoid acne treatment that, until recently, you needed a prescription to get. Now, you can order a 60-day supply for $25 over the counter.
- My dermatologist recommended it to me as a common workaround for a nearly identical prescription that typically retails for $233.
- I used the gel to treat an untimely breakout recently and got back to clear skin in just two days.
This past month, I broke out on vacation. Built-up layers of sport sunscreen and a lackluster nighttime makeup wipe routine struck back with a vengeance, and I woke up to an unusually widespread disaster. At home, where my routine is far more thorough, my concerns are typically just hormonal. Not knowing what to do, I washed my face with a basic cleanser and applied the Differin Gel my dermatologist had told me to order online weeks before.
As he described it, the $25 tube is a common workaround to an expensive prescription of essentially – if not definitely – the same formula, for a fraction of the cost. (The lowest recorded price of the most common version of Adapalene (Generic Differin) is $92 and it retails for $233 on average).
Until recently, Differin Gel was only available with a prescription. Once that changed, Differin Gel became the first new acne-fighting active ingredient available over the counter in more than 30 years, and the only FDA-approved prescription strength retinoid acne treatment available without a prescription. Used daily, Differin has been cited as capable of reducing acne up to 87% in just 12 weeks.
The average person probably has no idea about Differin, its efficacy, or the workaround, but the life hack seems to be common knowledge amongst dermatologists. Had I not had the insurance to go to the dermatologist, I would likely never have heard of it.
Since buying it, I’d been applying the gel infrequently at night to avoid drying out my skin (the one caveat to the supposed miracle product). My skin had been comparatively good, but I hadn’t noticed a huge change. On vacation, though, turning to it out of necessity, I realized it’s not your average product. Years of buying the same salicylic acid blend in differently branded tubes had lowered my expectations.
After the first night’s application, I woke up relieved to see my skin was already clearer: problem areas had diminished in size and severity, and no new blemishes had appeared. After two nights of application, all my blemishes were gone.
This is not standard for me. Usually, I have to dedicate a week to fighting a breakout – products like Mario Badescu’s cult-favorite Drying Lotion help me, but far less drastically or immediately. And, far too often, I forget the pre-emptive measures of using my other Holy Grail products, like the Aztec Mask or Drunk Elephant’s Babyfacial and have to deal with the consequences. With Differin, I spent two days of vacation concerned about my skin rather than five.
The difference between this and my other underwhelming CVS purchases was its prescription strength. Differin contains 0.1% adapalene – a powerful retinoid that fights blackheads and whiteheads and prevents future blemishes. It’s anti-inflammatory, so it reduces redness and swelling, and it helps assist in skin cell turnover, meaning pores are less likely to get clogged in the first place.
If you’re going to buy it, do your due diligence. If you’re allergic to adapalene, this isn’t for you. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, ask a doctor before starting. It’s known to make your skin more sensitive to light – like most acne treatments – so you should wear sunscreen.
It’s also good to note that it will likely cause your skin to feel dry. This depends on how much product you use, how often you apply it, and what your skin is like normally. I have sensitive combination skin and started with every-other-night applications to figure out a routine that worked. It works best on its own at night (not layered under lotions), so you’ll need to budget time to moisturize in the morning or on the nights you don’t use it. Thankfully, you only need to apply it over the affected area, so if you just have one spot that’s breaking out, you won’t experience dryness all over. The side effects generally peak around week two of use, and subside around week four. Ultimately, it’s worth it.
Unlike other topical over the counter acne products I’ve tried, Differin’s results – at least for me – were immediately visible. I had a breakout, I applied it, and I woke up to fewer blemishes first and then to none. Skin care isn’t universal, and you may not react the same way, but if you’re looking for a powerful, inexpensive product that works (and is small enough to travel with), this is worth checking out.