In this article, we discuss the effectiveness of Differin Gel OTC.

Differin Cream Tube


Differin (Adapalene) Gel, a product that was originally available by prescription only, is now available over the counter.

Differin Gel works differently than all of the other acne medication over the counter and it certainly has a place in the treatment for mild to moderate acne. We will discuss in our article below just how well Differin Gel OTC works and how safe it is to use.


Differin Gel (Adapalene) was first approved by the FDA in 1996 and was recently made available over the counter (OTC) in 2017. It is the first in a drug class known as 'retinoids' to available OTC and is unique among topical acne products.

The fact is that we haven't had a new OTC ingredient indicated for acne since 1980 so an effective new product is certainly a welcome addition! Over 99% of the products currently available OTC contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid so Differin Gel may be a great options those who didn't see good results with the conventional products and want to try something different. 

About Differin

Differin Gel has very strong anti-inflammatory properties, blocks the formation of comedones and only needs to be applied once daily. The big question is, does Differin Gel OTC work well for acne?

The answer to that question for most people is certainly yes, Differin Gel does work well for controlling acne.

When Differin Gel was first approved, five studies were conducted to determine the safety and efficacy of the drug and all showed positive results. Overall, the studies showed:

  • An overall reduction in inflammatory lesion count
  • An overall reduction in non-inflammatory lesion count
  • An overall reduction in total lesion count
  • An overall reduction in the assessment of acne severity

On average, the studies showed that there was a significant improvement in acne lesion count by week 2 of use and an overall reduction in total acne lesion count by 30-50% after 12 weeks of use. 

That's a pretty significant improvement! We can certainly say that for most people, Differin Gel does work well for improving acne.

In addition to how well Differin works, a key factor in the OTC approval for the drug was the safety profile. Differin Gel has been shown to be fairly well tolerated with side effects generally mild in nature.

The most common side effects were:

  • Skin dryness/redness (40% of people)
  • Skin scaling (30% of people)
  • Itching (20% of people)
  • Burning (10% of people)

These side effects tend to occur when treatment first starts and generally declines after the 1st 2 weeks of therapy. It is very helpful to use a moisturizer if your experience these side effects and that typical reduces their severity.

Final Words

Overall, Differin Gel OTC is a great option for use in those who have not had the results they are looking for with the current crop of OTC options (e.g. Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid etc...). Differin Gel contains the first new active ingredient available over the counter in over 30 years and works differently than the other options available.

It should certainly be considered as another topical option for the treatment of acne. Often times practitioners will recommend using Differin Gel in combination with other OTC acne products so be sure to speak to your doctor about options that could work best for you!