Differin Gel Review: Can It Cure Acne Forever?

Differin Gel Review: Can It Cure Acne Forever?

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Differin Gel is the brand-name version of a drug called adapalene gel that's FDA-approved to treat acne. We'll use the terms Differin Gel and adapalene gel interchangeably throughout this article as they refer to the same active drug ingredient.

Unlike most FDA-approved acne treatments, Differin Gel is available over-the-counter (OTC) and is relatively cheap, typically costing under $20 per month.

But is Differin Gel actually proven in clinical studies to cure acne? Is it more or less effective than other medicated acne creams? Does it cause side effects? And what retailers have the best price on Differin Gel?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we review clinical studies on Differin Gel to determine if it's likely to be effective for treating acne, and whether it causes side effects.

We'll also share real, unsponsored user reviews of Differin Gel including before-and-after images and document which retailers have it for the best price.

How Much Does Differin Gel Reduce Acne?

Differin Gel has been studied extensively in legitimate medical trials.

An extensive medical review published in the Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management journal analyzed results from over 30 clinical trials, and found that Differin Gel significantly reduced acne vulgaris, which is the most common type of acne.

The researchers noted that Differin Gel at a 0.3% concentration was significantly more effective than at a concentration of 0.1%, which suggests that patients with more severe acne may wish to speak to their dermatologist about prescription gel (adapalene 0.3% isn’t available over-the-counter).

The study authors also compared the efficacy of Differin Gel to other leading acne treatments.

Differin Gel was found to be equally effective to tretinoin 0.025% (brand name Retin-A) on average, but more effective for non-inflammatory skin lesions.

Differin Gel was found to be similarly effective to benzoyl peroxide (brand name Benzoyl).

Another medical study examined the efficacy of Differin Gel and reported highly positive results. 96.3% of patients reported an improvement of their acne from baseline, and 78% of patients described the treatment as tolerable.

We can conclude that Differin Gel is highly effective for treating acne.

Before-And-After Using Differin Gel

A YouTube creator named "aiko" published an unsponsored video on her experience using Differin Gel for a year to treat acne. The video contains before and after images and documents a significant improvement:

What Retailer Has the Best Price on Differin Gel?

Differin Gel is sold at a wide variety of different online retailers. Below is a price breakdown for a 1.6 ounce bottle (90-day supply) at the time of updating this article.

Target: $36.99

Walgreens: $34.99

Amazon: $34.66 (link to product)

Walmart: $26.50 (link to product)

Walmart currently has the best price on Differin Gel, but it's listed by a third-party seller. We typically recommend that consumers avoid third-party sellers because the risk of counterfeit products may be higher, so we included a link to the official listing on Amazon as well.

How to Get the Most Benefits From Differin Gel

A popular skincare influencer and dermatologist named Dr. Dray published a video with a demonstration on the proper application of Differin Gel, and how to use Differin Gel to get the most out of the treatment:

Can Differin Gel Reduce Wrinkles?

Consumers are often curious about whether Differin Gel is effective for reducing wrinkles. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be much clinical evidence suggesting it is. 

A clinical trial published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment found that adapalene at a concentration of 0.3% reduced forehead wrinkles by 40% and wrinkles around the eyes by 52%, however this concentration of adapalene is 3x higher than the concentration in Differin Gel. 

We can’t locate any medical data suggesting that Differin Gel (adapalene 0.1%) is effective for treating wrinkles. 

The clinical trial cited above suggests that patients with both acne and wrinkles may benefit from speaking with their dermatologist about prescription adapalene 0.3%.

Does Differin Gel Cause Side Effects?

The most common side effects from use of Differin Gel according to medical research are photosensitivity (increased skin sensitivity to UV rays), irritation, redness and dryness.

Because the drug isn’t well-absorbed into the body, most of the side effects are topical and relatively minor.

Those using Differin Gel during the day may want to consider also using sunscreen and protecting their face from the sun with a physical barrier like a hat, due to the increased risk of photosensitivity.

There is a rare side effect of severe allergic reaction, but that’s present for many OTC acne medications and not necessarily unique to Differin Gel.

We find these side effects to be relatively mild and tolerable compared to most pharmaceutical acne treatments.

Real Customer Reviews of Differin Gel

Differin Gel has been reviewed over 70,000 times on Amazon. The product has an average review rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Kaylynn" who claims the product is effective for acne:

"What I've noticed and liked: My skin stays clear more consistently and I'm not getting large deep pore zits or larger zits anymore."

The top negative review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "ms james" who claims the product caused breakouts:

"My skin wasn't bad when I started used this...I was breaking out BAD, VERY VERY BAD which pimples all over my chin and cheeks. I again expected my skin to get worse, but my skin wasn't bad before and I didn't need to wear makeup and when I started using this I had to wear makeup to cover up how bad my skin looked."

Our Clean Anti-Acne Picks

For consumers who are averse to pharmaceutical treatments and prefer natural options, there are naturally-derived compounds that have been clinically shown to be effective against acne.

HYDRAGLOW by CLEARSTEM is our top anti-acne skincare pick, because it contains green tea extract which is clinically shown to significantly reduce inflammatory acne lesions, and bakuchiol which is also clinically shown to reduce acne lesions and reduce hyperpigmentation.

Express 3-in-1 Probiotic by Bulletproof is our top probiotic supplement pick, and oral supplementation with probiotics is clinically shown to be effective against mild-to-moderate acne, due to the positive effects on gut health.

Momentous Vitamin D3 is our top vitamin D3 supplement, and a 2022 meta-analysis reported that individuals with acne had "significantly low vitamin D levels."

Momentous' supplement contains a relatively high vitamin D dose per serving (5,000 IU) making it more cost-efficient per unit, but it may not need to be used daily.

We're not suggesting that any of the products recommended in this section are as effective as adapalene gel or any other FDA-approved medication for the treatment of acne; we're just offering options for consumers to discuss with their dermatologist.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews


Differin Gel is provably effective for acne, and has a relatively low risk of side effects because it doesn’t absorb much into the bloodstream. Even when side effects are experienced, they are typically mild like redness.

We can't find any clinical research suggesting that Differin Gel reduces wrinkles, but the same active ingredient at a higher concentration might. Patients with both wrinkles and acne may wish to speak with their dermatologist about adapalene gel at a 0.3% concentration, because it was found to significantly reduce facial wrinkles.

Differin Gel appears to be similarly effective to other leading acne treatments like Retin-A or Benzoyl. 

At the time of updating this article, Walmart has the best price on Differin Gel.