Prescription Differin Now Available Over-the-Counter: What You Need to Know

Reviews, Skin Care
Differin Gel

Differin Gel

Differin Gel

Differin Gel

Differin Gel

Differin Gel

Few things get me more excited than retinoids. And even fewer get me excited than when a prescription retinoid is suddenly available over the counter, as is the case with Differin (0.1% adapalene), which was just recently released into drugstores as an OTC product.

However, before you run out and load up your shopping cart with Differin to fight fine lines and wrinkles, keep in mind that adapalene is not quite tretinoin. Adapalene is a derivative of napthoic acid, which unlike tretinoin, does not bind to certain protein receptors within the cell. Instead, adapalene only binds to specific receptors RAR-β and RAR-γ. It does reduce fine lines and wrinkles somewhat, but, in my opinion, not as well as tretinoin.

What Differin does better than Retin-A (tretinoin) is reduce side effects (British Journal of Dermatology), treat acne when used together with penicillin for 12 weeks (SKINmed), and aid in the treatment of melasma (Cosmetic Dermatology). It is also more stable in light, although due to the fact that adapalene increases skin sensitivity to UV light, I wouldn’t use it anytime except for nighttime.

A Summary on All Retinoids




(Tretinoin 0.01% Gel; 0.025% Gel; 0.025% Cream; 0.05% Liquid; 0.05% Cream; 0.1% Cream; 0.1% Micro Gel)

Retin-A is indicated for topical application in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Although the exact mechanism of action is unknown, Retin-A seems to act as a keratolytic agent by removing the plug from a clogged pore. It’s still the most widely prescribed retinoid.

[RELATED: Does Your Skin Become Resistant to Products Over Time?]

Retin-A Micro

Microsponge Retin-A Micro

(Tretinoin Gel 0.1%)

Retin-A Micro was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1997 for the treatment of acne vulgaris.

What makes Retin-A Micro unique is the Microsponge® systems technology. The Microsponge® system prevents the accumulation of excessive medication within the surface layers of the skin, enabling better absorption for a longer period of time.

Each Microsponge® is less than one-thousandth of an inch in diameter, holding a small amount of tretinoin in reserve and introducing only small amounts of tretinoin to the skin over time. The Microsponge® is believed to be the reason why Retin-A Micro has higher efficacy and lower irritation rates than Retin-A.



( 0.05% Cream; 0.025% Cream)

Of all the agents listed, only Renova is U.S. FDA-approved for the treatment of UV-induced signs of skin damage, like facial wrinkles and brown spots.

Clinical trial data suggests that the emollient system used in Renova is significantly better than Retin-A’s vehicle at minimizing irritation (Biomedical and Life Sciences).

In my opinion, Renova is the best for significantly aged skin, as it increases smoothness and decreases the level of irritation the best.

[RELATED: What are the Best Age-Defying Body Lotions? ]



(Tazarotene 0.1% Cream; 0.1% Gel; 0.05% Cream; 0.05% Gel)

When you say Tazarotene, I say psoriasis. It is also indicated for oily skin or severe blackhead form of acne.

Tazarotene is a prodrug that is metabolized to tazarotenic acid, its active form, within the skin.

Bottom Line

Here’s the thing: Only Differin is available as OTC. So if you want to try the effects of retinoids without waiting six months to see a dermatologist, you may want to try Differin, even though it’s not as effective for aging skin as Retin-A or Renova, or as good for psoriasis as Tazorac.

To summarize:

Differin: Best for severe acne if combined with prescription doxycycline; best for melasma
Retin-A: Most commonly prescribed
Retin-A Micro: Arguably the best for acne
Renova: Best for smoothing skin, arguably the best for aging skin
Tazorac: Best for psoriasis

Check our bestsellers!

Recent Posts