FOLLOW UP : Differin

So remember back in early May when I said that despite a pretty good/helpful skin routine, I was going to try Differin in the hopes that it would firebomb the few breakouts I was still getting? No? Don’t remember that? Well anyway, back in early May I said I was going to try Differin in the hopes that … yeah. BUT WHAT HAPPENED?

F*ck all,  that’s what.


Evidently that’s not a dependable indicator of efficacy. Yes, Differin is a brand-name for the third-generation retinoid adapalene. Yes, it’s supposed to have a similar acne-fighting profile to other topical medications in this category, but with less irritation than tretinoin because it’s more stable. Adapalene is supposed to inhibit keratinocyte differentiation, which mean less keratin in your skin, clogging your pores and providing acne bacteria with snacks. The OTC version is only available at a 1% concentration; a 3% version exists, but still requires a prescription.


Yeah, I mean … you wash your face and apply a little blorp of the gel at night. I usually followed it later on with Algenist oil, or a vitamin C serum (in the case of C or any other actives, I waited a while in case of undesirable interactions that could result in a loss of potentcy, even though I didn’t see any relevant warnings to that effect), but it’s pretty straightforward. The literature indicated that you may see improvement in 1-2 weeks, but that the real results would probably take longer. Differin’s own screed claims that users see “nearly a 60% average reduction in acne lesions after 12 weeks which continues to improve with further use.” I gave it twelve weeks. In fact, I gave it seventeen weeks. And I swear to god my skin was consistently worse while I was using it. And honestly, even if it’d worked for me to the degree that I hit that 60% reduction “average”? Cutting your cystic zits in half is a barely acceptable benchmark for something that used to require a freaking prescription.


I don’t know. Like I said, the available how-to-use info didn’t indicate that Differin should not be used with (or would be rendered ineffectual by) anything else I was using. I did continue to apply my azelaic acid cream, although I switched to using it during the day so as to obviate any potential ill effects by applying it at the same time as Differin. I was unwilling to give up the azelaic, as in addition to also decreasing keratin production (albeit by a different process), it fights acne bacteria and inhibits its growth — and it was the only thing in my current routine that did so. Besides, I figured the fairest test would be to add Differin to my routine without also removing a pretty effective thing I’d been using for over a year.

In that seventeen-week span, I missed applying it probably three times total, so “inconsistency of application” certainly wasn’t an issue. I used — I think — three tubes during that time, which according to them would be a 90-day / 12-week supply. Maybe I wasn’t applying enough? But consistent application of an amount that seemed sufficient to easily cover my whole face (except throat/neck and eye area) seems like it should be, well, sufficient. And if its effectiveness is THAT keyed to the amount you use, obviously it should come packaged in a calibrated syringe, or a pump that dispenses the correct amount with each push, rather than a squeeze-tube.


Yes. I wasted about $36 and seventeen weeks that I could’ve spent trying a different product — like tazarotene, or another attempt at tretinoin minus the evil clindamycin, or literally anything else. And, as previously noted, I had slightly worse and slightly more frequent breakouts while I was using it. Was it a return to Dire Catastrophe Skin? No, but it was certainly a noticeable change. Could any other issues be to blame for this? I did have two breakouts that were directly due to other factors : 1) I tried a primer sample without reading the ingredients, broke out horribly, and then discovered that it contained cyclopentasiloxane/cyclomethicone (when will I learn?). Then 2) I tried a BB cream sample without reading the ingredients, broke out horribly, and then discovered that it contained cyclopentasiloxane/cyclomethicone (no seriously, when will I learn?).  But those breakouts, as my Heavy Silicone Oops Breakouts usually do, were “active” for a few days and then took a week or two to clear up completely. They certainly wouldn’t be enough to invalidate the treatment entirely — and if the “helps keep your pores clear of gunk” medicine is completely defeated by a substance that’s PERVASIVE in foundations and primers and assorted other face products, then it’s not very effective medicine.


This was a big stupid waste of time and Differin is, for me, complete bullshit. Also worth noting is that my skin is ever-so-slightly better after ceasing use. Is it something you should try? I mean, if you’ve tried literally everything else (except maybe the big guns like Accutane or expensive laser treatments), then maybe? Not everyone’s skin is the same, and not everyone’s acne is the same, so what was Hot Trash for me might be super effective for you! After all, if clinical trials saw an average ~60% reduction, that means some users had greater results. Maybe you’d be one of them! And since this stuff is easy to get and not terribly pricey (around $11 per month), it might be worth experimenting with. But for me? Fail fail fail.

Tried it? Have better results (or worse) than I did? Share! Or just wallow in frustration with me!