Differin Approved for Over-The-Counter

Previously a prescription only drug, and a staple of acne treatment, Differin has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter treatment of acne. What does this mean for acne treatment?

In July 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 0.1% Differin gel for over-the-counter treatment of acne patients over the age of 12. This product has been a staple prescription product for treating mild to moderate acne, and it’s the first new active ingredient that has been approved for OTC use in 30 years. Adapalene, the active ingredient in this product, is a topical retinoid that helps to exfoliate the skin and is also an effective anti-inflammatory agent. Soon, Differin is expected to hit the market.

What is Differin anyway?

Differin (0.1%) is the brand name of adapalene, a retinoid based acne treatment that has been used successfully for over two decades. Until now, however, this drug required a doctor’s prescription to obtain. Differin has been a staple retinoid based treatment for mild to moderate acne, especially comedonal acne (more blackheads and whiteheads than pimples and pustules).

How does Differin work?

Adapalene is the active ingredient. This drug has an exfoliating effect as well as an anti-inflammatory effect, both important properties in combating acne. It prevents the formation of plugs, which become comedones. Typically improvement can be seen in about 4 to 8 weeks.

How do you apply Differin?

Differin is a topical treatment that is applied directly to the acne-affected areas, usually the face. A typical routine is once per night application of Differin.

Is Differin safe? What about side-effects?

Differin is safe, has been used extensively and tested both in laboratories and has been in the market (prescription) for decades. It’s a versatile and effective treatment with an excellent safety profile. If you are pregnant, as a precautionary measure, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first before starting use.

Like many acne medications, Differin can cause irritation, redness, and drying of the skin, especially at the start of treatment when the skin isn’t used to the product. It can also be harsh for people with conditions like eczema, rosacea, or even sensitive skin. Often the skin becomes used to the medication over time. Building tolerance slowly, starting at once a week treatment, and gradually increasing frequency until the skin can tolerate once a day treatment can be a good strategy.

Why does this matter?

We’re always encouraging patients who are having trouble with acne to see a doctor. This is because the doctors can provide valuable advice to patients, but the main reason is because treatment options that doctors can provide are much more powerful and effective than those that are available over-the-counter.

From the patient’s perspective, however, seeing a dermatologist, and even a family physician or primary care provider can be inconvenient. For residents in remote areas, it can take an entire day and some planning to make an appointment and see a doctor. This will often be the difference between access to prescription medication and over-the-counter medication. The same decision process occurs when the medication runs out as well. This is why having effective and high quality treatments that are available over-the-counter matters.

Do you have any advice for those taking Differin?

Prescription or over-the-counter, one of the toughest challenges in treating acne is staying on the treatment with patience and discipline. Acne treatments are very effective these days, but unfortunately they all take time. Differin takes 4 to 8 weeks before improvement can be expected. For the first few applications, irritation and possibly worsening of acne isn’t uncommon, and this is especially true with people who have sensitive skin.

Patient compliance has always been a challenge with acne, and with over-the-counter medication, a doctor isn’t there to let the patient know what to expect. It’s important that patients know what to expect, and to stick to the treatment plan.