If you grew up as a teenager in the early 2000s, you definitely remember Differin. It was the magical clear gel that your dermatologist prescribed to you to cure you of all your acne woes. Well, there’s good news for all acne sufferers and Differin Gel 0.1% lovers: The FDA has just approved it for over-the-counter use, and you don’t have to wait—the new policy goes into effect immediately.
This is major news because Differin Gel 0.1% is the first retinoid to be approved for OTC use to treat acne. And sure, there are lots of OTC retinols out there, but this one doesn’t contain just any retinoid. Initially approved by the FDA as a prescription product in 1996, it contains a specific synthetic retinoid called adapalene that fights acne by both exfoliating and reducing inflammation. “Topical retinoids are prescribed for almost all patients in the office,” says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “They help reduce inflammation in the skin and prevent cells from sticking together within the follicle, which blocks the pores—a.k.a pimples.”
According to Zeichner, after almost two decades of being prescription-only, the company that makes Differin applied to the FDA for approval to make the gel available OTC. “What makes this such a big deal is that there has been no change to this monograph for decades,” he adds. It’s important to note that of the two formulations available by prescription—0.1% and 0.3%—only the lower concentration was approved for OTC use by the FDA. “You still need a prescription for the higher-concentration version,” says Zeichner.
If you already have a prescription for Differin Gel 0.1%, this is definitely cause for celebration. But it’s also good news for acne sufferers who don’t use it, or who can’t make it to the dermatologist’s office. While traditional acne-fighting OTC ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are great, there’s a reason dermatologists like Differin so much. “Before the approval of adapalene, the main OTC options for treating acne were benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid,” says Zeichner. “Salicylic acid is still particularly useful if your skin is oily, and benzoyl peroxide is beneficial if you have red, angry pimples, but adapalene is ideal for what we call comedones, or skin-colored bumps that tend to stud the forehead, nose, and chin, as well as stubborn blackheads and whiteheads.” But still, Zeichner adds, “it’s important to know that this news will enhance the available options, but will not replace what is on the market. A lot of products can be combined, and retinoids can be used alone but also in combination with other acne fighters, like benzoyl peroxide. If you’re unsure of what to use, or your acne doesn’t improve after a month, make sure to visit a board-certified dermatologist.”