I Tried Differin Gel and My Neck and Chest Are Now Acne-Free

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Differin Gel

 Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

We purchased Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment so our writer could put it to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.

I enjoy aging. The wisdom. The self-acceptance. The wine. But the hormonal breakouts that pop up on my jawline, neck, and chest? Those can go. As someone who had no experience with teenage acne or even college breakouts, this is still a relatively new experience. I have my remedies for my facial breakouts down, but I still haven’t found the right mix of products for my chest and neck. I've tried a few different remedies (like scrubs and glycolic acid washes) on these problem areas, but nothing has kept my body acne under control.

This is where Differin Gel, the first FDA-approved over-the-counter topical retinoid, comes in. Since I don't like to use acne treatments on my face—my skin is extremely sensitive—I thought this gel could be my saving grace for the problem areas on my neck and chest. So did it really work? Read on to find out.

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

Star Rating: 4.8 / 5

Best for: Normal, combination, and oily skin

Uses: Treats acne and smooths the appearance of pores and dark spots

Active Ingredients: Adapalene 0.1% (retinoid)

Potential Allergens: Sodium hydroxide

Byrdie Clean?: No

Price: $12

About the Brand: Differin hit the market in 1996 as a prescription product to help treat acne vulgaris in patients 12 years and older. The Rx-strength acne-fighting retinoid helps clear breakouts and prevents acne before it begins. The retinoid was once only available by prescription but has been available over-the-counter since 2017.

About My Skin: Sensitive, combination skin with hormonal breakouts

Thirty-something and still breaking out? Yeah, me too. My skin isn't just breakout-prone—it's sensitive. So sensitive that anything can set it off. Fragrances, certain oils, and overly harsh products are a no-no for me. However, my skin reacts positively to retinol as long as it isn't mixed with too many additional ingredients. Differin Gel's active ingredient is in the vitamin A family, but it isn't retinol—it's a retinoid, so I'm looking forward to seeing how my skin reacts. 

differin gel
Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment $12

Ingredients: It's a retinoid, not retinol

What is the difference between a retinoid and retinol? Well, it’s mainly about how fast they work. In a previous story for Byrdie, Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus talked with Melissa K. Levin, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, about the key differences between them. Levin told Byrdie, "Retinol works more gradually compared to retinoids due to their difference in molecular structure and how they are processed in the skin." Essentially, it usually takes more time to see results from retinol compared to retinoids.

Differin gel
 Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

The Feel: Light and gel-like

This product is a lightweight gel that, thankfully, doesn't leave any sticky or tacky residue after application. Before I applied the gel, I did a little research to ensure I wasn't using too much or too little. (The brand's website advises applying a thin layer.) If you're anything like me, when you're experiencing a breakout, you want to apply a bit more to ensure the product is working. That isn't necessary here—a pea-sized amount does the trick. 

Differin gel
Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

The Results: No irritation or peeling

After the first night of using this, I monitored my skin to see if there was any peeling or irritation. There was none. My skin felt and looked like itself—and the pesky pimples were still there. I expected this because Diffien isn't a spot treatment, but instead is a product that's designed to work over time. After eight days of use, I noticed that my chest felt smoother. I also noticed there were no neck pimples the week before my cycle. I'm enjoying seeing the cumulative effects of using this product each night, and I'm sure as time passes, I'll reap even more benefits. 

Differin gel
 Byrdie / Bianca Lambert

The Value: Worth it

I love that there is a product with prescription-strength abilities available to everyone. Skincare should be accessible for all, and this is a step in the right direction. The tube may seem small at first, but if you follow the instructions, your tube will last a while. Remember, a pea-sized amount is all you need.

Similar Products: No prescription-strength options, but there's a beloved retinoid on the market 

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane: The Ordinary is known for offering affordable vitamin A products that really work. Because this product is a granactive retinoid, it offers results without irritating the skin, even though it's high-strength, according to the brand. The Ordinary also offers two moderate-strength retinoid products: The Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion and the Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane. (These products are so popular that they fly out of stock frequently, but be sure to get on the waitlist—you won't be disappointed.)

Our Verdict: Give it a try and be patient

If you're looking for spot treatment or a quick fix, this isn't for you. This gel takes time for optimal results. The price and the results, I think, make this product worth adding to your routine, especially if you're dealing with hormonal breakouts. The website states you'll see the best results after cumulative use for 12 weeks. I've also read that many reviewers have seen a change in their skin in six weeks. Keep in mind your results will vary, but even little changes to the skin's clarity on my neck and chest make this a new staple in my nightly routine.

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