Differin Gel: What I Wish My Dermatologist Would Have Told Me...

When my dermatologist prescribed Differin gel aka Adapalene, I thought, “Awesome! I’ll just put this on my face, and ‘Voila’  -- I would be acne free.” I was incredibly wrong!

After two nights of applying Adapalene on my face, I began to break-out with cystic acne, my skin became super sensitive,  burned when I splashed my face with water, and the skin on my face began to peel. After experiencing these negative side effects, I did some research on the manufacturer’s website, WebMD, Google, Instagram, Youtube, etc. So, I want to share with you what I learned…

How does Differin Gel/Adapalene work?

Differin gel/adapalene is a type of synthetic retinoid. It is one of the mildest forms available. Retinoids help your skin slough off (or desquamate) dead skin cells at a more normal rate. Sloughing aka exfoliating your dead skin cells is beneficial in that the dead skin cells don't bind together and clog your pores. When your pores aka oil ducts are clogged, you get acne! In general, retinoids, due to the sloughing off of your dead skin cells, have anti-acne and anti-aging benefits.



  1. USE AT NIGHTTIME. Only use the gel in the evening as part of your night time regimen.

  2. PEA-SIZE IS ALL YOU NEED. Use only a PEA-SIZE amount for your ENTIRE face. I like to squeeze out a pea-size onto my index finger, and then, lightly dab a little on both cheeks, chin, nose and forehead. Then, I spread it out evenly onto my face.

  3. START SLOWLY. Begin by using the gel every other night or every two nights for at least a week. Then, after a couple weeks, or when you skin starts to adapt, begin to slowly use it every night.

  4. AFTER APPLYING THE GEL, WAIT. Wait an hour after applying the gel to apply your serum and moisturizer. Generally, you are supposed to put on the gel as the first layer, before your serum or moisturizer. You are supposed to wait an hour so that the gel can be absorbed into the skin uninterrupted. However, if you have SENSITIVE skin, see number 5.

  5. BUFFER. Buffering allows the gel to work less aggressively. If your skin is extremely sensitive, you can put other layers of products to lessen the effects of the gel. For example, in my early weeks of using the gel, I liked to put on my evening facial serum, then my evening moisturizer, then  gel. Note: Serums and moisturizers should be put on at least 20 minutes after washing your face. Washing your face disrupts the protective barriers on your skin, and so it is best to allow your face to return to status quo. Other ways to buffer: A) Mix the gel with your moisturizer or serum, and then, apply. B) If you put the gel on as your first layer, put the serum or moisturizer on right away instead of waiting an hour.

  6. PURGING IS A NORMAL SIDE-EFFECT. Worsening of your acne aka purging is normal, but if you want to minimize purging, start off using the gel slowly. If you do purge, don’t pick at your pimples!! Let nature do its course, even if it looks terrible!

  7. AVOID THE SUN AND SUNLAMPS.  If you are going to be in the sun, use a high SPF with broad spectrum sunscreen! I like to use at least SPF 30+.

  8. NO WAXING OR THREADING. Differin gel causes new skin to constantly be exposed, and so waxing and threading can upset your new delicate skin. Avoid waxing or threading in areas you use the gel, e.g. your entire face. If you have plans to wax or thread, I would stop using Differin for at LEAST a day or more. For waxing, I would maybe wait 3 days...

  9. AVOID HARSH TOPICALS. Avoid potentially irritating topical products, like medicated or abrasive soaps and cleansers and products with high concentrations of astringents or alcohol. For example, acne-targeting cleansers with tea tree oil should not be used in combination with Differin gel. Be careful when using other products containing sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid. Unless your face has adapted to a particular retinoid, in this case, Differin gel, it is best to not use the gel in conjunction with salicylic acid, AHA, BHA, etc.

  10. DIFFERIN GEL MAKES YOUR FACE SENSITIVE. Avoid extreme weather conditions, like high winds or extreme cold to minimize irritation.

  11. DON'T STOP USING! Once you see results, you must continue to use Differin gel in order to continue seeing results and avoid future breakout.

  12. BE PATIENT! It takes at least a couple months to start notice results.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please let me know how Differin gel or adapalene worked for you!




  1. I've started using Differin Cream every night and I recently got myself Tea tree oil and tea tree blemish gel. Is it ok to apply the tea tree oil and blemish gel in the morning or during the day since I use the Differin Cream at night? Thank you!

    1. HI Kat! Thank you for stopping by! :) How does your skin usually react to tea tree oil? For me, it's really good at drying any existing breakouts, and so using tea tree with Differin could cause facial skin to over drying leading to more oil production and/or breakouts. So, until you think your face has become accustomed to the Differin I would err on the side of being cautious and not use tea tree oil while using Differin cream. How long have you been using Differin? Xo!!

  2. Hi would you say it is okay to apply witch hazel while using differin

  3. It is the equal to utilizing sandpaper to smooth a bit of wood. You can diminish stamps and imperfections on wood by sanding it a similar way you can lessen checks and flaws on the facial skin. http://www.facecreamsselection.com/healthy-eating-habits-reverse-ugly-signs-aging/

  4. I really am greatful for the blessing of differin! Helpful!

  5. I have sensitive skin. My derm prescribed a sulfur cleanser and differin gel. Why is there a warning about sulfur and differin? I can't find an explanation. The skin in my ears and around my eyes* is now peeling and very irritated and it's only been two days!

    *No, I did not apply gel or sulfur to either area!

  6. I am very thankful for this article!!!

  7. About a month ago I brought up how my acne came out of nowhere to my doctor. I've always been very good about taking care of my skin, I eat a halthy diet, i stay hydrated, I get enough sleep, and I exercise regularly. He thought it was hormones, seeing that I'm 14, and told me to use a face wash with benzoyl peroxide. I tried that and it didn't work. Today, he perscibed me retin A to use at night and differin (adapalene) to use in the morning. He said that I should keep using my face wash with benzoyl peroxide. Should I do that? Or will that wash combined with these two products make my face purge? What face wash and moisturizer do you reccomend me using? Thanks. :)

    1. I would follow his instructions. He's the professional here.

  8. Sulfur powders aren't new in the market. It has been around for decades if not centuries. Also, It’s useful in farming circles and works great as a soil additive and helps to improve the spill pH.

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  17. How long will I have to use Differin for?

  18. You've provided some very useful information. I'm glad I came into this article because it provides a lot of important information. Thank you for sharing this storey with us. best dermatologist in malaysia


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