Differin gel, Differin cream and Differin lotion are used to treat acne. It contains the active ingredient Adapalene. Adapalene gel belongs to a type of medication called retinoids. Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A. Vitamin A ensures your skin goes through the right process of regrowth and regulates cell turnover to keep pores from becoming clogged by acne. Adapalene UK works on the skin to affect the growth of cells and decrease swelling and inflammation. Acne is a very common skin condition and often appears in teenagers, around 80% of 11 to 30-year-olds are affected by acne. Acne usually appears on the face, neck back and chest and can range from just a few spots to something far more serious. There are six different kinds of spots that are associated with acne from the less obvious blackheads through to cysts, including, whiteheads, papules, pustules and nodules that are painful and can cause permanent scarring. In addition to scarring, acne can also have a negative effect on self-confidence, sometimes people with acne will be afraid to go out, fearing that they are being laughed at or talked about. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments available to help, from over-the-counter remedies to prescription solutions and medicines, so that living with acne doesn’t have to turn into a nightmare.

What is Differin Gel?

Differin Gel, Differin cream and Differin lotion are all used to treat acne. It contains the active ingredient Adapalene.

Adapalene gel belongs to a type of medication called retinoids. Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A. Vitamin A ensures your skin goes through the right process of regrowth and regulates cell turnover to keep pores from becoming clogged by acne. Adapalene gel works on the skin to affect the growth of cells and decrease swelling and inflammation.

When is Differin used?

Differin gel is used to treat moderate to mild acne in adults and children over the age of 12. It has an anti-inflammatory effect which lessens irritation and soreness of the skin. It can be used on the face, neck, chest or back to help with blackheads, spots and pimples. Differin works on the surface of the skin to restore skin tone and clear acne and prevent breakouts. Differin gel works to prevent acne at the cause by encouraging the skin to follow the correct process of regrowth and preventing pores from clogging.

How do you use Differin gel?

As with all medication, you should follow the instructions of your doctor or pharmacist when it comes to how to use Differin. If you are unsure check with them again. As a general rule: Differin gel or Differin cream should be applied to the skin at night time, just before going to bed.

To apply:

  • Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before you start;
  • Also, wash the area of skin to be treated, the ensure that it is clean and dry before you apply Differin;
  • Using your clean fingertips, apply a thin layer of cream/gel over the affected area of the skin and rub in gently;
  • Avoid getting the cream into your eyes or on your lips;
  • Do not apply inside your nose or your mouth;
  • Do not apply to skin damaged by eczema, sunburn or cuts;
  • Wash your hands again.

When using Differin you should avoid exposure to strong sunlight, wear sunscreen and cover up where possible if you are out in the sun as your skin is more prone to sun damage.

You should also be careful when using cosmetics, you can wear make-up but only if it will not dry out your skin excessively as this could lead to problems.

There are also other things you can do to help promote your skin health while using Differin:

  • Drink plenty of water;
  • Try to stop touching your face (especially your spots);
  • Use non-comedogenic products (that won’t clog your pores);
  • Keep your skin moisturised – use a product that won’t clog your pores (see above!);
  • Make sure your make-up brushes are clean;
  • Get plenty of good quality sleep so your skin can heal;
  • De-stress, stress makes acne worse so try yoga or mediation or making little daily changes to help you;
  • Keep your skin out of the sun – whether that’s under a hat, or sunscreen or staying in the shade.

What dosages are there?

Differin gel or adapalene gel comes in tubes of different sizes 5g, 30g, 45g or 50g. Differin contains 0.1% of adalpene, no matter which size tube you are prescribed. Differin gel is always applied just once a day at night time - don’t be tempted to apply more to speed up the process as it won’t work and you are likely to cause damage to your skin;

The length of time that you use the treatment will depend on how quickly it works for you. It may take 8 to 12 weeks before you see a visible difference to your skin, although some people see a difference in just 2 weeks. Using Adapalene gel regularly will ensure the best possible results.

You may experience some irritation when you start using Adapalene UK, this is what the manufacturer calls ‘retinisation’ and is completely normal as your skin adapts its regrowth process.

A doctor will be able to check how the treatment is working and advise you on how long you should be using it to get the best long-term results. If for any reason you forget to apply Differin, don’t worry just start using it again as soon as you remember.

There are a range of over-the-counter complementary treatments available that carry the Differin name, face wash, cleansers etc. You do not need to use these to make Differin gel effective but if you are unsure about the compatibility of the products you currently use this would be a good option.

What are the side effects of Differin?

Just like all medicines, Differin gel comes with a risk of some side effects, although not everyone who uses Differin will experience them. Some of these side effects are not serious and will decrease as you continue to use the cream, however, if Differin cream is causing discomfort, speak to your doctor about changing the dose or frequency of application.

Common side effects that may affect up to 1 in 10 people are:

  • A burning sensation on the skin skin irritation;
  • Reddening of the skin dry skin.

Uncommon side effects that may affect up to 1 in 100 people:

  • Discomfort of the skin;
  • Sunburn;
  • Peeling or scaling skin;
  • A flare-up of acne;
  • Local skin reaction (contact dermatitis);
  • Itching of the skin.

The following side effects can also occur although there is not enough data to know how frequently they occur:

  • Pain or swelling of the skin;
  • An allergic reaction of the skin to the Adapalene gel or cream; Irritation, redness, itching or swelling of the eyelids.

Some of the milder side effects are part of the skin regrowth process and will lessen or go away as you continue to use the cream.

In rare cases, you may experience a severe allergic reaction.

If you experience any of the following, stop using Differin and seek immediate medical assistance:

  • Swelling around the nose, mouth, lips and throat;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Wheezing;
  • Collapse.

When shouldn’t you use Differin?

While Differin gel and Differin cream are topical medications, meaning they isn’t absorbed into your bloodstream, this doesn’t mean that it is safe for everyone to use. Differin should only be used by adults and children over the age of 12.

Do not use Differin:

  • If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant;
  • If you are allergic to adapalene or any of the other ingredients listed on the patient leaflet;
  • If you are allergic to Vitamin A-related drugs (other retinoids like isotretinoin);
  • On skin that has eczema, sunburn or cuts (if you are an eczema sufferer talk to your doctor before using Differin).

Does Differin gel interact with other medications?

Always talk to your doctor about any other medication you are taking as some medicines can interact with each other and make each other less effective or increase your risk of side effects. This includes vitamins, supplements and over-the- counter medicines not just prescription medicines.

With Differin you should take particular care with:

  • Other acne products containing benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin or clindamycin – you can use these while using an Adapalene gel but these types of acne medication should be applied in the morning and Differin gel should be applied at night;
  • Cosmetics, cleansers and soaps which dry out the skin – look for a product that will avoid excessive dryness – Differin now make some compatible products if you are stuck;
  • Products containing glycolic acid (hair perming solutions); Astringent shaving lotions and toners.

Where can you buy Differin?

You can buy Differin gel, Differin cream and Differin lotion from any reputable pharmacy, shop wherever is easiest for you.

Can I get Differin without a prescription?

No, you cannot buy Differin without a prescription. The active ingredient Adalpene UK is a sensitive ingredient and you must follow strict instructions, plus be aware of the implications. It is also useful to be under the care of a doctor so you know how long to use the medicine for and you can measure results effectively.

You can buy some creams with retinoids and other acne treatments over the counter but these will have a lower dose of the active ingredient and will likely be less effective. If you haven’t tried any of these first, it would be a good start to curing your acne, however, if your case is severe and you have tried many of the over-the-counter remedies then a prescription medicine may be just what you need.


British Skin Foundation, n.d. Acne. British Skin Foundation. retrieved 20 March 2020.

Galderma Laboratories, 2020. Differin Gel: An Over-The-Counter Retinoid For Acne. Retrieved 20 March 2020.

Galderma laboratories, 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2020, from:., 2020. Differin Gel. retrieved 20 March 2020.

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