What is Differin Adapalene Cream (and how to use it)?

what is differin adapalene cream?

Hi there! In this blog post I’ll be talking about the retinoid Differin or adapalene gel/cream. This is the one thing that has brought about a big improvement in my acne, so keep on reading if you’d like to learn what Differin/adapalene is, and to discover my top tips for using retinoids safely and successfully for the best acne treatment results!

Types of retinol

Differin cream or gel is a retinoid (specifically the retinoid named adapalene). Retinol and Retinoids, also known as vitamin A, have strong anti-ageing and anti-acne benefits. Vitamin A is amazing for acne because it unclogs pores and boosts the production of new skin cells. There are lots of different types of retinoids, of varying different strengths and effectiveness. It can be really confusing to understand what the different retinoids are and what they’re good for. I’ll briefly go into this here so you can understand what on earth adapalene is! From least to most strong, you can find: granactive retinoid, retinol, retinaldehyde, adapalene and tretinoin. Adapalene and tretinoin are the two which are diagnosed for acne (usually at the 0.025%, 0.05% or 0.1% strength).

Differin cream/gel consists of adapalene. This is a great acne treatment because it works on whiteheads, blackheads, pimples that stay under the skin (papules) and hormonal acne. This cream is applied to the skin, and can be used as part of your PM skincare routine (if you have one!). Differin gel is the more lightweight option out of the two products, and the cream is thicker and richer. I prefer the cream because I find it more moisturising and less drying and it layers a lot better with the rest of my skincare! Personally, I found the gel a bit sticky on the skin.

In the UK, adapalene is only available on prescription because of its strength, but I believe that in the US, you can easily buy them over the counter. If you’re British, you can buy it via online pharmacies such as Boots, by uploading some photos for a doctor to analyse and prescribe you the medication. When using retinol and retinoids for the first time, you should expect to wait 3 months before seeing any skin clearing benefits.

My Differin experience

I’ve spoken about my acne journey openly here on my blog and on my skincare Instagram account (or Skinstagram lol?). To read about this, and learn what has worked for my acne-prone skin, check out this post. I have always had comedonal acne, or small whiteheads on my cheeks, but in the summer of 2020, I started developing large, painful breakouts along my jaw. I believe this was due to hormonal reasons, because I hadn’t changed anything in my diet, lifestyle or skincare routine. I tried the normal acne-busting ingredients such as salicylic acid and niacinamide, but this did nothing for more sore, inflamed pimples. I started using Differin 0.1% cream around October 2020, and I began seeing some benefits around January (around the 3-month mark).

Adapalene has helped me immensely! My inflamed acne around my jawline has completely gone now, and the adapalene is really helping to fade the post-acne hyperpigmentation I’ve been experiencing. My skin is a lot clearer overall, but I’m still experiencing smaller pimples on my cheeks and forehead. I will continue with this product for a while longer, and I will update with any developments in my skin!

How to use Differin cream/gel

Differin should be applied in the evening. It is a strong skincare product, so if you wear it during the day your skin will be at high risk of getting sensitised by the sun. When first using Differin, you should slowly build up to using it to avoid irritation, redness and peeling of the skin. If you use Differin nightly when you first start using it, I guarantee you will get very irritated skin. I recommend using it once during the first week, twice during the second, then as many times as you like per week (but at least 3x per week to allow the product to actually work for you!). You should go slowly when using any retinoid for the first time, to avoid damaging your skin barrier, leaving you vulnerable to dry skin, eczema or worse acne.

Here are my top tips for using Differin:

  1. Go slow
    As I mentioned above, introduce your skin to Differin slowly to avoid irritation!

2. Apply over moisturiser
Because Differin is a really strong skincare product, you can “buffer” application to minimise irritation. Buffering is applying moisturiser, letting it dry down fully, then applying your retinoid on top. This provides 2 main benefits.

The first, is that the moisturiser creates a layer of protection before applying the retinoid, meaning it will be less harsh on your skin. This is such a good way to minimise irritation when using retinoid. My skin is completely used to adapalene because I’ve been using it for 3+ months, but I still prefer to apply my moisturiser before adapalene; my skin feels dry the next day when I apply moisturiser AFTER Differin!

Secondly, because adapalene is such a strong ingredient, using a moisturiser at night when using it will help keep your skin balanced and avoid it from getting stripped.

3. Apply on dry skin
As I just mentioned, let your moisturiser dry down before applying Differin. This is because when the skin is damp, products are absorbed better and the effect on your skin will be much more intense. I use this trick to help my skin absorb moisturiser (by applying moisturiser while my skin is still damp) but I avoid this like the plague when I’m going to apply adapalene. Applying adapalene onto damp skin will make it work more effectively and feel so much more irritating, trust me here guys!

4. Keep it simple
If you already have a skincare routine, dial back the number of active ingredients you use. Active ingredients are things like AHAS (glycolic acid, lactic acid…), salicylic acid and vitamin C. In the evenings you use Differin, make sure you don’t use any other active ingredients to avoid sensitising your skin or the adapalene interacting with them! Nowadays, I use an exfoliating acid mask or peel once a week or once every two weeks, and I do not apply Differin on that evening to not overwork my skin.

5. Protect your skin
Because adapalene exfoliates your skin and encourages new skin growth, it will be more sensitive and vulnerable to cell damage. To avoid sun burning and damage to your skin, it’s important to use sunscreen when using retinoids and other active ingredients. It’s recommended to use at least SPF 30 to protect your skin (I use factor 40 to 50)!

6. Use a pea-sized amount
When you’re really struggling with acne, it can be tempting to slather on your adapalene or other retinoid to make sure it really works. But with retinoid, you only need to use a pea-sized amount for your face; any more than that, you are just bringing yourself unnecessary irritation!

7. Watch out for your neck
If you have acne on your neck, you can use retinoids there. But you should be extra cautious when using Differin on the neck because the skin there is thinner and less tolerant than the skin on the face!

Overall, Differin/adapalene is a fantastic treatment for those with acne. I know that when you’re suffering from bad breakouts, it can feel like nothing will help your painful skin. But within 3 months of using this product, my acne is so much less prominent. I hope these tips I’ve shared will allow you to have the smoothest transition to using Differin, avoiding irritation! I find that the information that comes with the product doesn’t necessarily cover the things I’ve learnt over time (based on my personal experience and dermatologists online).

If you found this blogpost useful, please consider subscribing to my blog for more acne tips and low-waste beauty tips. And comment below if you have any questions about retinoids!

#adapalene #differin #hormonalacnecare

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