Differin gel

Also called adapalene

Key points about Differin gel

  • Differin gel is used to treat acne.
  • Adapalene sounds like 'a-DAP-a-leen'
  • Find out how to apply it safely and possible side effects.
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Differin is used to treat acne (blackheads, whiteheads, pimples) on the face, chest or back. It works by unblocking the pores on the skin and in this way prevents blackheads and whiteheads. Differin also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it reduces the soreness and irritation of acne. In Aotearoa New Zealand Differin is available as a gel. Read more about acne. 

July 2023: Notification that adapalene cream is no longer being manufactured globally from 2020 and will not be subsidised from 1 June 2023.

  • Apply a thin layer of Differin to the affected acne area once a day, at bedtime.
    • Before applying Differin, wash the area being treated with water and pat dry.
    • Ensure your skin is dry before applying Differin.
    • Squeeze a small amount of gel from the tube onto your clean fingertip.
    • Rub this gently onto the affected acne area.
    • Do not apply a large amount of gel – this will irritate the skin.
    • Do not apply near your eyes, nose, mouth, broken skin or areas with sunburn or eczema or dermatitis.
    • Wash your hands after applying Differin. 
  • It may take about 4 to 8 weeks before you notice an improvement.
  • Keep using Differin, even if the acne seems to get worse when you first start using it.
  • It is not harmful if you forget to apply Differin. Just continue to apply the same amount at the right time, the next day. Do not apply double the amount – this may cause skin irritation.   

Here are some things to know when you're taking Differin. Other things may be important as well, so ask your healthcare provider what you should know about.

  • Pregnancy: Do not use Differin if you are pregnant, or if there is a chance you could become pregnant. 
  • Be aware of skin sensitivity. If you get redness, dryness, peeling or a feeling of burning on your skin, try applying Differin every second night, or less often (such as every third night). As your skin gets used to Differin, you can then apply it every night. If your skin is sensitive, you may also wash off the Differin after 1 or 2 hours of applying.
  • Use sun protection: Differin makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. It's important to avoid unnecessary sun exposure and sunlamps, and when outdoors protect your skin by applying a good sunscreen (SPF 30+).
  • Using make-up: You can wear make-up while using Differin – just remember to remove the make-up before applying Differin. Some cosmetics products have a dry, abrasive or peeling action and may irritate the skin when used together with Differin. Check with your doctor or pharmacist which ones you can use.

Like all medicines, Differin can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Redness or burning feeling on your skin
  • Dry skin
  • Skin peeling
  • Flare up of acne
  • These may go away with time.
  • Try applying Differin less often – see 'Special instructions' above.
  • Tell your doctor if your acne doesn't go away, is painful, or bothering you.
Did you know that you can report a side effect of a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product(external link)

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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