Adapalene: Your Solution For Acne

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Differin Adapalene Acne Treatment Gel

Adapalene (trade name: Differin) is a synthetic retinoid designed to minimize irritancy that comes with retinoid use.

How Adapalene Works

Normalizes Keratinization

Adapalene is a topical retinoid that increases the production of skin cells (cell turnover), unclogs pores, and exfoliates the skin. This helps in reducing acne, blackheads, acne spots, redness and inflammation. Because of this increased cell turnover, Adapalene brings up all the hidden acne on the surface of your skin which is generally referred to as “Differin Purge”.

Mild Anti-inflammatory

It has a mild anti-inflammatory effect which helps calm down the inflammation.

Reduces Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Adapalene removes sun-damaged skin cells so it reduces the appearance of dark spots on your face and can brighten the skin.

Melasma and Hyperpigmentation

There are few small studies that show adapalene can be helpful for treating melasma and hyperpigmentation, however, Tretinoin and Tazarotine have more evidence backing it up for Melasma treatment.

Removes Sun damaged skin cells

There are few small studies that show adapalene can be helpful in removing sun damaged skin cells and brightening the skin, however, Tretinoin and Tazarotine have more evidence backing it up for Melasma treatment.

Side effects of Adapalene

  • Can irritate very sensitive skin
  • Dry skin
  • Burning sensation and redness of your skin
  • It can photo-sensitize your skin so you must wear sunscreen if you are applying during AM routine.
  • Uncommonly (01% to 1%) it can cause flaking, eczema, sunburn and itching.

Adapalene and Peeling Skin

When you just start out with using Adapalene as your acne treatment, Adapalene will start off by peeling some of your top layer of skin and starts to work on the acne spots. This is completely normal in the first few uses of Adapalene.

Adapalene Purging

It is very likely that your skin will become very sensitive and irritated in the first few weeks of Adapalene use. It may even seem to worsen your acne in the first 3 to 4 weeks upto 6 weeks as all the underlying acne is coming to the surface. This happens because Adapalene unclogs your pores and gets all the gunk, the hidden comedones and the clogged pores under your skin that are forced to come out so you can eventually get a clean and healthy skin that performs better than before due to cleaned up gunk in the deeper layers of your skin.


During this time, take even more caution not to harshly scrub your face when cleansing as it will worsen the acne.

When & How to apply adapalene gel

Adapalene should always be used at night after cleansing your face on dry and hydrated skin. You can apply a moisturizer on top of adapalene. Take only a pea sized amount of Adapalene gel and apply it all over your face except the sides of your eyes, sides of your lips and sides of nostrils as the skin in these areas is very thin. Also, do not apply it on the neck.


When you cleanse your face, your skin may start to dry out. So it is better to hydrate it with a toner or a humectant like hyaluronic acid or a moisturizer before applying adapalene. You should not apply a retinoid on dehydrated skin.


If you are just starting out, you may apply Adapalene on top of your moisturizer which will not reduce the efficacy of adapalene but definitely reduce the tendency of irritation in the beginning as you go through the retinization process.


In Summary, here are the steps for applying Differin Adapalene gel:

  1. Cleanse your face.
  2. Apply a hydrating cream, serum or a moisturizer so your skin is not dry.
  3. Wait for 5 minutes for the moisturizer to soak into your skin.
  4. Apply Differin gel.
  5. You can apply moisturizer on top of Differin Gel as well as another layer of moisture and hydration throughout the night.
  6. When you wake up in the morning, hydrate your skin well and never forget to apply sunscreen because the Adapalene you used last night photo-sensitizes your skin and your skin can get photo-damaged if you do not apply a good amount of sunscreen protection on your face.

How long to work

The leaflet of Differin recommends daily application once every night for 3 months to see results. However, there are several YouTube videos and before & after pictures that claim to start seeing results with their acne within the first 3-4 weeks itself. Pimple take 6 to 12 weeks to build up under your skin & your acne will seem worse in the first few weeks of Adapalene use as it takes the underlying pimples on the surface of your skin, and the final results can be seen with daily use of Adapalene for a period of 8 to 12 weeks.

Adapalene or Benzoyl peroxide

2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide mask  by Neutrogena Rapid Clear - $10


Benzoyl Peroxide is an effective treatment for mild acne with less irritation compared to Adapalene. Once you have adapted to the use of Adapalene in 2-3 weeks, you can up your acne fighting game and add Benzoyl Peroxide in your routine along with Adapalene. A 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide as an active ingredient is at clearing lesions of acne as higher percentage strengths like 10%, but with less irritation. So there is necessarily no need to go higher with Benzoyl Peroxide and 2.5% is a good concentration for treating mild acne.


The reason why you would add Benzoyl Peroxide a few weeks after using Adapalene is because Benzoyl Peroxide is also quite irritating at first and using them together when you are starting out can be a bit too irritating for your skin. So first you get your skin in the habit of using Adapalene, and once your skin stops getting irritated by Adapalene and the purging phase is over, you introduce Benzoyl Peroxide together with adapalene.

Differin and Salicylic Acid

It is not recommended to use Salicylic Acid based products (cleansers, toners, serums or masks) along with Adapalene or Differin as it can potentially reduce the efficacy of Adapalene and also aggravate skin irritation. However, you may use Salicylic Acid in the morning to cleanse and treat your face when you are not using Adapalene.

Adapalene vs Tazarotene vs Tretinoin

Tazarotene and Tretinoin have the most studies conducted that prove their effectiveness against treatment of melasma and Hyperpigmentation. Adapalene mainly has data that is related to the treatment of acne. It easily reaches the oil bearing surfaces of your skin and it has a very good tolerability profile meaning its very less irritating for your skin compared to Tazarotene and Tretinoin. There are some small studies that look at the effectiveness and potential benefits of the use of Adapalene with melasma, wrinkles and fine lines.


So the verdict would be to use Adapalene if your main skincare concern is treating acne. However, if you are looking for a reliable retinoid with evidence and studies proving retinoid benefits in a compound, then use Tretinoin and Tazarotene for wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.

Adapalene vs Retinoic Acid

Retinoic Acid is the main compound in a true form of Retinoids. It is very unstable and very potent, and also the most effective form of Retinoid. Adapalene has great anti-acne treating effects almost as effective as Retinoic Acid but with lesser side-effects. What we are not sure with evidence yet is that Adapalene also has the same anti-aging benefits like Retinoic Acid and it is not very likely as effective as Tretinoin when it comes to anti-aging benefits.

Adapalene & Pregnant/Breastfeeding

Although Adapalene is a safe drug, it is not recommended to be used when a patient is pregnant, planning to conceive or is nursing.

Tips for getting Best Results

  • Use regularly, once a day at night. This is not to be used once in a while.
  • Do not use Salicylic Acid
  • Do not use products that contain known irritants like denatured alcohol, essential oils and fragrance.
  • Do not use any scrub or mechanical scrubbing devices which are especially bad for acne prone skin.
  • Use Benzoyl Peroxide over time, once your skin has already adapted to the use of Adapalene. This will speed up your recovery process and acne treatment.
  • Stop the use of Adapalene 5-7 days before any face waxing, facial or beauty treatment appointment as Adapalene can increase the sensitivity in your skin.


Adapalene is a very effective treatment for acne when applied consistently for a few months. It can seem to worsen the acne in the first few months as it brings all your underlying acne to the surface. Adapalene should not be used with Salicylic Acid products or products that contain irritants. Physical scrubbing is highly discouraged. You can include Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5% in your routine for an extra boost in fighting your acne.

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