If you’ve been battling pimples for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard of Differin (Adapalene) as an effective treatment.

In this ultimate guide, I delve into the world of this product, exploring its benefits, the best practices for using Differin with a moisturizer, and common mistakes to avoid.
Some of the key points you’ll find below include:

  • What is Adapalene?
  • Should you use Adapalene before or after moisturizer?
  • How to use Differin with moisturizer effectively?
  • How long does Differin take to work?

And more.

So, let’s dive in!

What is Adapalene?

Adapalene is a topical retinoid that has been proven effective in treating acne.

It works by regulating skin cell turnover, sebum production, preventing pore clogging, and reducing inflammation.

The substance is available in different formulations and is used by several brands, but one of the most popular options is Differin.

Differin is a brand that specializes in products containing Adapalene, offering effective solutions for acne-prone skin.

The first time I came across Differin I had one pressing question in mind – can I use moisturizer after Adapalene?

After plenty of research and trial and error, here are my discoveries on using a moisturizer after Differin.

Using a moisturizer with Differin (Adapalene)

Differin gel before or after moisturizer - different options explained

As mentioned, one common question that arises when using Differin is whether you can use Differin gel before or after moisturizer.

In short, the answer depends on personal preference and skin sensitivity.

When applying moisturizer after AdapaleneI, Differin penetrates the skin more easily (there’s no barrier on its way), leading to stronger effects. However, this method may cause dryness and irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin.

On the other hand, applying Differin after a moisturizer acts as a protective barrier, reducing potential negative effects while still reaping the benefits of the ingredient.

Another detail you may be wondering about is how long after Differin to apply moisturizer.

After applying Differin, it is recommended to wait for about 15-30 minutes before applying face cream. This waiting period allows Differin to fully absorb into the skin and reduces the risk of diluting its effectiveness.

Moisturizer can be applied once the gel has had sufficient time to penetrate the skin and provide its intended benefits.

However, if you find that waiting for too long causes dryness or discomfort, you can experiment with a shorter waiting time that still allows the product to absorb adequately.

Remember to listen to your skin and adjust your routine accordingly.

How to use Differin gel in your skincare routine?

How to use Differin gel with moisturizer

Differin gel can be incorporated into both your morning and evening skincare routines.

However, when starting, it is advisable to use it only a few times a week, gradually increasing the frequency as your skin goes through a retinization process (adjusting).

The retinization process is individual and can last several weeks during which you can temporarily experience an increase in pimples. This is because acne is pushed to the surface of your skin. Once your skin is completely used to the retinol, you’ll notice pimples decreasing.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use Differin:

  1. Begin with a clean and dry face.
  2. Apply a small pea-sized amount of Differin gel to your fingertips.
  3. Gently massage the gel onto your entire face and your neck.
  4. Avoid applying Differin around the delicate eye area.
  5. Allow the gel to absorb fully into your skin before applying a cream.

*If you’re using Differin in the morning, don’t forget to follow up with a broad-spectrum SPF to protect your skin from potential sun damage — your skin will have increased sensitivity during the use of Adapalene gel.

How much Differin to apply?

It’s crucial not to overapply Differin, as using too much can lead to unnecessary irritation.

A pea-sized amount of the gel is sufficient to evenly and thinly cover your entire face.

Applying more than the recommended amount will not enhance the effectiveness but may exacerbate the side effects you’re experiencing.

Combining other actives and Differin for acne

When using Differin, it’s essential to be cautious about combining it with other active ingredients.
So, can you use Differin with salicylic acid? Or can you use hyaluronic acid with Differin?

Here’s what you need to know.

What not to use alongside Differin?

What not to use with Differin, Adapalene

The following ingredients are not to be used with Differin:

Other retinoids – Differin is already a potent retinoid, so using it in combination with other retinoids can lead to excessive drying, irritation, and compromised skin barrier function. It is best to avoid using other retinoids simultaneously.

AHAs, BHAs, and Benzoyl Peroxide – These ingredients are commonly used to fight acne, but they should not be used in the same routine as Differin unless you have them prescribed by your dermatologist. Combining them may increase the risk of skin irritation and sensitivity. Consider using them on alternate days or in separate routines for optimal results.

It’s important to note that even in wash-off products, it is still optimal to avoid using these compounds in the same routine as Adapalene. They can be incorporated into subsequent routines or used on different days to maximize their benefits.

So, if you’re asking yourself can I use Adapalene with a salicylic acid cleanser, my answer is that I wouldn’t recommend it.

If your skin can handle it, sure, why not, but if not — why risk it?

What can you use with Differin?

What to use with differin adapalene

While there are certain ingredients to avoid using alongside Differin, there are still many others that can be safely incorporated into your skincare routine. Here are some ingredients that are okay to use in combination with Differin:

  • Niacinamide – Known for its multiple benefits, including sebum regulation and pore refinement, niacinamide can be used alongside Differin to enhance the overall efficacy of your acne treatment.
  • Azelaic Acid – This ingredient helps to reduce inflammation, unclog pores, and even out skin tone. It can be combined with Differin to target multiple aspects of acne treatment.
  • Arbutin – With its brightening properties, arbutin can help fade acne scars and hyperpigmentation when used in conjunction with Differin.
  • Vitamin C – In the morning routine, vitamin C can provide antioxidant protection, brighten the skin, and boost collagen production. Just make sure to apply it before Differin for optimal absorption.
  • Hydrating and soothing ingredients – Ingredients such as glycerin, centella asiatica, aloe extracts, honey extracts, and allantoin can provide hydration and soothe the skin, counteracting potential dryness and irritation caused by Differin.

Best moisturizers to use with Differin (Adapalene)

When it comes to choosing the best moisturizer to use with Adapalene, opt for products that are gentle, non-comedogenic, and suitable for acne-prone skin.

Adapalene will inadvertently dry out your skin, so look for moisturizers that provide adequate hydration without clogging your pores.

Some great post-Adapalene face creams for different skin types include:

  • For oily skin: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Matte Face Moisturizer
  • For dry skin: Epionce Medical Barrier Cream
  • For normal/sensitive skin: Avene Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream

How long does Differin take to work?

When it comes to choosing the best moisturizer to use with The effectiveness of Differin varies from person to person, and results may not be immediate. It typically takes about 8 to 12 weeks of consistent use to see significant improvements in acne. However, you’ll start seeing some results from the second week onward.

Patience is key when using Differin, and it’s important to follow a regular skincare routine to maximize its benefits.

Without a doubt, using Adapalene consistently and correctly can lead to visible improvements in your skin.

Here’s an example of Adapalene before and after results:

Adapalene (Differin) before & After 2 years

2-year comparison of using Adapalene (Differin)

Common mistakes of using Differin gel

Mistakes when using Differin with moisturizer

To ensure the best results and minimize potential side effects, it’s important to avoid common mistakes when using Differin gel.

Here are some pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Using too much product – applying more than the recommended pea-sized amount of Differin won’t speed up the results but may increase the risk of irritation. Stick to the recommended dosage for optimal effectiveness.
  • Skipping moisturizer – some people may be hesitant to use moisturizer when using acne treatments, fearing it will make their skin oilier or clog their pores. However, moisturizer is essential for maintaining the skin’s hydration and barrier function. Be sure to include a moisturizer in your skincare routine but opt for a non-clogging formula to avoid any adverse effects.
  • Applying Differin to damp skin – it’s important to apply Differin to completely dry skin to ensure proper absorption and effectiveness. Moisture on the skin can dilute the product and reduce its benefits.
  • Over-exfoliating – avoid using harsh physical scrubs or excessive exfoliating products alongside Differin, as this can lead to increased irritation and sensitivity. Stick to a gentle exfoliation routine, if needed, and be mindful of the potential for over-exfoliation.
  • Not using sunscreen – Differin can make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays. Always apply broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day to protect your skin from sun damage.
  • Using it as a spot treatment – as I’ve already noted, Differin should be used on your entire face, and not just to spot treat an affected area.
  • Not using it on vacation – since people fear that Adapalene makes them more susceptible to sun damage, many do the mistake of stopping their treatment when vacating. Differin is most effective when used consistently and you can avert any sun damage with proper sun protection.

Can you use Differin with salicylic acid?

It’s generally recommended to avoid combining Differin with other exfoliating agents, such as salicylic acid in the same routine. However, you can benefit from using products that contain the two ingredients in opposite routines – in the AM and the PM.
The easiest way to do so is to introduce a salicylic acid face wash or toner in your morning routine and apply Adapalene in the evening.

So if you’re wondering if you can use Paula’s Choice BHA exfoliant with Differin, the answer is yes, at different times of the day.

Can you use hyaluronic acid with Differin?

Hyaluronic acid is safe to use alongside Differin. Hyaluronic acid and other hydrating agents can help combat any dryness or potential irritation caused by Differin. It’s a beneficial ingredient for maintaining the skin’s moisture balance.

So, was this article useful? If so, or if you have any questions, drop me a line below. And you can also check my detailed guide on how to use benzoyl peroxide and adapalene together. Alternatively, check my list of best moisturizers for closed comedones — those are products that are non-comedogenic and won’t clog your pores, no matter how much or how often you apply them.

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