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Should You Be Using Differin for Acne? (Maybe Not)

Differin is one of many retinoid-based acne treatment options available on the market today. But there is a lot about Differin that many users do not know, and, in reality, there are much better alternatives.

Differin is a retinoid that works by increasing cell turnover. While this can decrease the appearance of acne, it also makes your skin very photosensitive. Photosensitivity can increase your chances of lasting skin damage and even skin cancer. Azelaic acid is a better alternative, because it also increases cell turnover, but it doesn't make your skin photosensitive, and it generally has a better safety profile.

Like all retinoids, Differin should be treated with caution due to its various irritating side effects on your skin. A gentler regimen of complementary skin products that utilize Azelaic Acid, like those in Exposed's kits, is likely to be more effective.

A smiling woman washes her face.

A healthy skin care routine including Azelaic Acid is far more effective than Differin gel.

Is Differin Effective?

Differin gel utilizes adapalene as its active ingredient. Adapalene, a "retinoid," has numerous properties that help with the treatment of acne but is also frequently associated with side effects like skin irritation, dryness, and photosensitivity.

Photosensitivity, which is a heightened sensitivity to the effects of the sun, is not something to take lightly. Allowing your skin to become more sensitive to the sun's rays not only leads to unwanted aesthetic effects like wrinkles or sunspots, but it can also lead to lasting sun damage on the skin and even skin cancer.

While Differin gel can be effective in treating acne, it often makes acne worse before it gets better. But, fortunately, there are other products that are considered much safer than Differin spot treatment.

The Down Sides of Differin

Retinoids, like the adapalene in Differin, have various common side effects. There are also certain people who certainly should not try Differin, either because it has not been approved for their demographic, or because the side effects could be exacerbated.

Don't try differin if:

  • You have sensitive, easily irritated skin

  • You have rosacea, eczema, or you are otherwise prone to skin redness and dryness

  • Your skin has responded poorly to acne treatment in the past

  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding

  • You are under the age of 12

  • You wax your skin in areas where you also plan to apply the gel

  • You are using other acne treatments, especially those including benzoyl peroxide, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), or salicylic acids

Even proper use of Differin gel can result in severe irritation and aggravation in combination with the above-mentioned drugs or skin conditions.

Differin Side Effects

Even without the downsides listed above, retinoids can cause some unwanted side effects for anyone who chooses to try them. These include:

  • swelling

  • peeling

  • scaling

  • dryness

  • erythema (redness of the skin)

  • pruritus (itchiness)

  • blistering

  • photosensitivity

A person with dry, red skin.

Differin spot treatment can dry out your skin, leading to more irritation.

Healthy Alternatives to Differin

In order to avoid the worrying side effects of Differin, there are fortunately many alternatives that can clear your acne with much safer ingredients.

Vitamin A

Differin is a retinoid, meaning it is derived from Vitamin A. But through supplements or through a healthy diet, you can include Vitamin A as an ingredient in your skincare treatment without having to worry about photosensitivity or potentially worsening your acne.

Vitamin A supplements can be a healthier and more natural way to contribute to your skin health without needing to use Differin gel.

Azelaic Acid

Differin works by increasing cell turnover which exfoliates your skin and thus may clear out excess dead skin cells and bacteria trapped inside your pores.

Azelaic Acid does the same thing, but it doesn't lead to photosensitivity.

That's why we chose to bypass Differin as an ingredient when making our Clearing Tonic, instead opting for Azelaic Acid as one of the active ingredients.

A Skin Care Routine

Typically, one single ingredient won't get rid of your acne, simply because acne is caused by a variety of factors. While one ingredient, like Azelaic Acid, can clear out clogged pores, you would still need other ingredients to treat the other causes of acne such as inflammation and excess of P. acnes bacteria.

While ingredients like Differin and Azelaic Acid increase cell turnover, they can also dry out your skin. That's why they should ideally be paired with soothing ingredients like green tea extract and passionflower to calm irritation and prevent redness.

A passionflower

Retinoids like Differin dry out your skin and can lead to inflammation. A holistic skincare routine with calming ingredients like passionflower can be a better alternative.

Better Acne Products Than Differin

Instead of working to mitigate the many side effects associated with retinoid-based products like Differin, someone trying to reduce their acne could first try a gentler skincare regimen that is still effective against acne like the kits offered at Exposed.

The Exposed Skincare Ultimate Kit

Exposed uses benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to reduce acne plus natural extracts like sage and passion flower to soothe redness.

The skin turnover associated with retinoids can also be achieved by ingredients like the azelaic acid found in the Exposed Clearing Tonic without the side effects like photosensitivity and dryness or peeling.

The Exposed method to heal acne combines the best of science and nature to reduce acne-causing bacteria, soothe inflammation, and clear skin during present breakouts while preventing future ones.