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Facial Cleanser

Ultimate clean, no over-drying

Clearing Tonic

Instant skin rebalancing

Acne Treatment Serum

All-day Protection

Clear Pore Serum

All night pore clearing

Derm-X Cloth

Skin renewing exfoliation

Moisture Complex

Weightless oil-free moisture

Microderm Scrub

Instantly Smoother Skin

Clarifying Mask

Deep down skin detox

Probiotic Complex

Clearer skin from the inside


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

Differin for acne is popular, and 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.

Also read: How to choose the best acne treatment

Biggest Take-Aways:

  • 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.

Differin For Acne FAQ

Can Differin gel make acne worse?

Differin gel is a powerful acne treatment, but it may take some getting used to. While the medication has been known to initially worsen breakouts in some individuals, this effect generally subsides with continued use - and patience! With perseverance, you can reap the full benefits of Differin within several weeks.

Does Differin help hormonal acne?

For those suffering from hormonal acne, Differin could be a helpful solution. Its powerful ingredients work to unclog pores and reduce inflammation for clearer skin -- although it is not specifically formulated for this type of acne. Ultimately, the best way to determine if this medication is right for you is by consulting with an experienced dermatologist who can provide personalized advice tailored just for you.

Does Differin help fungal acne?

Struggling with acne can be frustrating, and even more so when the cause remains unclear. Fungal acne is often characterized by small red bumps on your skin that don't respond to over-the-counter treatments like Differin – but don’t worry! If you suspect you may have fungal acne it's best to visit a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment plan.

Does Differin gel work on acne scars?

Differin does a great job of unclogging pores and reducing inflammation related to acne, but if you're looking for more targeted help with your scars, then laser therapy or chemical peels could be the way forward. With these specialized treatments available, you can make sure that even stubborn acne scarring will eventually become less visible!

Does Differin gel help with cystic acne?

differin is not specifically formulated for this difficult-to-tackle form of severe acne, but it can help unclog pores and reduce inflammation - both crucial steps in improving the stubborn symptoms like painful lumps and bumps associated with this type of skin condition. If you have your mind set on using Differin to battle those dreaded pimples, seek professional advice from a dermatologist to find out if Differin could be right for you!

How long does it take for Differin to work?

When you decide to take the plunge and give Differin gel a shot for your pesky acne, it's essential that you stick with it. Achieving clear skin can be an eight-to-twelve week journey; anything less will like not be effective. Exposed produces results faster than Differin, but some acne sufferers prefer putting their skin care in the hands of a dermatologist.

How often should Differin be applied for treating acne?

Consistency is key! To maximize the effectiveness of Differin gel, make sure to follow instructions on its packaging and apply it nightly before bed. It doesn't take long each day and will yield noticeable results for most eventually.

What are the long-term effects of using Differin?

With regular use of Differin gel, you can enjoy a more youthful appearance and better-looking skin. It allows for improved texture and tone while reducing the formation of acne. However, good sun protection practices are critical to preserve your results since it heightens sensitivity to sunlight.

Are there any potential interactions with other medications when using Differin?

Differin gel can be a useful treatment option for acne, but it's important to talk with your dermatologist before starting. Certain medications such as benzoyl peroxide, sulfur or resorcinol may interact negatively when combined with Differin so they must be avoided while taking the medication. In addition, combining topical acne treatments and exfoliants could increase the risk of skin irritation. No need to overdo it by layering too many products.

What should you do if you experience side effects while using Differin?

Don't let Differin's side effects leave you feeling worse off than before. If your skin is becoming overly dry, red and tender after using the medication, then it might be time to call upon a healthcare provider for assistance. From mild peeling and burning to more severe reactions - depending on how far they may stretch - talking with your doctor can help find just what kind of solution works best in bringing things back into balance so that no further harm comes from use!

How do I know if Differin is the right acne treatment for me?

Struggling with mild to moderate acne but finding no success in topical treatments? Differin gel may be worth a try! However, it's critical to consult a dermatologist and see if this medication is right for your body - because different people react differently to various skincare solutions.

How does Differin compare to other retinoids for acne treatment?

Retinoids are a class of compounds that have been derived from vitamin A and have been clinically proven to be effective in treating numerous skin-related problems, including acne.

Compared to other retinoids such as tretinoin and isotretinoin, Differin gel offers several advantages such as being available over the counter and having fewer potential side effects. In terms of effectiveness, it has been shown to be similar to tretinoin with both showing the ability to reduce the number of acne lesions while improving overall skin clarity.

It is important to remember that results with Differin may not be immediate and that consistent use is necessary to maintain any results achieved. Side effects, such as dryness, flaking, and redness are possible but should subside after a few weeks of treatment. Ultimately, Differin can be an effective acne treatment when used correctly.

What are the recommended usage instructions for Differin?

Use Differin gel daily before bedtime to get your skin back on track. Start with a small amount and gradually increase it over time - but don't forget that sunscreen! The product makes the skin photosensitive, so use caution when going out in the sun while using this medication to ensure you avoid any bad side-effects.

How can I reduce the side effects of Differin?

In order to make Differin gel as gentle on your skin as possible, start out slow and increase the amounts gradually. Additionally, reach for a mild cleanser that won't irritate your complexion and finish off with an effective moisturizer – then you're good to go!

Can Differin be used on other areas of the body besides the face?

It can be used on other areas as long as skin is still healthy and won't get irritated. Before you go there though, make sure to read instructions from packaging or check in with a dermatologist for extra guidance — no matter where your journey takes you! Differen gel was not designed to be used on the body, and skin types vary significantly depending of the location on your body.

Is Differin suitable for all skin types?

Differin gel has been proven to effectively treat acne for many people, but it may not be the best option for those with sensitive skin.

Retinoids can cause dryness, redness and irritation in some cases because they increase cell turnover which makes your complexion more sensitive to sunlight; these side effects are typically short lived and manageable through hydration measures, reduced sun exposure, and using sunscreen.

Differin can be an effective option for those with oily skin. Acne is often caused by overproduction of oil, and retinoids like Differin can help regulate oil production and unclog pores.

It's worth noting that if you have very oily skin, you may, paradoxically, find that Differin causes your skin to feel dry or tight. In that case, you may want to use a lightweight moisturizer or oil-free lotion to keep your skin hydrated.

For ultimate peace of mind when trying Differin, a patch test is always recommended. Also, start with smaller amounts and build.