Differin: Is It The Best Treatment For Acne (& Wrinkles)?

by Gio

is differin the best treatment for acne and wrinkles

Since Differin was demoted from prescription to OTC in the US last year, a lot of you have been asking me if it’s worth a try.

Short answer: yes for acne. No for wrinkles.

Long answer: read on…

What The Heck Is Differin?

Differin is the brand name. The active ingredient is adapalene, a new form of retinoid derived from napthoic acid.

Retinoids are forms of vitamin A, a vitamin that fights both acne and wrinkles. The catch? It’s harsh as hell. It can dry out skin, irritate it and make it all red and flaky.

That’s why the most powerful forms of vitamin A are prescription only. Differin 0.1% has made it to OTC but Differin 0.3% is still prescription-only.

One more thing: don’t confuse Differin with Tretinoin. Tretinoin uses the pure form of vitamin A, retinoic acid. They’re relatives but they work in slightly different ways.

Is Differin (Adapalene) An Effective Acne Treatment?

Depends on what you mean by that. Differin is great at preventing acne, not so much at reducing it once it’s made an appearance.

Here’s why: like all retinoids, adapalene accelerates cellular turnover, i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process.

In plain English, it helps skin get rid of dead skin cells faster so they don’t end up clogging your pores and giving you breakouts.

Plus, adapalene has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe the redness and irritation that always come along with acne.

BUT, and this is a very important but, adapalene CAN’T kill P.Acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. That’s why it’s best at prevention rather than cure.

Should You Use Differin With Other Acne Treatments?

Yes. There’s a reason why Epiduo has both adapalene and benzoyl peroxide (BP). BP can kill P. Acnes while adapalene keeps the pores clean. Win win.

The catch? This duo can be too harsh for some skin types.

You can also use adapalene with other acne treatments like salicylic acid and sulphur. Just be careful to introduce all these extra ingredients slowly.

If you have acne, your skin is already inflamed. All these ingredients are quite powerful and could inflame it even more. Introduce them into your skincare routine gradually and, if your acne flare up gets worse, ditch one immediately.

Related: Benzoyl Peroxide VS Salicylic Acid: Which One Should You Use?

Is Differin An Effective Wrinkle Treatment?

You’ve probably heard that retinoic acid (Tretinoin) can boost collagen and reduce wrinkles so it’s natural to assume that Differin will do the same, right?

Maybe. In theory, it should. In practice, I couldn’t find any studies that prove Differin gets rid of wrinkles.

If this was the only reason you were interested in Differin, either stick to retinol or go prescription. Leave Differin on the OTC shelf.

Related: 5 Anti-Aging Superstars You Should Add To Your Skincare Routine

Why Should You Use Differin?

If you’re interested in Differin as an acne treatment, here’s why it’s worth to try it instead of Tretinoin:

Are There Any Side Effects?

Of course! We’re talking about a retinoid, after all…

Differin can cause flakiness, redness, irritation and sun sensitivity. These side effects are less severe than with tretinoin but the same rules apply:

  • Use only a pea-sized amount: with retinoids, more is a recipe for irritations, not flawless skin.
  • Start slowly: use it only a couple of nights a week and build frequency slowly.
  • Moisturize: apply a generous amount of moisturizer after Differin. If your skin is sensitive, you can apply it before (it’ll reduce absorption but also irritation).
  • Wear sunscreen: every day. Not optional.

One more thing: Differin can cause purging. In other words, your skin will get worse before it gets better. It’s normal. Hang in there.

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The Bottom Line

Differin is an effective preventative treatment for acne but it can’t kill the bacteria that causes it. That’s why it’s best used as part of an anti-acne regime rather than alone. As for wrinkles, it doesn’t help much there.

Have you tried Differin? Share your experience in the comments below.



SherryG April 28, 2018 - 7:44 pm

From what I understand, there aren’t studies because they haven’t been done yet. Tretinoin has been studied pretty extensively for anti-aging, adapalene only for acne. However, there have been a couple of small studies that showed some anti-aging benefits with adapalene. A dermatologist I watch on You Tube recommends Differin over retinol. Her opinion is that retinol is not very effective, and you’d have better luck with Differin. I have tried Differin, but only for a few weeks, so can’t speak to anti-aging benefits. However, it did exfoliate my skin, and my skin felt softer. I’ve never had any results with OTC retinols (The Ordinary, CeraVe and Neutrogena). I’m currently using .01% tretinoin, and have had some reduction of fine lines over the past year. Obviously, tretinoin is the powerhouse, but my choice would be adapalene over a retinol. I realize though that some have good results with a retinol, this was my personal experience.

SherryG April 28, 2018 - 7:45 pm

Ooops, make that .1% tretinoin!

Gio May 4, 2018 - 6:49 pm

Sherry, thanks for sharing your experience. I believe that Differin has some anti aging benefits as well, although I’d be more likely to recommend tretinoin over that for wrinkles just cos it’s been studied a lot more extensively. But you’ll definitely see a bigger improvement with any prescription retinoid than with retinol. It also depends on your age and how deep those wrinkles are. If you’re still young and your fine lines are just starting to form, retinol may well be all you need. If you’re older and your wrinkles are deeper, prescription is the way to go.

Setu May 17, 2018 - 6:59 am

I have dry acne prone skin (age 35), is this good for me? My acne is relatively under control but I do break-out in between and sometimes just wont leave me for weeks. Can I use in conjuction with other Ordinary products like Vit C, Niacinamide, Granactive Retinoid 2%, alpha arbutin 2%, GA toner etc

Gio May 18, 2018 - 3:18 pm

Setu, I’d try other treatments first, like regular exfoliation with salicylic acid and spot treating with benzoyl peroxide. If that doesn’t work, you can give it a try. Just be aware that it can dry out your skin even more. And it absolutely show not be used with any other retinoid. You can use it with glycolic acid or vitamin C but on alternate days. Your skin will become very sensitive on Differing so it’s best to keep your routine simple. You can use other powerful actives when you’re not using Differin.

Alyson May 23, 2018 - 12:05 am

Setu, I do not recommend using ANYTHING but Differin when introducing it. I’ve used the Granactive Retinoid 2% from the Ordinary, however, Differin is much more drying and left me flaky, even when using it every other night. You’ll want a gentle cleanser, then to use Differin and a very hydrating moisturizer, with no other actives for about the first month. Or, as Gio mentioned, you can alternate your other actives with your Differin every other night. I’ve been using Differin for about two months now, and I’ve noticed fewer pimples overall and much smoother skin texture, however, it is not stopping hormonal acne during my period. This is where I mix in some benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid!

Yus September 26, 2018 - 11:45 am

I have used this product for a long time and I find that it doesn’t help my acne. I feel like my acne gets use to the product and stops reacting to differin. Any one can recommend me something else? I have really bad acne around my chin/mouth area and on my cheek and forehead.

Gio September 26, 2018 - 7:06 pm

Yus, sorry to hear Differin isn’t helping. Have you tried a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment. If your acne’s really bad, you may have to consult a dermatologist though.


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