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 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.
Related: A Beginner’s Survival Guide To Tretinoin
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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. It’s best at prevention rather than cure.
Related: Adult Acne: Why It Happens And How To Treat It
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:
- It’s faster: Studies show that 0.1% adapalene (the OTC concentration) works faster than 0.025% tretinoin.
- It’s gentler: The same studies show it’s gentler than tretinoin too.
- It’s stabler: It doesn’t lose effectiveness so quickly when exposed to light and air.
- It stays on the skin: Compared to retinoic acid, less adapalene penetrates skin. Adapalene stays mostly on the surface, where it unclogs pores (this is why it’s gentler and better for acne than wrinkles).
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.