How To Use Differin / Adapalene. Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Prescription Retinoid For Acne.

January marked my 1 year anniversary of using Differin (also known as Adapalene) to manage my very acne prone skin. It has been the only topical prescription medication to ever be effective for me and I’m very glad I found it. However; there are so many things I wish I knew before I started using this medication as the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) which I read from cover to cover had very little in it. I’ve also picked up tubes of this which honestly just say “apply sparingly at night” with no further details or they didn’t even come with a PIL which prompted me to write this post.

Please remember I am not a pharmacist, beautician or dermatologist and am only sharing what I’ve learnt from my personal experience of using this brilliant product. I had great success with consulting pharmacists for advice when struggling with using this product initially.

Break It In Gently

The Patient Information Leaflet which came with my first tube of this mentioned applying a thin layer to affected areas at night and stopping if irritation occurred. When using off the shelf retinol ingredients they typically advise starting with the weakest product and introducing this gradually and working up from there. As I’d never used off the shelf retinol products I had no idea of this so just followed the PIL advise for retinoids which are far stronger than the beauty products which don’t require a prescription. I wish I’d known to introduce this strong medication slowly such as 2 nights a week then build up from there as my skin learnt to tolerate it. This would have saved me a lot of painful soreness that happened in the first month of use. Nowadays I don’t use this every single night and never have, I will typically use it 5 times a week for maintenance now that my skin is much clearer although still spot prone.

Don’t Use Other Active Ingredients

I consulted with a pharmacist towards the end of my first month of use as the medication was proving really effective for me in a short space of time at stopping spots but my skin had begun cracking and was almost weeping in places. Along with seeking their advice I looked online and even called Clinique in desperation for some answers after thinking their toner might be the culprit. I learnt that retinoids could react with certain ingredients or irritation that could be increased if used alongside salicylic acid for example which my toner at the time contained. A couple of days after stopping other actives my skin made a big turnaround and the dryness began easing.

Use Hydrating Products

When introducing Differin I wish I’d pared my routine right back to just hydrating products and left the blemish fighting ones to one side to give my skin a chance to adjust. This would have seriously helped to keep dryness at bay and keep my skin barrier healthy. I swapped to the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser and was recommended the Cetaphil Rich Night Cream from a pharmacist as it works very quickly to ease dryness without clogging pores. This is one product I simply cannot be without now and it’s great value for money.

Protect Your Skin From Sun Exposure

It was the 2nd tube of this medication that I picked up which made me aware of “avoiding direct sunlight or sun beds” as retinoids make the skin more sensitive to sun damage. Upon learning this I started wearing SPF every day regardless of the weather or if I was leaving the house or not to ensure my skin was protected. My favourite SPF that I’ve tried so far is Eucerin’s Oil Control SPF 50 which I’ve been able to buy on offer twice for around £12-13 and lasts me 3 months.

The Moisturiser Sandwich

Again through personal trial and error and discussions with a pharmacist I discovered there were a few ways to use Adapalene to minimise irritation. I use it in a couple of different ways. The first being applied directly to cleansed skin before waiting about 20 mins and then applying my night cream. The second being to apply my night cream to act as a barrier for irritation and then the Adapalene once this has soaked in. I have heard some people using retinoids with a “moisturiser sandwich” approach of applying moisturiser, then retinoid, then further moisturiser. If I think my skin needs a little more of a gentle touch I apply Adapalene over my Cetaphil Rich Night cream.

Listen To The Instructions

I strongly recommend not applying it close to the corners of your nose or lips as the PIL, if included, says. If in doubt I’ve found pharmacists to be very knowledgeable and helpful.

How Long To Use It For?

To my knowledge this will ultimately be governed by your GP. I first posted this in February 2021 and wanted to provide an update now that we are in July. I used Differin for around 14 months before gradually reducing my usage. I haven’t used Differin in around 3-4 months now and whilst I still have breakouts I’ve found these to be easily managed with shop bought skincare like Acnecide Gel Wash, pimple patches, The Ordinary Niacinamide serum and La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo+.

Comments Welcome

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