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What Products to Use with Differin Gel to Treat Acne



by Lydia


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Since the FDA approved Differin Gel 0.1% for over-the-counter use in 2016, the product has been among the best products for most women and has topped lists for acne treatments and cystic breakouts. So if you think of purchasing Differin for your acne-prone skin and don't know what products to use with Differin gel, this article is for you. 

What is Differin Gel?

Differin adapalene gel is a prescription-strength retinoid gel available over the counter, and it is famous for being great at acne treatment. Apart from acne treatment, it has other benefits like erasing blackheads, incredible anti-aging effects and eliminating pimples. The differin gel has an active ingredient Adapalene, a type of retinoid that has been approved by the FDA in more than 30 years and has been prescribed to over 40 million people.

Topical retinoids such as Differin gel come from Vitamin A and will often help normalize your skin cell turnover, and this prevents clogging pores and hence preventing and treating acne. In addition, the same topical retinoid helps to improve skin discoloration, skin tone and texture. Differin Gel is the only retinoid available over the counter. You will need a prescription for its stronger form, Differin Gel 0.3% or other retinoids such as tretinoin, also called Retin-A, tazarotene and isotretinoin.

How Does Differin Gel Work?

Differin works by increasing cell turnover rates, preventing the pores from clogging and preventing acne from forming. However, while Differin gel has been proven to work, it can also cause irritation and dryness to the skin. This means any Differin user should find a hydrating and healing moisturizer to pair with the Differin gel.

The differin gel works mainly before the acne is formed and doesn't target bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide can cause your retinoid to oxidize and become less effective, and also, salicylic acid can be irritating to the skin. In addition, you shouldn't use Differing gel with products that contain chemical exfoliators such as glycolic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids or any drying agents such as toners and astringents.

Exfoliators, just like retinoids, increase cell turnover and therefore, too much exfoliation can lead to your skin becoming raw and hence getting irritated. Therefore, using differin should be followed with an ultra-rich moisturizer that will calm any irritation and deliver the needed hydration and should include ingredients such as moisturizing glycerin, hyaluronic acid serum, and ceramides. We have listed some of the best moisturizers to use with Differin gel below and products with sunscreen. All Adapalene products, including Differin gel, usually make your skin extra sensitive to UV rays.

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 Best Products that Use with Differin Gel


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What Products to Use with Differin Gel

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CeraVe Moisturizing Cream is one of the golden treasures in skin care that most people know for getting rid of super dry skin and irritated skin. The thick cream is formulated with hyaluronic acid and ceramides to restore the protective barrier and attract moisture to your skin.

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream in the tub is non-irritating, non-comedogenic and free of oil and fragrance and thus great for treating sensitive skin or treat acne effects such as dry or dead skin. Since it's a thick cream, it might not be the best for oily skin, but since it's non-greasy and won't feel uncomfortable on your skin, it may be okay for moderate acne. 


  • Quickly absorbs into your skin
  • It does not cause skin irritation
  • Great value for money
  • Suitable for use for day and night
  • It's not as greasy and won't feel uncomfortable


  • It is unsuitable for all skin types

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Neutrogena Hydro Boost Moisturizer is among the most popular and best moisturizers in the market while using Differin Gel for extra dry skin. The formula is filled with glycerin and packed with hyaluronic acid that attracts water to your skin which is excellent for any skincare routine. The moisturizer offers a perfect balance between moisture and not being too greasy and thus suitable to moderate acne and prevent future breakouts.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost includes an oil, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic formula that is non-irritating. Since it has a gel texture, it will moisturize your skin without feeling too heavy. In addition, you can use Differin with the product to clear acne because it has a tremendous amount of hyaluronic acid and hydra that improves acne-prone skin while hydrating the skin. 


  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Improves aging skin thanks to the hyaluronic acid
  • No oil in its formulation and hence does not cause clogged pores, unwanted side effects or breakouts.
  • The gel-based formula helps to quench the dry skin caused by using Differin
  • Lightweight formula and therefore it can be used before makeup application


  • Some users say it has a burning sensation

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Differin Restorative Night Moisturizer is one of the best moisturizers to apply while using Differin gel as it deeply moisturizes your skin overnight. It is the perfect skin care companion of Differin gel, and it won't clog pores, and it also reduces the appearance of redness caused by dryness and improve the texture of your skin by rehydrating your skin overnight.

The Differin Restorative Night Moisturizer is formulated with ceramides, hyaluronic acid and allantoin and the moisturizer helps to improve skin texture by hydrating it through the night. Hyaluronic acid is excellent for boosting skin elasticity, and the ceramides support the skin's natural barrier. Shea butter and allantoin deeply moisturize and soften your dehydrated skin, while licorice extract helps in promoting radiance. 


  • Prevents dry skin before it starts and soothes and moisturizes flaky and dry skin
  • Ideal for daily use with Differin Gel and Differin Gentle Cleanser
  • Contains no other ingredients that would be harmful when using Differin such as salicylic acid, lanolin, benzoyl peroxide, Adapalene, or other acne medications
  • It has a gentle, non-irritating, fragrance-free, pH-balanced and a non-comedogenic formula
  • Dermatologist-developed and tested product


  • Not ideal for sensitive skin and clearing acne

COSRX Oil-Free Ultra moisturizer is one of the best moisturizers you can use Differin gel with when trying to clear acne. It contains over 70% of Birch sap, a hero ingredient, which is a Korean ingredient that promotes hydration while also adding vitamins and antioxidants.

COSRX Ultra includes moisturizing glycerin and hyaluronic acid to help heal your skin after your Differin dose. In addition, the product has a light fragrance that doesn't affect most skin types and is ideal for people who have oily skin but are dried out with acne medications. 


  • Contains Birch sap as an active ingredient for moisture restoration
  • It is smoothly absorbed into the skin
  • Dermatologist tested and cruelty-free
  • Helps in healing your skin when using
  • Differin to treat acne
  • Moisturizes your skin when you use Differing without the greasy consistency


  • Not ideal for all skin types

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La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP is an ultra-absorbing cream made to maximize hydration in the skin's severely dry and acne-prone areas for about 24 hours. The product is excellent for keeping your skin nourished for long hours thanks to some ingredients such as niacinamide and shea butter and therefore get rid of any skin irritation. Applying Differin with this specially formulated formula that contains active ingredients is excellent for your skin.

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP is fragrance-free and paraben-free and can be used all over the body and is designed for allergic reactions and hence softens and soothes your skin leaving your skin soft after use. The moisturizer includes an exclusive patented active ingredient known as Aqua Rosae Filiformis. It restores and normalizes the balance of the skin cells and, as a result, restores the skin barrier. In addition, this La Roche-Posay has been accepted by the National Eczema Association, making it one of the treatment options to alleviate the symptoms of eczema. 


  • Soothes and stops any itch or skin irritation caused by using Differin
  • Strengthens your skin barrier
  • Alleviates Eczema symptoms
  • Restores and normalizes the balance of your skin cells
  • It can be used all over the body


  • Feels greasy to some users

How Do You Use Differin with a Moisturizer?

People use Differin Gel with a moisturizer differently, where some people may buffer the product, and this is using it with a moisturizer simultaneously. You can buffer Differin either by mixing it with a moisturizer the applying it on your entire face it applying moisturizer directly afterward. This method helps lower the concentration, which will, in turn, mean you will experience minor irritation.

For the best results in using Differin with a moisturizer for acne, you should start with face washes, where you face wash your entire face using a mild, non-drying and non-irritating gentle cleanser. After rinsing your face wash, followed by applying a thin layer of Differin Gel to a clean and dry face and follow this treatment with a moisturizer, and you will see a difference in the first few weeks with consistent use. Notably, if you apply Differin Gel during the day, ensure you also apply some sunscreen but allow the over-the-counter Differin Gel to dry first.

Does Adapalene Remove Fine Wrinkles and Anti-Aging?

No, Differin Gel is not FDA-approved for minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, but it is recommended for treating acne than other topical retinoids. If you need a product that fights acne and reduces fine lines and wrinkles as part of your skin care, you can consider tretinoin.

However, keep in mind that it is more irritating and stringer than Adapalene and is not cleared for (over-the-counter) OTC use. The alternative would be to use one product to fight acne while incorporating another product for targeting the anti-aging effects but be keen on what you use at the same time to avoid a further reaction. Some products like Vitamin C and Vitamin E are great for incorporating into your skincare routine while still using Differin Gel as they are safe to use at the same time.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Since salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are effective treatments for acne, how different are topical retinoids?

Adapalene is among the newest technologies in acne treatment and is available without a prescription and has been for the past thirty years. It is an effective treatment for two acne forms. The differin gel has anti-inflammatory properties and thus clears redness and inflammation associated with acne and thus preventing blocked pores, pimples or blackheads before they occur.

However, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide attack acne by penetrating the skin's surface, but when applying Differin gel, the Adapalene works by fighting acne from inside out. The only FDA-approved Retinoid Differin with Adapalene, the active ingredient, works at the DNA level to preset your skin cells to exfoliate dead skin. In addition, Differin Gel was made with sensitive skin in mind and a minor version of Retin-A for acne, unlike salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

All three (Adapalene, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide) skin care ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties, but Adapalene in topical acne medications is the strongest to prevent acne or reduce inflammation. Notably, don't use all three ingredients( salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and Differin gel) on your skin at a go as the combination may be too harsh and cause skin irritation.

2. How long does Differin Gel take to work?

Results from applying Differin will not happen overnight, but you can see some changes in the first few weeks, and it is available without a prescription. Using Differin gel will need consistency to give users optimal results. It can take up to six weeks of consistent application of the FDA-approved Differing gel before you can see results.

3. Is Differin Gel a Retinol?

While there might be plenty of over-the-counter retinol creams in the market, they are pretty similar but not the same as Differin gel is a retinoid. Even though both ingredients are derived from Vitamin A, the over-the-counter Differin Gel is a powerhouse, increasing cells turnover. Still, the retinol is weaker and will take longer to give you visible results.

Notably, not all retinoids are the same, and Differin is Adapalene, and it contains a different chemical structure than other retinoids, making it less irritating. Notably, you will need to get a prescription for stronger Differin forms such as Differin 0.3% and retinoids such as tretinoin ( Retin-A), tazarotene and isotretinoin.

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