Differin (Adapalene)

You probably know adapalene by the more common brand name Differin.  It’s also in the medication Epiduo

Whatever name you know it by, adapalene is a retinoid-like compound that is used to treat mild to moderate acne.  It can be used by teens and adults alike.

Adapalene comes in a few different forms: lotion, cream or gel.  You can only get adapalene medication by prescription. 

How Adapalene Works

Adapalene works by revving your cell turnover into high gear.

  It’s a keratolytic, or, in simpler terms, a super exfoliator.  It keeps dead skin cells and oil from plugging up your pores, and helps prevent comedones from forming.

So, this medication keeps those bumps and blackheads at bay.  It helps to reduce inflammation too.

How You’ll Use It

Depending on what your dermatologist decides, you’ll use adapalene either once or twice a day.  All you need is a pea-sized amount for the entire face.

You might notice a slight stinging or burning after applying. Don't worry; this feeling is normal and will go away after a few minutes.

Don’t just dab this medication on individual pimples.  Since adapalene works by stopping pimples from forming under the skin's surface, just spot-treating existing pimples won't be effective.  You have to apply it all over the face, like you would a moisturizer, for it to work properly.

When you first start using your adapalene medication, don’t be surprised if you continue to break out.

  Although this is frustrating, it’s normal.

It can take a few weeks before you really start to notice a difference in your skin, so try to be patient.  Don't give up too soon and stop using your treatment. Continue with your treatment for at least 12 full weeks before judging its effectiveness.

Possible Side Effects

Adapalene tends to be less irritating than other topical retinoids, but it can still cause side effects.

  These are some of the most common:

  • dryness, peeling and flaking
  • redness and irritation
  • mild burning, stinging, or itching

These side effects are usually at their worst during the first few weeks of treatment, and diminish somewhat over time.  This article can help you manage much of the annoying dryness (yes, I know it’s written specifically for Retin-A, but it’s really helpful when you’re using any topical retinoid): Beating Dryness Caused by Topical Retinoids.  

Of course, if the medication is causing anything more than mild irritation, you’ll want to let your dermatologist know.  Ditto if you have any questions or concerns about your treatment.

Tips for Using Adapalene

Use a moisturizer.  Adapalene will most likely dry you out.  Apply a moisturizer, oil-free so as not to trigger breakouts, whenever needed.  This piece will help you choose a good one: How To Choose the Best Moisturizer for Your Skin.

Get yourself a good sunscreen.  Adapalene can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so no laying out and no tanning beds (tanning isn’t good for the skin anyway).

  And if you’re not already using sunscreen, why not start the habit now?  You’ll protect your skin from sun damage and aging.  Start here:  How To Choose a Sunscreen that Won’t Break You Out.

Don’t wax.  Do you get your eyebrows or lips waxed? You'll want to stop these beauty treatments while using adapalene, or risk serious irritation and possible injury to the skin (like skin lifting… ouch!)  Tweezing is OK, though.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your dermatologist.  If you have any questions or concerns, call your dermatologist’s office.  They should be more than willing to help you out; that’s what they’re there for!

Sources:

Berson D, Alexis A.  “Adapalene 0.3% for the treatment of acne in women.”  J Clin Aesthet Dermatolo.  2013 Oct; 6(10):32-5.

Eichenfield LF, Krakowski AC, Piggott C, et al.  "Evidence-Based Recommendations for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pediatric Acne. Pediatrics 2013;131;S163.

Galderma Laboratories LP.  “Differin (adapalene) Gel 0.3% Highlights of Prescribing Information.” [Package insert].  Fort Worth, TX.  2012 Feb.

Hayashi N, Kawashima M.  “Study of the usefulness of moisturizers on adherence of acne patients treated with adapalene.”  J Derrmatol.  2014 Jul;41(7):592-7.

Stein Gold L.  “Topical Treatments in Acne Vulgaris: Guidance for the Busy Dermatologist.”  J Drugs Dermatol.  2015 Jun 1; 14(6)567-72.

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