What Are the Usual Directions for Applying Differin for Acne?

would love to know the most common directions for applying Differin for acne. If the skin is getting irritated, should a day or two of application be skipped, or is it an adjustment period that needs to be pushed through?

Doctor Answers 4

Differin application

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Typically when I prescribe differin, I advise patients to apply a small amount (pea sized only) and distribute evenly across the forehead, cheeks, and lower face at bedtime, although I commonly advise against applying the product close to the eyes or perioral/mouth area. Of course the application varies based upon the distribution and type of the patient's acne, but as a general rule of thumb this is what I recommend. All too often the culprit of irritation is too much product piled onto one area (usually the central face); in the case of retinoids, less is more.  Almost everyone experiences some level of irritation from retinoids, especially if it is their first time using them; the retinoids induce exfoliation and increase epidermal turnover which initially can make skin appear dry initially. If patients are experiencing irritation, I typically recommend waiting about 10-15 minutes after washing their face and ensuring their skin is completely dry prior to applying the differin (if skin is damp it will absorb the differin more readily which may add to irritation), and to use the differin every other night until irritation has resolved. I find that typically that the initial irritation patients experience  with differin or retinoid products decreases in intensity within a few weeks of use of the product. Using a gentle cleanser and moisturizer like cetaphil will help during this initial phase (I recommend applying the moisturizer after the differin). If irritation persists you may need a lower concentration of the differin (it comes in 0.1% and 0.3%) or another formulation of retinoid, and I would recommend discussing this with your dermatologist.

Stuart Dermatologist

Differn irritation

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Yes Differn can be irritating.  I tell my patients to start it slowly, every other night or even just twice a week, and work their way up as tolerated.  If irritating, skip a night or two and go back and do it sparingly and less often.  Some degree of irritation is allowable, but if its too much then the skin will look worse and you will be unhappy.  Some patients can't tolerate retinoids at all.  You need a great dermatologist to work with you. 



Rebecca Baxt, MD
Paramus Dermatologic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 29 reviews

Applying Differin for Acne

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There is not a for-sure way to use Differin that exists, and many dermatologists will recommend different ways of applying it to maximize its use and to minimize any adverse events, especially dryness and irritation. You should consult a board-certified dermatologist who is the most knowledgeable on the use of this medication, and all retinoids to make sure you are using the medications appropriately.

It is perfectly reasonable to wash your face in the evening, pat it dry but not totally dry, and apply a pea-size amount of Differin to the whole face. This technique usually minimizes the drying potential. And if needed, a good moisturizer can be used following the application. All of this will make it easier to tolerate Differin.

Michael Gold, MD
Nashville Dermatologic Surgeon
3.9 out of 5 stars 17 reviews

Differin: A little goes a long way for entire face

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Differin is a topical retinoid used to treat mild to moderate acne and just a thin film will go a long way.  It works well when a pea-sized amount is spread over your entire face every night.  If intolerable, then skip a night or two until you get used to it and then try and bump it up to every night.  Do not continue use if irritation continues.  You may need to try a lower strength or speak with your dermatologist about possibly changing topical medications.      

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.