How to Use Differin Gel (10 Mistakes to Avoid)

In this article I’m going to be talking about how to use differin gel and the top 10 mistakes people make when they use it.

Differin gel is the only FDA approved retinoid that you can buy over the counter for the treatment of acne. It is FDA approved for acne

Unlike any other treatment that you can buy in the store, over the counter, differin is a retinoid and it works differently.

It treats acne within the pore where acne starts. It treats existing acne and it prevents acne breakouts in the future.

Differin gel will help with blackheads, whiteheads, mild to moderate acne and if you’re someone who only gets breakouts occasionally, differin gel can help with that too.


Using a retinoid like differin can decrease the burden of acne up to 87% after 12 weeks of daily use.

It may seem pretty straightforward. You just put this on your face and everything magically clears up.

While it is pretty easy to use, there are some common mistakes that I see people making all the time that seriously jeopardize their success with treating their acne with differin gel.

Mistake #1: Using it as a spot treatment

Mistake number one is thinking that differin gel works as a spot treatment.

I see a lot of people making this mistake. They just use it as needed when they get a breakout.

It doesn’t work that way!

You want to use differin to the entire face except to the eyelids.

Differin gel works to treat acne below the surface of the skin before it even appears and it works to prevent breakouts in the future.

It is not a spot treatment. You need to use it consistently to see results, daily as tolerated. However you can use it as little as a few nights a week and still get good results, but does not work as a spot treatment.

if you get a breakout and you try and use differin as a spot treatment, it’s not going to do anything. It takes a while for it to start working.

Mistake #2: Stopping once your acne is clear

Mistake number two that people make is stopping differin gel once they get the results that they’re looking for.

That’s a huge mistake!

Because differin gel can keep your acne from coming back and it has benefit to the skin when used long term.

Not only can it help impart ongoing acne control, it also can help in improving hyperpigmentation that you may have left over from old acne.

It can help clear up post acne marks and again it’s going to help prevent breakouts in the future. It’s going to help minimize the appearance of blackheads, reduce whiteheads, all of those beneficial things.

In order to maintain that you need to keep using it.

I think people are under the impression that somehow it’s not safe to use differin every day. It absolutely is.

The only real reason that you should stop differin is if your doctor tells you to, maybe because they prescribed you something else or if you become pregnant, because using differin gel is contraindicated in pregnancy, or if it’s just too irritating.

There’s really no reason to stop it once you see results. Those results will be maintained by continuing to use it. If you stop it, there is a good chance that your acne may come back.

Does that mean that you have to use differin gel for the rest of your life? No, but so long as you have a a tendency towards acne, using differin gel will help keep it from flaring.


Mistake #3: Expecting results overnight

People start using differin and expect results overnight and they get very frustrated when they don’t see results and they abandon it too quickly.

You want to keep using differin gel at least for 90 days, takes about 12 weeks to start seeing results. If you just use it for a week and expect to see a difference, you’re going to be let down. It takes time. Anything in the skin takes time.

Nothing really yields results overnight!

You’ve got to stay consistent, you’ve got to keep using it in order to see results. My tip is take a photograph of your skin before you start using it and take a picture of your skin every month while you’re using it and then compare the photographs.

Always take the photograph in similar lighting, with a similar setup, ideally in front of a window, so you have natural lighting in your favor, so you can really see your progress.

Mistake #4: Using more than necessary

This mistake is super common. I’ve seen a lot of people on YouTube documenting their differin journey and many of them make this mistake. They use too much.

Differin used to come in a tube but they’ve switched over to a pump. It makes it a lot easier for people to get the right amount.

More is not more! More just leads to more irritation.

All you need is enough to create a very thin film on your skin. The exact quantity is going to vary depending on the size of your face.

For me personally I just need a pea-size amount to cover my entire face sparing the eyelids.


The best way to put it on is to just break up this amount into differin quadrants for your face. Put one dot on the forehead, a dot on each cheek and a dot on each side of the chin.

Massage up and out for your forehead, down and around for your cheeks and the sides of your face, and then upwards for your chin.

That way you get a nice even distribution. You really only need a very thin film. Kkeeping it on there just wastes it and dries out your skin.

Mistake #5: Putting it on your eyelids

This mistake is putting it around your eyes or to the thin skin of your eyelids.

If you’ve ever used differin or any other type of retinoid or retinol, you know it can cause some peeling and some dryness. That is to be expected.

Fortunately differin overall is not as drying or irritating as other retinoids. But it can cause some peeling, especially in the first two weeks of using it.

The last thing you want to do is get this around the thin skin of the eyelids. The skin there is very thin, it’s going to be more vulnerable to dryness and irritation.

One tip when using differin is before you apply it to the skin, take some vaseline, which is petroleum jelly, you don’t have to use the name brand, you can use generic, and just put a little bit on your eyelids.

This will prevent the differin from getting onto the thin skin of the eyelids and reduce the risk that you’re going to develop, dryness and irritation around your eyes.

Mistake #6: Using it with retinols

Retinols are cosmeceutical ingredients that you’ll find in anti-wrinkle creams. These work similar to differin, they have many of the same outcomes.

Some people ask is it okay to alternate one day using differin and another day using a retinol.

No! All that does is lead to excessive irritation. It doesn’t help you out, it doesn’t give you more acne control, it’s not better, it’s not more anti-aging. None of those things, it just wastes your money, causes too much irritation.

Many retinols are a slow release formulation, they’re slowly released into your skin. You may use one and not have any irritation and then say I’m going to piggyback it with my differin gel.

Differin gel will start working faster than the retinol and then all of a sudden, the retinol is going to start working to peel your skin, to exfoliate it, and you’ll get a lot of dryness and irritation.

You don’t want to use differin gel and a retinol together and that includes alternating them, like differin one night, retinol the next night.

Don’t do that!

It’s okay to skip a night of using differin if you have too much irritation, but on that skipped night, don’t use another retinol. That defeats the purpose of skipping a night of differin.

It doesn’t help you get acclimated to differin. It should only take about two weeks to get acclimated to the dryness and peeling of differin and then that subsides and it really starts to go to work.

So for the first two weeks, it’s better to just use differin, like three nights a week or every other night so that you can get through the dryness and irritation a little bit more easily.

Mistake #7: Not using moisturizer

In the beginning, differin helps skin cells turn over, so you get some peeling and with that peeling comes increased water loss out of the skin and subsequent dryness.

Make sure you are using a moisturizer.

Mistake #8: Washing your face too often

If you are washing your face twice a day, you’re going to be losing more water out of the skin. The last thing that you want is to be cleansing too frequently. That removes some of your natural lipid barrier and creates more dryness and irritation.

Consider dialing back to washing your face just once a day, in the evening to remove dirt, cosmetics, pollution, etc. You do want to wash your face before you apply differin.

Mistake #9: Stopping for vacation

Stopping your differin before and during a beach vacation. You do not need to do that. It doesn’t help you in any way, differin does not make you more photosensitive.

If anything, it improves your skin’s ability to handle UV. That being said, you absolutely have to wear sunscreen. Why? Differin gel does not protect you from a burn and UV and burning rays from the sun delay healing of your acne and will also cause your acne to heal with dark marks.

You need to be very diligent with protecting your skin from the sun, using a broad spectrum sunscreen, sun protective clothing.

You should be doing that anyway regardless of if you use differin, regardless of if you have acne, regardless if you are on a beach vacation.

You do not need to stop differing because you’re going to be outdoors, because you’re going to be in a sunny environment. You don’t need to stop for that reason, you just need to be very diligent with your sun protection.

Mistake #10: Waxing

This mistake is getting your facial hair waxed.

What happens with differin is that it thins out the top dead layer of the skin and what can end up happening is that if you go in for a wax, they’re going to pull off some of the dead layer.

You don’t have as much of that dead layer, so it can pull off some of your underlying skin and make little ulcers, sores on the skin, very painful.

This can happen not only with differin, but with things like salicylic acid.

You want to be very mindful of waxing. I would consider an alternative method of hair removal while you’re using differin. Men who shave their beard don’t have to stop shaving just because they’re using differin.

But you do have to realize that your skin is going to be a little bit more prone to razor burn. That’s where your moisturizer is going to step in and really help you out. After you shave make sure you apply moisturizer right away.

Those are the top 10 mistakes that I see people make with differin gel.

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How to Use Differin Gel (10 Mistakes to Avoid)

One thought on “How to Use Differin Gel (10 Mistakes to Avoid)

  1. What products can I use during the day? Can I use Vitaman C or a Peptide during the day?

    If yes should I gently wash my face to ensure the evening’s Differin and moisturizer are cleaned off?

    I am 63 and have many fine lines and wrinkles appearing despite using good moisturizer and ROC products. I have abandoned ROC for Differin. Is this a good product to use for wrinkles?

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