Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
Should I use Differin before or after moisturizer?

Should I use Differin before or after moisturizer?

You should use Differin gel before moisturizer to treat acne in your skincare routine.

However, if you have sensitive skin, you can apply a a thin layer moisturizer before you apply Differin gel to reduce skin irritation. Then, apply moisturizer again after applying Differin.

This method is known as the “Sandwich Method”. Studies show moisturizer increases acne treatment adherence because helps reduce irritation as your skin adapts to Differin gel.

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to apply Differin gel.

Differin Gel Overview

Differin adapalene gel 0.1% treatment logo with BowTiedFawn branding

Differin gel is a dermatologist recommended retinoid also known as adapalene. It is the only FDA approved retinoid that is available over the counter.

Benefits of Differin Gel

Topical retinoids like Differin gel are great for:

  • Treating acne

  • Clearing up clogged pores

  • Increasing skin cell turnover

Differin gel, also known as the retinoid adapalene, is a great acne treatment addition to your nightly skincare routine. Plus, it’s available over the counter and can be used on your entire face for reduced acne benefits.

Who is Differin gel good for?

Differin is stronger than other acne treatments you can find other counter. Therefore, this prescription fighting retinoid is not a spot treatment and works best for mild to moderate acne.

However, if you have severe acne, you’re better off seeing a dermatologist for a prescription for tretinoin.

Do I use Differin gel before or after moisturizer?

Adapalene gel with BowTiedFawn branding

You should use Differin gel before moisturizer just like other topical acne medications. By applying moisturizer, you will reduce your chances of skin flaking or skin irritation.

This is especially important for people with dry skin, dehydrated skin, or sensitive skin.

When you use a moisturizer, you replenish your skin’s natural texture with fatty acids and help lock in moisture to keep your skin hydrated.

Good moisturizing skin care products also help fight new acne and prevent future breakouts by controlling excess oil production.

How to Use Differin Gel

Differin Gel with BowTiedFawn branding

Differin gel is a powerful OTC active ingredient and effective acne treatment. Here’s how to use it safely:

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser

  2. Apply a pea sized amount of Differin gel

  3. Wait a few minutes for the Differin gel to absorb

  4. Moisturize your entire face

Both La Roche Posay and Differin make versions of adapalene.

Also, you can always apply a hyaluronic acid serum after Differin and before your moisturizer if you feel like adapalene is drying you out too much. The combination of hyaluornic acid and moisturizer are essential for protecting your skin barrier.

How to Apply Differin

Differin Gel and Box with BowTiedFawn branding

If you’re new to skin care with prescription retinoids or have a sensitive skin type, you’ll want to apply Differin to dry skin.

However, if you want to increase the potency of your Differin gel, you can apply it to damp skin (not exactly wet skin).

Apply a pea sized amount in a thin layer over your entire face. Remember, Differin gel is not a spot treatment.

How much Differin should I apply?

A pea sized amount of Differin is all you need to cover your entire face. Even if you have oily skin, using too much Differin can disrupt your skin’s moisture barrier, so be careful!

Caution with Differin Gel

Make sure you’re wearing sunscreen during the day to protect yourself from excess sun exposure. An active ingredient like a retinoid will increase your photosensitity to UV light, so you’re most likely to burn quickly.

Remember, a tinted moisturizer will not replace sunscreen.

Alternatives to Differin Gel

There are both prescription and over the counter alternatives to Differin gel, including:

  • Retin A: prescription strength retinoid

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

  • Benzoyl Peroxide

Retin A

Retin A, also known as tretinoin, is used to treat acne approved by the FDA. It can also:

  • Turn over dead skin cells

  • Fight fine lines and wrinkles

  • Even out skin tone and skin texture

If your primary concern is aging skin instead of acne, tretinoin is a better option for your skin than adapalene.

While it’s a phenomenal anti-aging ingredient to add to your skincare routine, you unfortunately cannot get it over the counter. However, it will leave you glowing!


3 Stratia Soft Touch AHA Bottles with BowTiedFawn branding

AHAs, like glycolic acids, are great skincare products for evening out skin’s texture and fighting acne. Plus you can get AHAs over the counter!

And yes, you have to use a moisturizer afterwards.

BHAs (Salicylic Acid)

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant with BowTiedFawn branding

A good BHA skincare product like a salicylic acid toner can clear up acne causing clogs and prevent acne in just a few weeks. You do have to use a moisturizer afterwards too though!

You can also find an exfoliating cleanser with BHAs like the CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser as an alternative to a gentle cleanser.

Benzoyl Peroxide

PanOxyl 10% benzoyl peroxide and box with BowTiedFawn branding

Benzoyl peroxide is one of my favorite acne treatments. However, it can be quite drying, so you have to use a moisturizer with BP.

Start with something more gentle, like 2.5% BP instead of 10% though.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Skincare Questions with BowTiedFawn branding

Do I use Differin gel before or after moisturizer?

You use Differin gel before moisturizer.

Can you put moisturizer over Differin?

Yes, you can put moisturizer over Differin.

How long does Differin gel take to work?

Retinoids are an effective treatment, but they don’t work immediately. You’re likely to see results in a few weeks up to 3 months.

Do I have to use a moisturizer after Differin gel?

To avoid skin irritation, you really should use a moisturizer after Differin gel.

Struggling to keep up with skincare? You need to sign up for my newsletter below! Find specific skin routines and protocols in My Roadmap or start with my Basic Skincare Guide.

Also, follow my other socials for free skincare, health, and beauty content daily: