Differin Gel

Differin Gel

Differin Gel treats the symptoms of an acne flare-up by increasing the rate at which cells are produced, reducing inflammation and oiliness to prevent spots from forming and reduce existing symptoms.

In stock
from £27.50

Product details

Differin Gel is used to treat moderate to severe acne. It contains the active ingredient adapalene, which is a retinoid. Differin Gel can treat acne outbreaks, prevent spots and pimples from returning, and reduce irritation and soreness.

Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Development

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 09 Aug 2023

Differin Gel prices

Pack Size Price
0.1 % w/w - 45 g £27.50

How it Works

About Differin Gel

What is Differin Gel?

Differin Gel is a medication used to treat the symptoms of acne.

It comes in the form of a gel, which you apply to the affected areas. It contains the active ingredient adapalene and is a topical retinoid. Differin Gel treats areas with pimples, blackheads, and spots and can be applied to your face, back, or chest.

How does Differin Gel work?

Differin Gel’s active ingredient adapalene works to treat acne by:

  • reducing irritation and soreness (as adapalene has anti-inflammatory properties)
  • reducing the formation of new skin cells whilst increasing the turnover of cells, which can clear an outbreak and may prevent further acne outbreaks
  • regulating oil production in the skin, helping to clear spots whilst reducing the chance of another flare-up

How long does Differin Gel last?

Differin Gel should last quite a while as it’s used sparingly. Your course should last long enough to clear up an outbreak, but this will depend on the size of the affected area and how many areas you need to apply the gel to.

How long does Differin Gel take to work?

With daily use, Differin Gel should start to improve acne within 2 to 3 weeks. It may take several months for acne to clear up enough to stop treatment, but you should start to see an improvement during this time.

After 3 months of treatment, your doctor will check your skin to see if Differin Gel is working as it should.

How effective is Differin Gel?

Differin is an effective acne treatment with good tolerability, which means most patients get little to no side effects. Studies have shown that Differin Gel (and other topical Differin medications) improves acne symptoms by around 60% within 3 months.

How to use Differin Gel

Differin Gel is used by applying a small amount of the gel to the affected area once a day. You should use it at night-time, just before you go to sleep. You can leave it on overnight. If you have been using Differin Gel for over a month and see no improvement at all, speak to your doctor. It can take a while for acne to improve, but you should see some changes by this point.

You should always use Differin Gel as per your doctor’s instructions. Differin Gel is for external use only and should only be applied to acne.

How to apply Differin Gel

Differin Gel is applied in 3 steps:

  1. Wash and dry the treatment area with water.
  2. Apply the gel sparingly with your fingertips. You only need a thin layer of Differin Gel to be effective, too much will only increase the risk of irritation.
  3. Rub gently into your skin and wash your hands afterwards.

Be careful when applying Differin Gel and never apply it to:

  • areas of the skin affected by another skin condition, such as eczema
  • cuts or scrapes
  • sunburnt skin

You should also avoid contact with your eyes, mouth, and nostrils. If you accidentally apply Differin Gel to any of these areas, rinse with water straight away.

What if I apply too much or miss a dose?

If you forget to apply Differin Gel, continue as normal when your next dose is due. There is no need to use it during the day to make up for a missed dose.

If you apply more Differin Gel than you need, it will not improve acne faster. Applying too much may increase your risk of side effects. If you apply too much, rinse your skin and start again. If your skin is irritated and does not settle, wait until the following day to continue treatment.

Where can I buy Differin Gel?

You can buy Differin Gel online or from a local pharmacy, but you will need a prescription from a doctor. You can get a prescription and treatment through Superdrug Online Doctor or on the NHS, but you will need to make an appointment with your local GP. Differin Gel is not available over the counter.

Can I buy Differin Gel online?

Yes, you can get Differin Gel online quickly and easily through Superdrug Online Doctor. We are a trusted and regulated online doctor service that can provide prescription treatments without waiting for a GP appointment.

To get Differin Gel online, complete a short, medical questionnaire about your health and symptoms. This will be reviewed by one of our doctors, who will make sure that Differin Gel is suitable for you.

Your Differin Gel will then be prescribed and sent to your home address. You can also collect your Differin Gel from a local Superdrug store.

Can I buy Differin Gel over the counter?

No, Differin Gel is a prescription medication, so is not currently available over the counter.

Can I get Differin Gel on the NHS?

Yes, you can get Differin Gel on the NHS. To qualify, you will need to see your GP and get a diagnosis.

Differin Gel side effects

As Differin Gel is applied externally, most side effects will only affect the area of skin where you apply it.

Common side effects of Differin Gel include:

  • redness, burning, or irritation
  • dry skin

Uncommon side effects of Differin Gel include:

  • sunburn
  • contact dermatitis (a skin reaction)
  • skin discomfort
  • a flare-up of acne symptoms
  • peeling skin
  • pruritus (itchy skin)

Other side effects of Differin Gel have been reported, but not enough to determine how often they occur.

Other side effects of Differin Gel include:

  • burns
  • painful or swollen skin
  • a mild allergic reaction
  • swelling, irritation, itching, or swelling of the eyelids
  • changes in skin colour

Rare side effects of Differin Gel include:

  • a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), symptoms include difficulty breathing, facial swelling, and rash

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you display any of the above symptoms you must call 999 straight away.

How long do Differin Gel side effects last?

The side effects of Differin Gel can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If the side effects last longer than this or bother you a lot, speak to your doctor.

If skin problems occur after application and are very uncomfortable, rinse the skin with water and contact your doctor.

What to do if you get Differin Gel side effects

If you get Differin Gel side effects that are mild or go away, continue treatment as normal and continue to monitor any side effects. For long-lasting or very uncomfortable side effects, speak to your doctor straight away.

Differin Gel warnings

Differin Gel is not suitable for everyone. If you have certain medical conditions or take some medications, you may not be able to take Differin Gel.


Differin Gel should be avoided if you:

  • are pregnant, or are planning to get pregnant
  • have allergies to any ingredients contained in the gel
  • are under 12 years of age

Breastfeeding mothers can still use Differin Gel but should not apply it to the chest area. This is to avoid exposure of the medication to your baby.

When using Differin Gel, avoid strong sunlight and artificial UV light. This could increase the risk of sunburn on the treated areas.

Medications that interact with Differin Gel

Let your doctor know before using Differin Gel if you take any medications or apply topical treatments or cosmetics. If you use other topical acne treatments, you may need to take them at a different time so they don’t interact with Differin Gel.

Differin Gel alternatives

Superdrug Online Doctor has a range of acne treatments if Differin Gel is not suitable or you want to combine treatments. If you do not know which treatment is best for your acne symptoms, speak to one of our doctors. You can do this for free, through your online account.

If you have not been diagnosed with acne, you can get a photo diagnosis with us too.

Topical treatments

Topical creams and gels are the most common treatments used for acne. Topical treatments are applied directly to the affected areas and include retinoids like Differin Gel, as well as antibiotic creams or azelaic acid.

Superdrug Online Doctor has a range of topical treatments that can be prescribed with or without antibiotics, such as:

  • Aknemycin Plus, which contains erythromycin (an antibiotic) and a retinoid
  • Epiduo, which contains an antibacterial agent called benzoyl peroxide and a retinoid
  • Zineryt, a topical treatment containing erythromycin and zinc (a healing agent)

Antibiotic tablets

For severe acne symptoms, it may be recommended to use an antibiotic alongside a topical cream or gel. This can kill the bacteria causing acne, which can improve symptoms and reduce the chance of further breakouts.

Antibiotics used in the treatment of acne include lymecycline and doxycycline.

Hormonal treatments

Acne can be caused by hormonal fluctuations, especially at different points in the menstrual cycle. If you want to use the contraceptive pill for acne, it is recommended to use the combined contraceptive pill. This can help control the amount of oil your skin produces and regulates hormone levels, which can reduce acne symptoms.

It is not recommended to take the progesterone-only pill, as this can worsen acne. If you are currently taking this and want to make the switch, speak to one of our doctors.

Over-the-counter treatments

There are some acne treatments available over the counter, but these may not be as effective as prescription medication. If you need advice about over-the-counter acne treatment, speak to your pharmacist.


BNF (2023). Adapalene: https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drugs/adapalene/, [Accessed 28th June 2023]

EMC (2022). Differin Gel: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/921/pil, [Accessed 28th June 2023]

NHS (2023). Acne: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acne/, [Accessed 28th June 2023]

PubMed (2001). Pivotal clinical trials of adapalene in the treatment of acne: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11843229/, r[Accessed 28th June 2023]

PubMed (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574737/, [Accessed 28th June 2023]

Patient Reviews

Further Reading on Acne