Sounds like 'a-DAP-a-leen'

Adapalene is used to treat acne. Find out how to apply it safely and possible side effects. Adapalene is also called Differin.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Treatment for acne
  • Belongs to a group of medicines known as retinoids
  • Differin ®

What is adapalene?

Adapalene is used to treat acne (blackheads, whiteheads, pimples) on the face, chest or back. It works by unblocking the pores on the skin and in this way prevents blackheads and whiteheads. Adapalene also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it reduces the soreness and irritation of acne. In New Zealand adapalene is available in a cream or gel. The gel is suitable for most people but those with dry skin may prefer the cream. Discuss the best choice with your doctor. Read more about acne. 

How to apply adapalene

  • Apply a thin layer of adapalene to the affected acne area once a day, at bedtime.
    • Before applying adapalene, wash the area being treated with water and pat dry.
    • Ensure your skin is dry before applying adapalene.
    • Squeeze a small amount of cream or gel from the tube on to your clean fingertip.
    • Rub this gently on to the affected acne area.
    • Do not apply a large amount of cream or gel – this will irritate the skin.
    • Do not apply near your eyes, nose, mouth, broken skin or areas with sunburn or eczema or dermatitis.
    • Wash your hands after applying adapalene. 
  • It may take about 4 to 8 weeks before you notice an improvement.
  • Keep using adapalene, even if the acne seems to get worse when you first start using it.
  • It is not harmful if you forget to apply adapalene. Just continue to apply the same amount at the right time, the next day. Do not apply double the amount – this may cause skin irritation.   

Things to consider while you are using adapalene

  • Pregnancy: Do not use adapalene if you are pregnant, or if there is a chance you could become pregnant. 
  • Be aware of skin sensitivity. If you get redness, dryness, peeling or a feeling of burning on your skin, try applying adapalene every second night, or less often (such as every third night). As your skin gets used to adapalene, you can then apply it every night. If your skin is sensitive, you may also wash off the adapalene after 1 or 2 hours of applying.
  • Use sun protection: Adapalene makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. It's important to avoid unnecessary sun exposure and sunlamps, and when outdoors protect your skin by applying a good sunscreen (SPF 30+).
  • Using make-up: You can wear make-up while using adapalene – just remember to remove the make-up before applying adapalene. Some cosmetics products have a dry, abrasive or peeling action and may irritate the skin when used together with adapalene. Check with your doctor or pharmacist which ones you can use.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, adapalene can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Redness or burning feeling on your skin
  • Dry skin
  • Skin peeling
  • Flare up of acne
  • These may go away with time.
  • Try applying adapalene less often – see 'Special instructions' above.
  • Tell your doctor if your acne doesn't go away, is painful or bothering you.
Did you know that you can report a side effect of a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product

Learn more

Adapalene  NZ Formulary 
Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet Differin Topical Gel


  1. Adapalene NZ Formulary
  2. Managing acne in primary care BPAC, NZ, 2013
  3. Differin Medsafe Datasheet, NZ

Additional resources for healthcare professionals

Topical retinoids DermNet NZ
Managing acne in primary care BPAC, NZ, 2013

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 06 May 2019