Retin-A vs. Differin

Are Retin-A and Differin the Same Thing?

Retin-A (tretinoin) Cream and Gel and Differin (adapalene) are retinoids (a form of vitamin A) used for the topical treatment of acne vulgaris.

Differin is available over-the-counter (OTC).

Side effects of Retin-A and Differin that are similar include skin warmth, stinging, tingling, irritation, redness, dryness, itching, burning where the medicine is applied.

Side effects of Retin-A that are different from Differin include swollen, blistered, crusted skin, or peeling where the medicine is applied; or changes in skin color (darker or lighter).

Side effects of Differin that are different from Retin-A include worsening of acne.

Both Retin-A and Differin may interact with other topical medications, especially those containing sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid.

Differin may also interact with products containing alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic acid, alcohol/lime/menthol, hair perming products, medicated or abrasive soaps and cleansers, soaps and cosmetics with a strong drying effect, other drugs that may increase sensitivity to sunlight including antibiotics, diuretics, sulfa drugs, and phenothiazines.

What Are Possible Side Effects of Retin-A?

Common side effects of Retin-A include:

  • red, swollen, blistered, or crusted skin;
  • burning,
  • warmth,
  • stinging,
  • tingling,
  • itching,
  • dryness,
  • peeling, or irritation where the medicine is applied; or
  • changes in skin color (darker or lighter)

What Are Possible Side Effects of Differin?

Common side effects of Differin include:

Skin redness, dryness, itching, scaling, mild burning, or worsening of acne may occur during the first 2-4 weeks of using Differin Gel 0.3%. These side effects usually decrease with continued use Differin Gel 0.3%. Tell your doctor if you have unlikely but serious side effects of Differin Gel 0.3% including:

  • very red or irritated skin,
  • an intense burning sensation,
  • eye redness and watering (conjunctivitis),
  • eyelid swelling, or
  • skin discoloration.

What Is Retin-A?

Retin-A (tretinoin) Cream and Gel is a form of Vitamin A used for the topical treatment of acne vulgaris.

What Is Differin?

Differin (adapalene) Gel 0.3% is a topical (applied to the skin) medication similar to vitamin A used to treat severe acne in people who are at least 12 years old. Differin Gel 0.3% is available in generic form.


Acne is the result of an allergy. See Answer

What Drugs Interact With Retin-A?

Retin-A may interact with other topical medications, especially those containing sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid. Tell your doctor all medications you use.

What Drugs Interact With Differin?

Differin may interact with steroids or tetracycline antibiotics.

Differin may also interact with vitamin A, hormonal contraceptives, St. John's wort, and phenytoin.

How Should Retin-A Be Taken?

Apply Retin-A to infected areas once a day. Use enough to cover the entire affected area lightly. Exposure to sunlight including sunlamps should be minimized while using Retin-A. If you have a sun burn you should avoid using Retin-A until you have completely recovered from the sun burn.

How Should Differin Be Taken?

Differin Gel 0.3% should be applied in a thin film to the entire face and any other affected areas of the skin once daily in the evening, after washing gently with a non-medicated soap.


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Dailymed. Retin-A Product Information.

Galderma Laboratories. Differin Product Information.

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