Closed comedones, also known as whiteheads, are acne lesions that occur when a pore becomes blocked.
This happens when sebum and dead skin cells meant to lubricate the skin and shed from the surface accumulate inside the pore, creating a visible bump covered with a thin layer of skin.
Luckily, there are many suitable treatments for closed comedones, one being over-the-counter Differin.
Therefore, in this article, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about using Differin for closed comedones, some potential side effects you need to be aware of, and what other treatment options you have.
What Are Closed Comedones and What Causes Them?
Closed comedones are non-inflammatory skin lesions that look like little bumps across the skin’s surface.
They’re usually not red or discolored, and unlike an inflamed pimple or cyst, they don’t hurt, ooze, or bleed.
A closed comedo develops when a plug of skin cells and oil becomes trapped within the pore. The plug fills the pore, causing it to swell and creating that bump you see on your skin.
However, a closed comedo has a small opening at the top, but we can’t see it with the naked eye. And it’s called “closed” because the opening is unable to dilate and let the contents out as an open comedo can.
On the other hand, an open comedo or a blackhead has a dilated and visible opening.
We can see the black or brownish discoloration at the surface because the plug of cells is oxidized as it’s exposed to oxygen in the air.
As mentioned above, both conditions are non-inflammatory; however, they can turn into a pimple if not treated properly and in time.
This can happen due to an overgrowth of bacteria that feeds on the cellular debris stuck inside the pore and triggers the immune system to fight it by sending white blood cells to the area and causing inflammation.
The result can be an inflamed pimple such as a pustule (with a white head on top), a papule (a blind pimple), or a more severe cyst.
Can Differin Get Rid of Closed Comedones?
The main active ingredient in Differin is adapalene, a retinoid that targets skin concerns such as closed comedones, open comedones, and inflammatory acne lesions.
Adapalene works by increasing cellular turnover to unclog the pores and fight the overgrowth of the acne-causing bacteria.
This action helps decrease both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne by helping dead skin cells shed more efficiently, which can prevent the buildup of excess skin cells clumped together with hardened sebum inside the pores.
And although Differin can be highly effective against acne, it still comes with a few side effects experienced by most people when they first start using it.
What Are the Side Effects of Using Differin for Closed Comedones?
If you’ve done the slightest research on Differin, you’ve probably come across articles or posts on Reddit, Facebook, and TikTok that address the dryness, redness, and purging associated with this product.
These are not only common side effects but also the ones that you should expect to experience when starting Differin.
Dryness, redness, and flakiness are the result of increased cellular turnover, and they usually subside after a few weeks of regular use, during which time the skin gets used to the active ingredient.
But the most dreaded side effect by many who are interested in trying Differin to treat their acne is the purging stage.
The purge is a beginning stage of using retinoids in which the active ingredient causes the trapped debris inside the pores to come to the surface and become visible as breakouts.
This means that what was supposed to be a pimple, two, or three that should’ve shown up on the skin’s surface at different times will all come out at once.
Therefore, your skin is likely to get worse before it gets better, which, although it may sound like a nightmare, is actually a good sign that Differin is working.
The purging process can last anywhere from four to twelve weeks, and it’s during this time that you should not give up on the treatment as your skin is getting used to the medication, and slowly but surely, the breakouts will start subsiding.
Once the purge is over, you should start seeing a significant improvement in your skin texture and tone, as well as a reduction in the number of breakouts.
How Long Does It Usually Take for Differin to Get Rid of Closed Comedones?
This will likely depend on the severity of the comedones, how your skin reacts to the product, and other skincare products you’re using.
That being said, it’s not uncommon for people to see an improvement in their skin and reduced closed comedones within the first few weeks of using Differin.
For some, the improvement might be so gradual that they only start seeing a difference after a few months of regular use.
And although it can take a while for Differin to show its full effects, it’s important to be patient and consistent with the treatment, as well as to avoid any other products that might clog your pores and continue to give the active ingredient more load to purge, prolonging the expected results.
Therefore, during this time, try to avoid heavy and clogging makeup products, clogging emollients, and oils in skincare products, and try to use lightweight, hydrating, and non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores.
For product recommendations when using Differin see:
Alternative Treatments for Clearing up Closed Comedones
If Differin didn’t work for you or it sounds like something you’re not interested in trying, there are other options available that can help get rid of closed comedones.
Here are a few great options:
La Roche-Posay – Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser
La Roche Posay Medicated Gel Cleanser is a gentle exfoliating cleanser that contains 2% salicylic acid to penetrate the pores and clear out the oils and gunk that’s causing closed comedones, as well as lipo-hydroxy acid, which is a derivative and a gentler alternative to salicylic acid.
This is an excellent option for those looking for an effective treatment that provides a double exfoliating effect without the irritation often associated with using multiple acids.
Paula’s Choice – CLEAR Anti Redness Exfoliating Solution
Paula’s Choice Anti Redness Exfoliating Solution is a lightweight toner that contains 2% salicylic acid to help unclog pores, as well as soothing panthenol and licorice root extracts to calm inflamed skin and soothe breakouts.
It’s an excellent treatment for closed comedones that can be used up to three times a week.
Acne.org – 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment
The lightweight gel contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and can be used as a leave-on or short-contact therapy treatment that you can wash off after a few minutes.
Tretinoin is a prescription-strength topical retinoid that works similarly to Differin but with higher potency.
Tretinoin can help get rid of closed comedones as well as inflammatory acne by speeding up cellular turnover, which will result in purging clogs and revealing a brighter, smoother, healthier, and more unified complexion.
My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.
The Acne Solution: Your Ultimate Guide To Flawless Complexion
An extensive, no-nonsense course showing you how to never have acne again, from a licensed Esthetician specializing in oily/acne-prone skin.