Adapalene is a third-generation topical retinoid primarily used in the treatment of mild-moderate acne, and is also sometimes used off-label to treat aging as well as other skin conditions. It is effective for the treatment of mild to moderate acne where comedones, papules and pustules predominate.

Benefits of Adapalene

Adapalene is a topical retinoid treatment used to decrease the number of acne pimples and quick healing of pimples that do appear. Adapalene also reduces swelling and inflammation caused by acne.
  • Improves fine and coarse wrinkles by restoring dermal collagen
  • Reduces comedones, papules and pustules, and is suitable for long term maintenance therapy
  • Diminishes skin roughness
  • Tightens loose and sagging skin

Treats acne

Topical retinoids have been used to treat acne for almost four decades and are recommended as a first line treatment option either on their own or in combination with other treatments for mild acne. They are also recommended as a first line treatment option for moderate and severe acne in combination with other treatments.[1]

Adapalene has been available since before the millennium but historically tretinoin was the only available topical retinoid. Use of tretinoin was limited due to side effects of local irritation, which are not as problematic for 3rd generation topical retinoids like adapalene.[2]

Topical retinoids including adapalene are especially good at treating comedones (black heads and white heads), and also have anti-inflammatory effects.[3]

Monotherapy (used on its own)
A randomized trial of 297 patients treated with adapalene 0.1% solution or tretinoin 0.025% gel found both treatments to be clinically and statistically effective reducing inflammatory (47% and 50% respectively) and non-inflammatory acne lesions (57% and 54%) compared to baseline. [4] There have been many other similar trials similarly showing adapalene is as effective as tretinoin, which has been shown by a meta-analysis combining results of five studies with 900 patients in total.[5] This showed that although adapalene was as effective as tretinoin it tends to work faster, and is tolerated better in terms of local side effects.

Combination therapy
If monotherapy is not effective, combination of topical agents can be used, or topical agents in combination with oral antibiotics.

Adapalene is available as a combination gel with benzoyl peroxide. This has the advantage of being good against comedones, and it does not contain antibiotics so there are not concerns about resistance, however irritation can be a problem. This combination gel has been studied in a randomized, double blind, controlled study of 1670 patients. Patients were given the combination product, adapalene alone, benzoyl peroxide alone or placebo. They found that the combination product was significantly more effective at reducing inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions compared to monotherapy.[6]

Adapalene has also shown to work well in combination with antibiotics and it is actually recommended that oral antibiotics for acne should be combined with topical benzoyl peroxide or a topical retinoid. One study of 467 patients showed that a combination or oral doxycycline with topical adapalene was more effective at treating inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions compared to oral doxycycline alone.[7]

Oral isotretinoin (roaccutane) is currently the gold standard treatment for severe acne. A study of 266 patients comparing adapalene/benzoyl peroxide combination gel and oral doxycycline against oral isotretinoin concluded that although isotretinoin was more effective, adapalene/benzoyl peroxide combination gel with oral doxycycline had a better side effect and safety profile than isotretinoin and should be considered for patients intolerant, unable or unwilling to take oral isotretinoin.[8]

Maintenance treatment
Adapalene has also been shown to be effective in maintaining acne free skin after previous successful acne treatment.

A randomized controlled trial of 253 participants who had received successful treatment in the previous 12 weeks with either adapalene and doxycycline or doxycycline and placebo gel, were then randomized to receive either adapalene maintenance therapy or placebo for the next 16 weeks. The adapalene group resulted in a significantly larger proportion of patients with successful maintenance compared to the placebo group (75% vs 54%).[9] In a similar trial it has also been shown to be an effective maintenance treatment after successful lymecycline.[10]

Combination treatment of adapalene with benzoyl peroxide has been shown to be successful maintenance therapy after treatment with isotretinoin.[11]

Fights signs of ageing

There is not as much evidence for the anti-ageing effects of adapalene compared to tretinoin, which has been proven in many good quality clinical trials. However there is some evidence for adapalene, and it can be used as second line treatment for people who are intolerant to conventional topical retinoids like tretinoin.[12]

A randomized controlled trial of 90 patients has shown that adapalene effectively reduces solar lentigines (age spots). With adapalene gel 0.1% and 0.3%, 57% and 59% of patients respectively had lighter lesions at 9 months compared to 36% in the vehicle group. There was also a significant reduction in fine wrinkles in the treatment group.[13]


1 Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, Berson DS, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016;74(5):945-73. e33.

2 Piskin S, Uzunali E. A review of the use of adapalene for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Therapeutics and clinical risk management.2007;3(4):621.

3 Irby CE, Yentzer BA, Feldman SR. A review of adapalene in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2008;43(5):421-4.

4 Ellis C, Millikan L, Smith E, Chalker D, Swinyer L, Katz I, et al. Comparison of adapalene 0· 1% solution and tretinoin 0· 025% gel in the topical treatment of acne vulgaris. 1998.

5 Cunliffe W, Poncet M, Loesche C, Verschoore M. A comparison of the efficacy and tolerability of adapalene 0.1% gel versus tretinoin 0.025% gel in patients with acne vulgaris: a meta-analysis of five randomized trials. 1998.

6 Gollnick H, Draelos Z, Glenn M, Rosoph L, Kaszuba A, Cornelison R, et al. Adapalene–benzoyl peroxide, a unique fixed‐dose combination topical gel for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a transatlantic, randomized, double‐blind, controlled study in 1670 patients. British Journal of Dermatology. 2009;161(5):1180-9.

7 Diane M T, Alan R S, Paul S Y, Catherine D, Stéphanie A, Sewon K. Combination therapy with adapalene gel 0.1% and doxycycline for severe acne vulgaris: a multicenter, investigator‐blind, randomized, controlled study. SKINmed: Dermatology for the Clinician. 2005;4(3):138-46.

8 Tan J, Humphrey S, Vender R, Barankin B, Gooderham M, Kerrouche N, et al. A treatment for severe nodular acne: a randomized investigator‐blinded, controlled, noninferiority trial comparing fixed‐dose adapalene/benzoyl peroxide plus doxycycline vs. oral isotretinoin. British Journal of Dermatology . 2014;171(6):1508-16.

9 Thiboutot DM, Shalita AR, Yamauchi PS, Dawson C, Kerrouche N, Arsonnaud S, et al. Adapalene gel, 0.1%, as maintenance therapy for acne vulgaris: a randomized, controlled, investigator-blind follow-up of a recent combination study. Archives of dermatology. 2006;142(5):597-602.

10 Alirezai M, George SA, Coutts I, Roseeuw DI, Hachem J-P, Kerrouche N, et al. Daily treatment with adapalene gel 0.1% maintains initial improvement of acne vulgaris previously treated with oral lymecycline. European Journal of Dermatology. 2007;17(1):45-51.

11 Bettoli V, Borghi A, Zauli S, Toni G, Ricci M, Giari S, et al. Maintenance therapy for acne vulgaris: efficacy of a 12-month treatment with adapalene-benzoyl peroxide after oral isotretinoin and a review of the literature. Dermatology. 2013;227(2):97-102.

12 Mukherjee S, Date A, Patravale V, Korting HC, Roeder A, Weindl G. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical interventions in aging. 2006;1(4):327.

13 Kang S, Goldfarb MT, Weiss JS, Metz RD, Hamilton TA, Voorhees JJ, et al. Assessment of adapalene gel for the treatment of actinic keratoses and lentigines: a randomized trial. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2003;49(1):83-90.

Subscription package

  • Your own custom formula, made with proven prescription ingredients.
  • An expert-designed treatment plan that adapts to your skin journey.
  • Easy delivery straight to your door every month. No need to stay home.
  • Unlimited and ongoing free dermatology consultations.
$24 .99 /28 days
Start your free trial

Just pay $4.99 for shipping

Why I prescribe Adapalene
“Adapalene contains a product that is indispensable. A key element to the majority of skin concerns. Retinoids work by pushing skin cells to turn over and 'die' more quickly — this leads to the production of 'new skin' at a faster rate. Increased dead skin turnover is vital to the prevention and management of acne, hyperpigmentation or blemishes. They also work as an anti-ageing agent by reducing the break down of collagen — this in turn leads to firmer skin and a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles.
Adapalene is a favourite of mine simply because it’s backed by scientific evidence. The gel formulation means it is better absorbed by the skin and gets to where it needs to be.”

Dr Minal Patel

GP, Special Interest Dermatology


Acne, Age Spots, Wrinkles

Start your free trial

Just pay $4.99 for shipping

We don’t know you yet

So it would be pointless to guess what you need. We’ll only ever sell you something we’ve personally prescribed, after looking at your skin.
Start your free trial

Just pay $4.99 for shipping

Adapalene FAQs

What is Adapalene?
Adapalene is a third-generation topical retinoid primarily used in the treatment of mild-moderate acne and wrinkles.

Adapalene prevents breakouts, blackheads, whiteheads, blemishes and clogged pores as well while restoring skin tone and texture by clearing acne. Adapalene can help reduce the risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation by treating acne.
How does Adapalene work?
Adapalene improves and repairs the epidermal (hyperpigmentation and surface roughness) and dermal (fine wrinkles) layers in the skin. It also reduces excess propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria associated with acne development.
What are the side effects of using Adapalene?
All medications have some side effects so it is important to be aware, however, do not be alarmed as you may not experience them.
Many of the side effects associated with Adapalene last for only a short time and can resolve after a few weeks of use. Using a lower strength Adapalene product to begin with can reduce the likelihood of side effects.
Some of the most common side effects are:
  • dry and peeling skin
  • burning and stinging
  • irritation and inflammation
  • red, raised areas on the skin
  • rash or itching
  • change in skin colour
  • disturbance of the levels of enzymes in the liver (this is rare, however tell your doctor that you are using Adapalene.)
It is important to immediately stop use and go to your nearest hospital emergency department should you have an allergic reaction to Adapalene. Signs of an allergic reaction include a skin rash, itching, shortness of breath and/or a swollen face.