Adapalene: The Acne-Fighting Ingredient You’re About to See Everywhere
Do you want to hear something crazy? When it comes to treating acne at home, we’ve been relying on basically the same skin-care ingredients — cue the salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide — since the 1980s. The acne section of your local drugstore is about change dramatically, though. Get ready to see the word “adapalene” everywhere. The patent recently expired on this skin-clearing secret weapon, which means it has become fair game for skin-care manufacturers to start using in their products. We chatted with Acne Free partner and board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, about what exactly adapalene is, how to use it and what makes it different from other acne treatments on the market. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Adapalene?
Adapalene is a super-potent retinoid that has been proven to treat acne. “This ingredient has been studied in numerous clinical trials that have demonstrated high efficacy and lower risk of skin irritation,” Dr. King says, but until recently, it was only available by prescription. In 2016, however, the FDA approved adapalene 0.1% gel as an OTC (over the counter) treatment for acne. “This is a big deal because adapalene 0.1% gel is the first in the class of drugs known as retinoids to be made available OTC for the treatment of acne!”
OK, So How Is It Different From Other Acne Treatments?
Unlike acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, being in the retinoid class makes adapalene behave differently. “Retinoids work by binding to retinoic acid receptors,” explains Dr. King, “which help with the cell turnover of your skin. In other words, it can make a big difference in your skin. Specifically, says Dr. King, retinoids increase the turnover of skin cells, reduce the tendency of cells and debris to clump together and clog pores.
Anti-Aging and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
But that’s not all: In addition to the retinoid benefits of adapalene, Dr. King says that it can help “suppress the inflammatory response stimulated by the presence of Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that contributes to inflammatory acne.” It’s also been found to inhibit lipoxygenase activity, which is basically an early mediator of inflammation. In layman's terms, this means that adapalene generally causes very little irritation when it’s applied onto the skin.
Plus, adapalene’s ability to help stimulate the turnover of cells and therefore, decrease discoloration is key for brighter-looking skin.
How to Incorporate Adapalene Into Your Routine
Including adapalene into your routine starts with testing the product like you would any other new skin-care ingredient. “I recommend applying it every other night to see how well the skin tolerates it,” says Dr. King. “If you’re not experiencing irritation, try increasing the frequency to every night.” Retinoids can become unstable when they’re exposed to the sun, which is why applying them at night is going to be your best bet in order to achieve maximum results. And when it comes to how much to apply, always remember that less is more. “Apply a small amount to clean skin at bedtime, and follow up with a moisturizer.”
You also want to be especially vigilant about applying sunscreen during the day whenever you’re using a retinoid, including adapalene, because your skin may be more prone to sun sensitivity.
Pay Attention to What Your Mixing With Adapalene
Although Dr. King says it’s OK to use products like benzoyl peroxide or hydroxy-acids with adapalene, she advises applying them at different times. “If your skin can tolerate the combination of ingredients, I recommend using the acids in the morning and adapalene at night.” If you apply them together, it could make the adapalene less effective, and it's important to note that retinoids tend to make your skin more sensitive, so you might find the combination increasingly irritating.
That said, due to its decreased risk of irritation, adapalene is generally considered a good option for people with sensitive skin. Of course, talking to your dermatologist if you’re unsure about trying adapalene is highly recommended.
How Fast Does Adapalene Work?
So how soon will you see results after you start using adapalene? It’s quicker than you think, says Dr. King, adding that “improvement in acne can be seen in as little as two weeks.” You can thank adapalene’s deep penetration ability — especially as compared to other retinoids like tretinoin — for that. Keep your eyes peeled for adapalene products coming soon from some of your favorite skin-care brands like La Roche-Posay. AcneFree also just launched their first OTC Adapalene Gel, which is now available on Amazon.