Adapalene - Can You Use it for Anti-Aging? Tretinoin?

First Posted on January 25, 2024 in:acneanti-agingscience deep dive

If your goal is effective skincare, you’ll probably be pretty familiar with the world of retinoids. This family of molecules has a long, rich history of clinical testing to showcase their efficacy in treating a wide range of skin concerns from acne to anti-aging. However, choosing the right retinoid for your skin can quickly become pretty confusing. Every retinoid can come with their own quirks, target percentages, and benefits. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the acne superstar, adapalene, and tackle the #1 question we get about this molecule: If tretinoin can also be used to fight wrinkles, can adapalene do the same?

What is Adapalene?

Adapalene is what is considered a “third-generation retinoid”. Just like OG retinoid, tretinoin, this molecule interacts directly with your skin’s retinoid receptors, maximizing its efficacy. Unlike tretinoin, adapalene only interacts with specific types of retinoid receptors as a more acne-targeted treatment. Additionally, it’s much much more stable than tretinoin. Theoretically, adaplaene could be a superior retinoid to tretinoin.

Adapalene is also unique in that this is the ONLY retinoid classified as an OTC (over-the-counter) acne drug that’s available to us in the US. You can get this at any drugstore at 0.1% under common brands such as Differin, Proactive, and La Roche Posay. However, if you’re looking for a heavier-hitting concentration of 0.3%, adapalene will require a prescription.

As a new age retinoid, the next obvious question would “How does it REALLY compare to tretinoin for acne? What about other retinoid benefits like anti-aging and brightening hyperpigmentation?” We took a closer look so let’s dive into the data!

Tretinoin vs Adapalene: Who Reigns Supreme?

Luckily, adapalene does have a wealth of comparative testing done alongside tretinoin. Most of these studies are in the acne realm. For example, there was a 12 week study done on 297 patients. These subjects were divided evenly into two groups using either 0.1% adapalene once daily or 0.025% tretinoin once daily. At these concentrations, the two ingredients performed on par with each other in reducing the number of inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions. One interesting point of difference was that adapalene had a significantly better outcome with a higher number of patients with a 75% or greater improvement. Yay for adapalene acne use!

But since adapalene is designed to specifically target acne, would this ingredient be beneficial to use for anti-aging concerns? Can it boost collagen levels, reduce fine lines, and brighten hyperpigmentation like tretinoin?

Can I use Adapalene for Wrinkles?

It turns out, there are a few studies out there that have looked at adapalene in this manner. There was a smaller study done on 40 women that looked at using 0.3% adapalene, once daily, for 24 weeks (nice)! In this study, adapalene was able to decrease forehead wrinkles, periorbital wrinkles, and improved overall hydration. 

Additionally, this study also evaluated biopsies of the skin tissue. We should mention that we love skin biopsy studies since they give us a much better understanding of what’s happening “under the hood”! From the biopsy analysis, researchers found that 0.3% adapalene over 24 weeks increased epidermal and dermal thickness … though this thickness improvement wasn’t statistically significant.

There’s one other study we should share that looked at 0.3% adapalene compared with 0.05% tretinoin over 24 weeks for treating moderate to severe photoaging. Both the adapalene and tretinoin groups pretty much performed on par, but tretinoin did outperform adapalene for eye area wrinkles. They also found that adapalene was able to increase collagen I density similarly to tretinoin. 

Unfortunately, this is the extent of anti-aging studies done on adapalene so far. Notice that all the data shared is on prescription level (0.3%) adapalene, and data is still pretty sparse. So to sum up, prescription adapalene could be an effective anti-aging retinoid, but we wouldn’t recommend the OTC 0.1% Differin Gel unless more testing becomes available. Based on available data, we’d still say tretinoin and retinol are more reliable to target concerns such as wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. 

Chemists’ Pro Tip! How to Use Adapalene in Your Skincare Routine?

Where does adapalene go in my skincare routine?

Because adapalene is a much more stable retinoid, it often comes in a water-based gel format like the Differin gel. This can be used anywhere in your routine before your moisturizer step.

Is adapalene that much more gentle than tretinoin?

Some studies seem to suggest that adapalene side effects are more mild than tretinoin, but adapalene users will still go through a retinization period. Do not jump into your adapalene journey thinking that it’s a “vanilla” version of tretinoin. Still expect skin to go through common retinoid symptoms like redness, stinging, shedding, and dryness. This is why we still recommend including a soothing serum or salve in your retinoid routine, including adapalene.

Can I use benzoyl peroxide (BPO) with adapalene?

Yes! In fact, this is a fantastic combination for those with active breakouts. There’s a really great study with a whopping 1,600+ number of patients. Patients were divided into 4 groups of ~400 where one group used just BPO, one group used only adapalene, one group used a combination of BPO and adapalene, and one group served as placebo using just an empty vehicle gel. Subjects checked in at the 4 week, 8 week, and 12 week time point. Across all time points, the adapalene-BPO combination group performed significantly better in all acne-related parameters. 

We also want to point out that this study used a lower dose (2.5%) BPO product instead of the max level 10% level you’re used to seeing. If you’d like to try this combo in your skincare routine, we do recommend sticking with this lower % to avoid excessive dryness and irritation. 

Any other adapalene routine tips?

The broken record is still broken!…. Sunscreen sunscreen sunscreen!

Which Adapalene Product Should You Choose?

We looked at Differin, La Roche Posay, ProactivMD, and PanOxyl and all four are pretty much the same formula. We recommend purchasing based on whatever you can get a better discount on!

Adapalene cheat sheet summary concentration products

Key Takeaways

  • Adapalene is the only retinoid classified as an OTC (over-the-counter) acne medication at 0.1%. It’s easily accessible under brands such as Differin, La Roche Posay, and Proactive.
  • It’s very effective for all forms of acne. Some studies indicate that adapalene can garner even better results than tretinoin but more comparative studies are needed.
  • It is much more stable than tretinoin and pairs especially well with benoyl peroxide (BPO).
  • Data is lacking when it comes to adapalene’s efficacy on fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. Most of the available testing is done on prescription strength (0.3%) adapalene. If your primary skin concern is on skin aging, tretinoin and retinol may be better starting points. Or if you’re already using a retinol or tretinoin for anti-aging, don’t feel like you’re missing by not using adapalene!


Irby, C. E., Yentzer, B. A., & Feldman, S. R. (2008). A review of adapalene in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Journal of adolescent health, 43(5), 421-424.

Kawashima, M., Harada, S., Loesche, C., & Miyachi, Y. (2008). Adapalene gel 0.1% is effective and safe for Japanese patients with acne vulgaris: a randomized, multicenter, investigator-blinded, controlled study. Journal of dermatological science, 49(3), 241-248.

C.N. Ellis, L.E. Millikan, E.B. Smith, D.M. Chalker, L.J. Swinyer, I.H. Katz, R.S. Berger, O.H. Mills Jr, M. Baker, M. Verschoore, C. Loesche, Comparison of adapalene 0·1% solution and tretinoin 0·025% gel in the topical treatment of acne vulgaris, British Journal of Dermatology, Volume 139, Issue s52, 1 September 1998, Pages 41–47

Bagatin, E., Gonçalves, H. D. S., Sato, M., Almeida, L. M. C., & Miot, H. A. (2018). Comparable efficacy of adapalene 0.3% gel and tretinoin 0.05% cream as treatment for cutaneous photoaging. European Journal of Dermatology, 28, 343-350.

Gold, L. S., Tan, J., Cruz-Santana, A., Papp, K., Poulin, Y., Schlessinger, J., ... & Graeber, M. (2009). A North American study of adapalene-benzoyl peroxide combination gel in the treatment of acne. Cutis, 84(2), 110-116.

Thiboutot, D. M., Weiss, J., Bucko, A., Eichenfield, L., Jones, T., Clark, S., ... & Adapalene-BPO Study Group. (2007). Adapalene-benzoyl peroxide, a fixed-dose combination for the treatment of acne vulgaris: results of a multicenter, randomized double-blind, controlled study. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 57(5), 791-799.


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