Adapalene (Topical)

Adapalene is topical medicine that's prescribed by dermatologists and doctors around the world to treat acne (pimples).


Adapalene is a retinoid topical medication that dermatologists and doctors prescribe for treating acne. It's been on the market for more than 20 years and more than 40 million people across the globe have used it.

The best news for those who are prone to acne is that the FDA recently approved an over-the-counter acne treatment known as Adapalene Gel 0.1%. This means that sufferers no longer have to visit their doctor to be prescribed this medication.

So how does Adapalene treat acne? Well, acne, like whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples, begins with a clogged pore. Our skin cells are continually renewing themselves. The old cells die, shedding and revealing new skin. If your skin is acne-prone, however, the dead cells combine with oil, get sticky and rather than shedding, they clog pores and trap acne bacteria inside.

By unblocking your pores and promoting quicker cell turnover, Adapalene attacks acne at its source, before the pimples can form on the skin. The dead cells of skin don't get the chance to accumulate in the pores, preventing the development of earliest acne blemishes. In addition, Adapalene is an anti-inflammatory, so it treats the inflammation and redness of the pustules and papules that have already developed.

Even though this medication is new to patients who use over-the-counter acne products to keep their skin clear, it's not a new treatment at all. It's been a renowned anti-acne ingredient for many years and has been proven effective in clinical trials.

Adapalene may be applied to the face and its first effects may be seen in just a fortnight, but it can take you 3 months of everyday application to see reliable results.

When first used, the medication can cause dryness, irritation, and redness for some people. The irritation usually eases after the first month of continuous use, however. Sometimes your acne can briefly appear worse. If this happens, you can use a mild, non-comedogenic moisturizer, ideally one containing sunscreen protection, to counter the dryness of skin. If skin irritation is overly bothersome (severe), stop using Adapalene and talk to your doctor before you use it again.

Lastly, women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should consult a healthcare provider before applying Adapalene as an acne remedy.

Conditions treated

Type of medicine

  • Retinoid

Side effects

A brief feeling of stinging or warmth may occur just after applying Adapalene. Skin dryness, redness, scaling, itching, worsening of acne, or mild burning may occur within the first two to four weeks of using Adapalene. These effects usually subside with continued application. If any of the effects get worse or persist, tell your pharmacist or doctor right away. Your doctor may tell you to stop using the medication, decrease the frequency of use, or change the strength.

If you've been instructed to use Adapalene by your doctor, remember that he/she knows that it will provide you with more benefits than side effects. Many Adapalene users don't experience severe side effects.

Tell your doctor immediately if you notice any of these severe side effects: very irritated/red skin, intense burning sensation, red and watery eyes (conjunctivitis), skin discoloration, and eyelid swelling.

A very severe allergic reaction to Adapalene is rare. However, seek medical help as soon as you notice symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as rash, swelling/itching (especially of the throat, tongue, face), trouble breathing, and severe dizziness.

This isn't a full list of potential Adapalene side effects. If you suffer other different side effects, get in touch with your pharmacist/doctor.

Call your healthcare provider for medical advice regarding side effects. You can tell the FDA about any side effects experienced at -800-FDA-1088 or visit


For an adult dose, apply some Adapalene to the affected part once daily at bedtime.

  • Wash the affected area thoroughly and dry it before application
  • Patients may experience a brief warming feeling after applying the cream formulation
  • An apparent worsening of acne can happen in the first few weeks of application but it shouldn't be a reason to stop treatment.

For a pediatric dose (children aged at least 12 years old), apply the cream to the affected part once every day at bedtime.

  • Wash the affected area thoroughly and dry it before application.
  • Patients may suffer a transient stinging/warming sensation after applying the cream
  • A clear worsening of acne may happen a few weeks into treatment but it should be no reason to halt treatment.

Dose adjustments

Severe stinging/warmth on application: You may temporarily stop using the medication or reduce the frequency of use until you can tolerate treatment.

Avoid using Adapalene if you have sunburned skin or you're treating skin with irritating products such as salicylic acid, sulfur, and resorcinol. Wait until your skin heals.

The efficacy and safety of this medication hasn't been determined in patients under 12 years old.

Administration advice:

  • This medication is only used topically and should be applied carefully around disrupted skin (cuts, abrasions, sunburns, eczema) and mucous membranes.
  • Keep the container tightly sealed when not using Adapalene.
  • You may use non-astringent and non-comedogenic cosmetics during treatment.
  • You can use moisturizers during treatment, but avoid those containing glycolic acids or alpha hydroxy.
  • For lotion formulations, a small amount of the lotion (about 3-4 pump actuations) should be used on the affected area.
  • For swab formulations, remove the swab from the foil pouch just before application. Discard the swab properly after use.
  • If you forget your Adapalene dose, use it immediately you remember as long as it's the same day. If you only remember the next morning, wait till your next dose.
  • If you suspect an overdose, contact an emergency room or poison control agency immediately. If you're in the US, call your poison control agency at 1-800-222-1222. This medicine can be harmful if ingested.


Drug interactions can change how your medicines function or increase your chances of suffering severe side effects. This article doesn't cover all potential drug interactions. Have a list of all products you're using (like herbal products, prescription, or non-prescription drugs) and give it to your pharmacist or doctor. Don't start, halt, or change your dose of any medication without your doctor's permission.

Some products that can interact with Adapalene include products with glycolic acid, hydroxy acids, hair-perming solutions, menthol/alcohol/lime-containing products (like shaving lotions, toners, and astringents), abrasive/medicated cleansers and soaps, as well as cosmetics and soaps with a fast drying effect.

Other drug interactions can make you more sensitive to sunlight (sulfa drugs like sulfamethoxazole, fluoroquinolones like ciprofloxacin, thiazide water pills like hydrochlorothiazide, tetracyclines, and phenothiazines like chlorpromazine).


During the first three weeks of Adapalene application, your acne may seemingly worsen before it improves. You should expect full improvement inside 12 weeks, particularly if you apply the medicine daily. You shouldn't stop using this medication if your acne appears worse initially, unless symptoms like irritation and others worsen. Check with your healthcare provider if your acne doesn't get better within 8-12 weeks.

Don't use any topical medication on the same area you're applying Adapalene, unless your doctor directs you. If you use another topical medication on the same part treated with Adapalene, these products can cause minor to serious irritation of your skin.

  • Hair products that cause skin irritation, like hair removal products or permanent colors
  • Anti-acne products (like erythromycin or clindamycin) or other products with a peeling agent like resorcinol, sulfur, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide
  • Skin products that make you extra-sensitive to sunlight, like those containing lime or spices
  • Skin products that make you too dry or that have a huge amount of alcohol, like astringents, cosmetics, after-shave lotions, or shaving creams
  • Abrasive skin products like some skin cleansers or soaps

Your doctor may instruct you to apply other topical products, include erythromycin, benzoyl peroxide, or clindamycin during your Adapalene treatment. Applying the topical medications at various times of the day can reduce the chances of skin irritation.

If your skin gets too red or dry at some point, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should keep using Adapalene. You can ease these skin problems by applying moisturizers, creams, or lotions as needed.

When using Adapalene, avoid too much sun exposure on treated parts and don't use sunlamps. As your skin can be more susceptible to skin irritation or sunburn, use sunblocking or sunscreen lotions with an SPF of at least 15 on a regular basis. Wear protective clothes against cold weather, the sun, or wind.

Your acne may worsen initially and then should improve. It may take 2-12 weeks to see the full impact.

Don't wash your face over 3 times daily without the permission of your healthcare provider.

Make sure to speak to your healthcare giver if you're breastfeeding, pregnant, or plan to get pregnant.


  • Store Adapalene at room temperature between 20-25 degrees Celsius
  • Store away from moisture and light
  • Different forms of Adapalene may have different requirements for storage
  • Read the label of the package or ask for storage requirements from your pharmacist
  • Gel formulations are flammable, so don't expose them to fire or heat sources
  • Don't smoke when using this medication
  • Keep all drugs away from your kids or pets
  • Don't flush drugs down your toilet or discard them into the drain unless directed to do so
  • Properly discard Adapalene when you no longer need it or it has expired
  • Consult your local garbage disposal service or your pharmacist for more information about safe disposal of your product


As an acne medication, Adapalene has been favored for decades by dermatologists but, until recently, it was available only by prescription.

It attacks acne by clearing blocked pores and ensuring that they're clear so that acne bacteria is not trapped within and blemishes don't get an opportunity to form. In addition, Adapalene boasts strong anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit existing pimples.

Here are some pros of Adapalene gel

  • It's made and approved by dermatologists
  • It contains prescription-strength vital ingredients
  • Its formula is based on water
  • It is free of alcohol, fragrance, oil, or other substances that can potentially hurt the skin
  • It helps improve the tone and texture of skin
  • It unblocks pores and enhances the normal turnover of skin cells
  • It works well to treat blackheads, whiteheads, and active acne
  • It effectively gets rid of acne after 3 months of regular use

And now the cons of Adapalene

  • The medication can make your skin highly sensitive to sunlight
  • Your acne may get worse in the first 7 days of using Adapalene
  • There may be stinging, redness, peeling or itching at the area of application

Adapalene is one of the top medications available for acne. It comes with so many benefits but also a number of side effects. To establish whether Adapalene is right for you, be sure to seek medical advice from your dermatologist first.

Last Reviewed:
December 10, 2017
Last Updated:
April 04, 2018