They’re two ingredients that are often recommended for acne-prone skin, but can you use adapalene and benzoyl peroxide together?
This article will explain what each ingredient is, what they can do for your skin, as well as the best way to add adapalene and benzoyl peroxide into your skincare routine to reduce the risk of skin irritation.
What Is Adapalene?
Adapalene, also known as Differin, belongs to the third generation of retinoids, which are compounds derived from vitamin A. This category includes various forms like retinyl esters, retinol, retinaldehyde, tazarotene, and tretinoin.
Retinoids are crucial components in skincare regimens aimed at addressing aging, acne, or skin discoloration. They function by accelerating the rate at which your skin generates and moves new cells to the surface, known as cellular turnover.
High cellular turnover results in skin that appears brighter, fresher, and more youthful. On the other hand, a sluggish cellular turnover can lead to problems like acne, blocked pores, and a dull, rough skin texture.
Factors such as aging, seasonal changes, and certain skin conditions like acne can slow down your cellular turnover rate.
It’s important to note that while retinoids speed up this process, they don’t exfoliate the skin. If you notice your skin peeling, this is more likely due to skin barrier damage and irritation, not the retinoid itself.
Retinoids offer a plethora of skin benefits beyond just enhancing cellular turnover. These include:
- Stimulating collagen production
- Mitigating the effects of sun damage
- Lightening hyperpigmentation, like dark spots and age spots
- Enhancing skin moisture levels, although they can temporarily reduce hydration by impacting the skin barrier
- Acting as antioxidants to shield your skin from damage by free radicals
- Helping to unclog pores
- Alleviating inflammation related to acne and scars from acne
- Reducing the visibility of large pores
- Improving the look of fine lines and wrinkles
- Inhibiting bacterial growth on the skin
When compared to tretinoin, the first topical retinoid, adapalene has advantages like reduced skin irritation and greater stability. It also penetrates oil glands more effectively, making it especially useful for treating acne.
In some places, low concentrations of adapalene gel can be purchased without a prescription, but higher concentrations usually necessitate a doctor’s prescription.
What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is a medication used to treat acne, available either over the counter or through a prescription. When you apply it to your skin, it breaks down into benzoyl radicals and benzoic acid.
Benzoyl radicals create oxygen when released into your skin. The bacteria responsible for acne, known as C. acnes, thrive in oxygen-deprived conditions, which is why they become problematic when pores are blocked.
No oxygen = Increased c.acnes growth
By introducing free oxygen radicals, benzoyl peroxide effectively kills the acne-causing bacteria present in your skin.
Similarly, benzoic acid functions much like salicylic acid, aiding in exfoliation and the unclogging of your pores.
Moreover, benzoyl peroxide may inhibit inflammatory immune cells within your skin. This prevents these cells from releasing molecules that can intensify the red and sometimes painful appearance of acne.
In summary, benzoyl peroxide offers:
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Exfoliating benefits
- Oil control
However, it’s generally deemed less potent in treating acne than retinoids and salicylic acid, unless it’s used in combination with other active ingredients.
Because benzoyl peroxide generates free radicals, it has been found to reduce skin levels of vitamin E. For this reason, it’s advised to use it alongside an antioxidant serum or moisturizer.
It should be noted that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the free radicals produced by benzoyl peroxide either contribute to or prevent skin aging. However, its anti-inflammatory properties could potentially offer anti-aging benefits.
Can You Use Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide Together?
Usually, it’s advised to avoid layering retinoids with benzoyl peroxide as the oxygen created when benzoyl peroxide penetrates your skin can deactivate the retinoid (although see this article for the full scoop on that). However, adapalene is more stable than other retinoids and is not deactivated by light or oxygen.
(It’s even fine to use in the day, although I personally think it’s better used in the evening as your skin’s natural renewal process peaks overnight)
You can use the two in a multi-ingredient product, like Epiduo (usually requires a prescription) or you can layer benzoyl peroxide and adapalene together in separate products.
Research has demonstrated that benzoyl peroxide and adapalene are more effective at treating acne when combined together than either ingredient used alone.
The combination of benzoyl peroxide and adapalene has also been found to be effective at improving pitted acne scarring – although this was over 24 weeks which is a pretty long time to patiently wait for results.
How To Use Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide Together
Benzoyl peroxide can be used 1-2x per day, although if you have sensitive skin you can use it less frequently. Adapalene can be used nightly, however, to begin with, you may find that your skin is better able to tolerate adapalene if you build up slowly. This can reduce the risk of irritation and the severity of the ‘purging’ that can often be experienced when commencing retinoid treatment.
‘Purging’ refers to the acne flare-ups that are often experienced when starting a treatment that increases the rate of skin cell turnover. This can bring your usual break-outs to the surface of the skin faster which may make acne appear more severe. Purging can last from weeks to months but will eventually subside.
Both adapalene and benzoyl peroxide can cause irritation and purging, however, the risk is higher when using the two ingredients together because both increase cellular renewal.
To reduce this risk, you can begin by building up tolerance to adapalene by using it once a week for one-to-two weeks, then increasing use to twice a week for one-to-two weeks, then three times a week, and so on. Continue this pattern until you are able to use adapalene every night without irritation.
It’s also better to introduce adapalene and benzoyl peroxide into your skincare routine one ingredient at a time to allow your skin time to adjust and to make it easier to identify if either ingredient is not reacting well with your skin.
Make sure that you’re always using sunscreen during the day when using active ingredients like adapalene and benzoyl peroxide as they can make your skin more prone to sun damage.
Summary – Can You Use Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide Together?
They’re both effective acne ingredients when used alone. However, if your skin can handle it, the most effective option is to use adapalene and benzoyl peroxide together – particularly if you can get them in a prescription product like EpiDuo (ask your dermatologist for advice).