Adapalene vs. Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Adapalene vs. Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide are topical agents used for the treatment of acne vulgaris (pimples).
  • A brand name for adapalene is Differin. Brand names for benzoyl peroxide include Proactiv, Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment, Clearasil, and Clearskin.
  • A difference is adapalene is only available with a prescription, while benzoyl peroxide is available over-the-counter (OTC) and in generic form.
  • Side effects of adapalene and benzoyl peroxide that are similar include skin irritation, redness, dryness, itching, flares of acne, and increased sun sensitivity
  • Most of the side effects of adapalene and benzoyl peroxide lessen with continued use. If side effects become bothersome, decreasing the frequency with which adapalene or benzoyl peroxide is applied may reduce these side effects.
  • A difference is the frequency of application of the medications. Adapalene is applied in a thin layer of gel to the affected areas once daily at bedtime. Benzoyl peroxide products may be applied to the skin up to three times daily, as needed.
  • Combining adapalene or benzoyl peroxide with other topical acne treatments can lead to excessive dryness and irritation of the skin.

What are adapalene and benzoyl peroxide?

Adapalene is a gel used for the treatment of acne vulgaris (pimples). The exact mechanism of action is not known. Scientists believe that when adapalene is applied to the skin, it affects the growth of skin cells and thereby reduces the formation of pimples.

Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication used for treating acne (pimples). It kills the bacteria associated with acne (Propionibacterium acnes) and promotes the growth of new skin cells. It also dries the skin. Increased cell growth leads to replacement of the pimple-containing skin with new skin.

What are the side effects of adapalene and benzoyl peroxide?

Adapalene

The most common side effects of adapalene are:

  • irritation,
  • redness,
  • dryness, and
  • itching
  • flares of acne.

Most of these side effects lessen with continued use; however, if they are bothersome, decreasing the frequency with which adapalene is applied may reduce these side effects.

Adapalene may increase the sensitivity of the skin to sun and lead to sunburn. Excessive sun exposure should be avoided, and sunscreens should be used over the treated areas if exposure to the sun cannot be avoided. Adapalene should not be applied to sunburned skin, cuts, eyes, nose, or lips.

Benzoyl peroxide

Common side effects include:

  • Contact dermatitis
  • Erythema
  • Peeling
  • Skin dryness

Possible serious side effects include:

  • Hypersensitivity reaction
  • Increased sun sensitivity

What is the dosage for adapalene vs. benzoyl peroxide?

Adapalene

Wash and dry the affected areas. Apply a thin layer of gel to the affected areas once daily at bedtime. Avoid the eyes, lips and nose. There may be a worsening of acne during the first few weeks of therapy because adapalene promotes the growth of pimples that have begun to form but are not yet visible. Therefore, treatment should not be stopped if acne appears to be worsening. Beneficial effects should be seen by 8 to 12 weeks.

Benzoyl peroxide

  • The affected area should be thoroughly washed.
  • Benzoyl peroxide cream, lotion, or gel should then be applied sparingly once, twice, or three times daily as needed.
  • Topical cleansers should be used to wash the affected areas once or twice daily.
  • The frequency of use should be decreased if excessive dryness or irritation occurs.

What drugs interact with adapalene and benzoyl peroxide?

Excessive skin irritation may occur if adapalene is used with other acne medications.

Combining benzoyl peroxide with other topical acne treatments such as dapsone (Aczone) can lead to excessive dryness and irritation of the skin.

Are adapalene and benzoyl peroxide safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Only very small amounts of adapalene are absorbed through skin and into the body. However, there are no adequate studies in pregnant women. It is not known whether adapalene is excreted in breast milk.

Benzoyl peroxide has not been tested in pregnant or nursing women.

Summary

Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide are topical agents used for the treatment of acne vulgaris (pimples). Adapalene is only available with a prescription, while benzoyl peroxide is available over-the-counter (OTC) and in generic form. Side effects of adapalene and benzoyl peroxide that are similar include:

  • skin irritation,
  • redness,
  • dryness,
  • itching,
  • flares of acne, and
  • increased sun sensitivity

Treatment & Diagnosis

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Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2017
References
FDA Prescribing Information
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