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Adapalene vs Tretinoin: Which Should You Choose

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If you have chronic acne, or any other skin condition that involves inflammation, you’ve probably heard of both tretinoin and adapalene. Both are topical retinoids, meaning they’re derived from vitamin A and work by affecting the growth of skin cells.

So which one will work best for you? The choice belongs to you and your dermatologist, as there are pros and cons to each drug. This article will cover the key differences between the two medications, as well as provide some insight as to which one might be a better fit for your individual skin type.

What is Adapalene?

Adapalene is a retinoid medication used to treat acne. Retinoid is a super powerful class of vitamin A that speeds up cell turnover and prevents clogged pores. This means that adapalene can help to unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and diminish the appearance of acne scars.

Adapelene has been shown to be effective in treating mild-to-moderate acne. It is available in both over-the-counter and prescription formulations, though prescription form is typically much more potent and may cause more side effects.

The way that adapalene works is by binding to specific retinoic acid receptors inside the skin cells. This action causes the cells to turnover at a faster rate, which helps to unclog pores and prevent the formation of new pimples. Additionally, adapalene has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce the redness and swelling associated with acne.

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people around the world. While it is most commonly seen in teenagers and young adults, it can also occur in adults. Acne is characterized by the presence of pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads on the skin.

There are many different treatments available for acne, including over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as home remedies. Adapalene is a popular choice for many people, as it is relatively affordable and generally well-tolerated.

Adapalene: The Side Effects

There may be a number of side effects caused by using this medication. These side effects may be temporary and will go away after continued use of the medication.

The most common side effects of adapalene include skin irritation, erythema, dryness, and other but rarer side effects.

Irritation: This can take the form of stinging, redness, swelling, blistering, crusting, burning, dryness, itching and peeling.

Erythema: Erythema is a medical term for redness of the skin. The redness results from the dilation of blood vessels in the skin.

Dryness: Dryness of the skin can lead to scaling, flaking, and cracking.


However, more serious side effects may occur. If you experience any of the following side effects, you should contact your doctor or seek medical attention immediately:

Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to adapalene and experience symptoms such as hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

Eye irritation: If adapalene gets in your eyes, it can cause irritation, redness, and watering.

Skin infections: If you have a skin infection, adapalene can make it worse.


In addition, be on the lookout for:

  • Severe burning, stinging, or irritation of the skin
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Hives
  • Rash


If you experience any other side effects not listed here, you should contact your doctor or pharmacist.

When it comes to taking Adapalene, it is important to follow the instructions given by your doctor or pharmacist. You should never take more or less than the prescribed amount. If you miss a dose, you should take it as soon as possible. If it is almost time for your next dose, you should skip the missed dose and continue with your regular dosing schedule. You should never take two doses at the same time. If you're unsure about anything, you should always ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin (Retin-A, Retisol-A) is a medication used for the treatment of acne and other skin disorders. It is a retinoid, meaning it is related to vitamin A, and it works by promoting the shedding of dead skin cells and the growth of new skin cells.

Vitamin A is essential for the health of the skin, and tretinoin is a powerful form of vitamin A. It is most commonly used to treat acne, but it can also be used to treat other skin conditions such as psoriasis, ichthyosis, and keratosis. Tretinoin is a prescription medication, so it can only be obtained with a doctor's prescription.

The way that tretinoin works is not fully understood, but it is thought to work by affecting the way that skin cells grow and shed. When used properly, tretinoin can be an effective treatment for acne and other skin conditions. It can take several weeks or months of consistent use before results are seen.

Tretinoin is available in a cream or gel form. It is typically applied to the skin once or twice a day.

When you first start using tretinoin, your skin may become irritated. It is important to use the medication as directed by your doctor and to start with the lowest possible dose. If your skin becomes too irritated, you may need to stop using the medication for a short time or reduce the frequency of application.

Tretinoin: The Side Effects

As it is an active ingredient in many acne treatments, tretinoin is a drug which has to be administered under strict medical supervision. The side effects of tretinoin include skin irritation, photosensitivity and erythema.

Irritation: This can take the form of stinging, redness, swelling, blistering, crusting, burning, dryness, itching and peeling.

Photosensitivity: Photosensitivity is increased skin sensitivity to sunlight. Photosensitivity can be experienced as a burning sensation, swelling, redness and itching.

Erythema: Erythema is a diffuse redness of the skin.

Other side effects of tretinoin include:

  • Eye irritation
  • Sensitivity to wind and cold
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Serious side effects of tretinoin include:

Hypersensitivity reactions: These can take the form of skin rashes, hives, itching, difficulty breathing and swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome: Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a rare but serious condition which can cause blistering and shedding of the skin.

Toxic epidermal necrolysis: Toxic epidermal necrolysis is a rare but serious condition which can cause the skin to peel off in large sheets.

Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to tretinoin and experience symptoms such as hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

If you experience any of the serious side effects listed above, you should stop using tretinoin and seek medical help immediately.

Adapalene vs Tretinoin: Which Works Best For You?

The following is a quick breakdown of the differences between these two acne treatments.

Adapalene and Tretinoin are both retinoids, meaning that they are both derivatives of vitamin A. Vitamin A is an amazing nutrient that helps keep your skin looking young, fresh, and radiant. Retinoids are the most effective anti-aging products available on the market today.

The way that retinoids and vitamin A help keep your skin looking young is by increasing cell turnover. When you use a retinoid, it helps to slough off the top layer of dead skin cells, revealing the new, fresh skin cells that are beneath. This process of cell turnover is what gives your skin that youthful glow.

Though, this often causes peeling, redness, dry skin, and even chapped lips. It's important to use a retinoid consistently to get the maximum benefit from the product, and to follow your dermatologist's instructions carefully.

Now that we know how retinoids work, let's take a closer look at the differences between Tretinoin and Adapalene.

Adapalene is classified as a third-generation retinoid, while Tretinoin is classified as a first-generation retinoid. What does this mean? Well, Adapelene is a more recent and improved version of Tretinoin. Adapalene is more effective at reducing acne, and it has fewer side effects than Tretinoin, but it is also more expensive.

Adapalene is available as both a cream and a gel, while Tretinoin is only available as a cream.

Both of these medications have been shown to be effective at reducing acne, but Adapalene is a newer and safer medication with fewer side effects. So, if you have the choice, Adapalene is the better option. However, tretinoin can be a good choice for people with more sensitive skin, or those who cannot afford the higher price of Adapalene.

Do These Drugs Work Differently?

Adapalene and Tretinoin both work by increasing the turnover of skin cells. This helps to unclog pores and prevent new acne from forming. They also help to reduce inflammation, which can help to reduce the size and redness of existing acne.

Adapalene is a third-generation retinoid, which means that it is more targeted in its effects than older retinoids like tretinoin. This makes it less likely to cause side effects like dryness, redness, and irritation. However, it may take longer to see results with adapalene than with tretinoin.

The two drugs are available in different formulations. Adapalene is available as a gel, while tretinoin is available as a cream, gel, or liquid. The type of formulation you use may affect how well the drug works for you.

Your doctor will likely start you on a lower dose of adapalene or tretinoin and increase it over time. This helps to reduce the risk of side effects.

The choice between adapalene and tretinoin may come down to personal preference. Some people may prefer adapalene because it is less likely to cause side effects. Others may prefer tretinoin because it is available in different formulations and may work more quickly. Ultimately, the decision should be made by you and your doctor based on your individual needs and preferences.

Adapalene vs Tretinoin: Which Drug is More Effective?

The main difference between adapalene and tretinoin is their chemical structure. Adapalene is a third-generation retinoid and tretinoin is a first-generation retinoid.

Tretinoin is a carboxylic acid that works by penetrating deep into the skin and binding to the nuclear retinoic acid receptor. This action then results in the production of more collagen, which leads to a decrease in acne.

Adapalene is a naphthoic acid that works by decreasing the amount of acne-causing skin cells and by reducing inflammation.

Both adapalene and tretinoin are effective at reducing acne, it just depends on how your doctor evaluates your skin type. They may consider your age, the severity of your acne, how often you breakout, and how well you tolerate each medication.

Adapalene is generally considered as the first-line treatment for acne, and is generally preferred. However, tretinoin may be more effective for inflammatory acne and cases that are less responsive to adapalene.

Side effects of adapalene and tretinoin are very similar, but be sure to read up on them to ensure that you are aware of the possible risks.

This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.

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