If you’re like me and breakouts are part of your day-to-day, you’ve probably come across information about these two compounds.

The benzoyl peroxide and adapalene combo is extremely powerful as far as mild to moderate breakouts are concerned.

The two can be used together by layering two products or by going to the derm for a prescription product that combines them (Epiduo gel, anyone?).

However, both ways have their risks, benefits, and drawbacks.

In this article, I’ll be talking about:

  • What are Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide?
  • How to properly use a product that combines them?
  • How to use Adapalene gel and Benzoyl Peroxide separately but in the same routine?
  • How to most effectively use them individually in different routines?

Ready to learn? Let’s go!

What is Adapalene (Differin gel) & how it works on acne?

Adapalene (Differin gel) for acne

Here’s what you need to know about Adapalene.

Adapalene is a skincare ingredient, a synthetic topical retinoid proven to work against pimples of all types.

It’s the active ingredient in Differin gel — one of the most famous breakout-fighting products on the market. However, there are other brands out there such as Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair or La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, for example.

This is why you may often hear Adapalene and Differin gel being mentioned interchangeably.

It’s similar in structure to vitamin A and works by binding to specific retinoic acid receptors in the skin.

When it comes to breakouts, it has a preventative function in the skin.

Studies have shown that consistent application of a topical product containing adequate amounts of the ingredient leads to a decrease in the formation of microcomedones, and thus of inflammatory acne lesions.

It has several effects on acne-prone skin:

  • reduces the size of oil glands and makes the oily secretions less thick and sticky – this prevents pore clogging and minimizes oil production;
  • it also exfoliates the skin to make sure there are no blocked pores;
  • Adapalene also kills the P.acnes bacteria that causes inflammation in the first place.

Adapalene (and Differin gel) also has some anti-inflammatory properties. This helps to reduce the redness and swelling associated with new breakouts.

Clinical studies support the effectiveness of Adapalene for treating mild to moderate acne, which is why you’ll see it prescribed and given in medical advice by doctors and dermatologists.

Side note: if you suffer from severe acne, your best option is to go immediately to your doctor or dermatologist to get the proper prescription for drugs and medications, and not experiment with acne products.

However, using Adapalene gel can cause several adverse reactions such as:

  • Dry skin
  • Redness
  • Scaling
  • Itching
  • Burning

These side effects are usually mild and resolve with continued use. Besides, you’re able to minimize the dryness if you use adapalene properly — I discuss this in more detail below.

Adapalene is just one form of retinoid that can be prescribed by a doctor to treat acne and it’s available over-the-counter for consumers.

There’s also Tretinoin – a prescription-strength retinoid.

Studies have shown that Adapalene shows similar efficacy to Tretinoin in treating comedonal acne but is less irritating.

Now, Adapalene is great and all, but if you want to get more effective and fast results, you may want some additional help in the form of benzoyl peroxide — it works in a very different way to treat the nasties.

How to use Adapalene topical gel:

You should strive for consistent use — adapalene is safe for long-term use, and since it has preventative functions, if you use it even when you don’t see any spots, you’ll be able to keep breakouts at bay.

Adapalene gel should not be used as a spot treatment. Instead, you must apply the product on your entire face in a thin layer, avoiding the gentle undereye area of the skin.

Differin and other brands of Adapalene are leave-on types of products, so you don’t need to rinse them off.

What is Benzoyl Peroxide & how it works on acne?

Benzoyl peroxide for acne

Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO) is another common acne-fighting ingredient you can find OTC in topical gel forms.

This topical medication has earned a reputation as a trusty warrior in the fight against stubborn breakouts because subjects treated with it show significant improvement in skin health.

It works its magic best on already active acne, by targeting the root cause of it — the bacteria that lurks deep in the pores — and by reducing inflammation in the affected area.

The mechanism behind Benzoyl Peroxide’s success is truly fascinating.

BPO works to deal with breakouts threefold:

It releases oxygen in the pores, eliminating the P. acnes bacteria that cause acne vulgaris.

The drying effect of the ingredient is also noteworthy, as it helps to reduce oiliness due to its exfoliating properties, one of the primary contributors to acne vulgaris.

And thirdly, BPO reduces inflammation, which is why the ingredient is so popular as a spot treatment for pimples.

Benzoyl Peroxide is a potent compound, and as such, it can cause some side effects:

  • Dry skin
  • Redness
  • Peeling

As with Adapalene gel, normally these adverse reactions won’t be anything too serious. However, in some cases they could potentially become a real problem, leading to additional issues.

Benzoyl peroxide comes in several concentrations available in over-the-counter products: 2.5%, 5%, and 10%.

The strength of BPO is directly correlated to the severity of side effects but also to the ingredient’s effectiveness.

If you’re using a leave-on treatment, opt for a product with 2.5% or a 5% concentration. And if you’re choosing a face wash, you can get a 5% or a 10% concentration, because the product will spend less amount of time on your face.

Some trusted brands of Benzoyl peroxide include PanOxyl, Differin (again), CeraVe, and more.

How to use benzoyl peroxide:

I’ve already written about the burning sensation from benzoyl peroxide, so I won’t go into too much detail here – it’s not a common reaction, so check my article to learn why it happens.

Benzoyl Peroxide can be used as a topical spot treatment to prevent the dryness associated with it.

There are wash-off and leave-on types of products on the market, although I’d recommend opting for the 10% wash-off option because you’ll see the same effects yet will suffer even fewer negative side effects.

So, individually speaking — both Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide are amazing.

However, if used together in a topical gel, you can see faster, more dramatic results in diminishing your breakouts, even if you suffer from painful cysts.

Let’s take a look at three different scenarios of using the two ingredients together.

I’ve structured the following sections according to irritancy level – from the most problematic version to the most gentle one — pick and choose whichever sounds best for your situation.

Using Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide together in a product

Using benzoyl peroxide and adapalene products

One of the options you have for tackling cystic acne with Adapalene gel and Benzoyl Peroxide is to use them together in the form of a single product.

Such products can usually be found as leave-on gels, which are normally prescribed by dermatologists or other skin doctors because they’re considered medicine. So, unfortunately, I can’t link you to any product recommendations.

The main Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide gel benefits are that it can help simplify your skincare routine and ensure that the right balance of ingredients is being applied to the skin.

There are plenty of brands to try, I’ve only mentioned one so far in this article (Epiduo).

If you do opt for this option, I’d recommend applying the product daily in your evening routine.

However, some of you may prefer to use individual products so that you can adjust the frequency and concentration of each ingredient based on your skin needs.

When using both Adapalene gel and Benzoyl Peroxide together in a product, it is important to take precautions to avoid excessive skin dryness (one of the biggest concerns with a combo product containing both ingredients).

How to layer Adapalene or Benzoyl Peroxide in the same routine

Combining Differin and benzoyl peroxide

If you want to use Benzoyl Peroxide and Adapalene in separate products but in the same routine, it’s best to opt for a BPO cleanser, and Adapalene leave-on treatment.

This will give you the desired results while sparing your skin from the overly drying effects that the two compounds can have.

There are many brands out there that offer a wash-off form of Benzoyl Peroxide, with Differin, PanOxyl, and Cetaphil being some of the most popular ones.

If you do opt for a BPO cleanser, choose one with a concentration of 10% Benzoyl Peroxide and leave it to work for at least three minutes before rinsing — this will give you the same results as a leave-on BPO treatment.

Once you’ve patted your skin dry, apply your Adapalene in a thin layer, and seal that with a moisturizer to prevent any dryness.

Using Benzoyl Peroxide in the morning and Differin at night

Benzoyl peroxide in the morning and differin at night

For those with excessively dry or sensitive skin, using both Benzoyl Peroxide and Adapalene in the same skincare routine can be a recipe for disaster.

But fret not, for there is a simple solution – divide and conquer.

By using these powerful ingredients at different times of day, we can reap the benefits without the risk of irritation or dryness.

For best results, it is recommended to use a BPO product in the morning and Adapalene in the evening.

To start your day off on the right foot, begin by washing your face with a gentle 10% BPO product, such as a face wash. Be sure to avoid any areas of the face that are particularly sensitive or prone to dryness.

Next, apply your usual moisturizer and sunscreen to keep your skin hydrated and protected throughout the day.

In the evening, switch gears and begin with a gentle cleanser to remove any makeup or impurities. Pat your face dry, then apply a thin layer of Adapalene all over the face, being cautious to avoid the delicate eye area.

Allow the Adapalene time to work its magic, then follow up with a nourishing moisturizer to lock in hydration and soothe any potential irritation.


Can you use Benzoyl Peroxide and Adapalene together?

Yes, you can use Benzoyl Peroxide and Adapalene together, but it should be done with caution and under the guidance of a dermatologist. There are three strategies to use these products together:

  • One product – Some acne medications combine both BPO and Adapalene into a single product. This is a convenient option for those who want to simplify their skincare routine and avoid using multiple products.
  • Layered in one routine (evening) – Layer BPO and Adapalene in the same evening routine. However, it is important to be mindful of the potential for skin irritation and dryness and to use a benzoyl peroxide cleanser, and adapalene leave-on treatment to avoid overdrying your face.
  • One in the morning, and the other in the evening – Alternatively, some people may find it more effective to use BPO in the morning and Adapalene in the evening. This approach allows for a more targeted treatment of cystic acne while minimizing the risk of skin irritation and dryness.

Do Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide work right away?

Yes, the combination of Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide can start working immediately to reduce inflammation and the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. The speed of visible results depends on the product used and the severity of the acne. If you’re using a leave-on Benzoyl Peroxide product or a wash-off Benzoyl Peroxide product with a high concentration (such as 10%), you may see improvements in breakouts as quickly as overnight.

However, it is key to note that it can take several weeks of consistent use to see the full benefits of these ingredients — individual results may vary.

What not to use with Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide?

To avoid excessive dryness and irritation, it’s best not to use other potent actives, overly drying products, and invasive procedures in conjunction with Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide. These include acids, scrubs, harsh soaps, hair removal, and skincare irritants such as alcohol denat, essential oils, and perfume.

Opt for gentle, hydrating skincare products and consult a dermatologist for personalized advice.

You can also benefit from introducing salicylic acid-based products into your skincare routine — this BHA is also proven in clinical studies to help with acne vulgaris and with non-inflammatory lesions by going deep into the pores and clearing up the build-up.

The ingredient is also anti-inflammatory, so it can help active acne as well and it’s a good and safe long-term strategy to keep your pores as clean as possible.

Should I use Adapalene or Benzoyl Peroxide?

Whether to use Adapalene or Benzoyl Peroxide depends on your skin type and personal preference. You can use these ingredients together or separately, depending on what your skin tolerates best and how quickly you want to see results.

Keep in mind that using them together may show faster results but will be more drying for the skin.

Adapalene can be used regularly to maintain the skin, while Benzoyl Peroxide can be used as a spot treatment for acne breakouts, either as a leave-on or wash-off product.

Ultimately, it is important to find the right balance for your skin and to consult with a dermatologist if you have concerns or questions.

Do Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide help acne scars?

While a product containing both Adapalene and Benzoyl Peroxide can help reduce acne, it is not a guaranteed solution for acne scars. Adapalene, being a topical retinoid, can help reduce the appearance of atrophic acne scars over time by increasing the rate of skin cell renewal.

However, other tactics may be necessary for optimal healing.

Incorporating periodic chemical peels with stronger AHA contents and a product containing vitamin C can help stimulate collagen formation in the skin and further reduce the appearance of post-acne scars.

If you’re curious to read more about BPO, I suggest this article where I explore all the reasons why benzoyl peroxide can stop working, or at least it appears so, and what to do about it.

And I’ve also explored two other types of retinoids — retinol and granactive retinoid — to see which one is more potent and which is more beginner-friendly.

Do drop me a line if you’ve found this article useful or if you have any questions!

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