However, according to Dr. Ariel Ostad, a cosmetic surgeon based in New York City, products that use a prescription-strength retinoid called adapalene are outliers in this pricey OTC mark-up.
“Adapalene treats and prevents new acne from forming [by] removing dead skin cells and shrinking oil glands,” Ostad said. He said that the end result is a restored skin tone and texture that’s free of the sticky cells responsible for pore congestion.
Like other forms of retinoids, adapalene, which until 2018 was only available by prescription, works by increasing the skin’s cellular turnover rate — a process that slows down naturally as we age.
This means that even though adapalene-based products are marketed as acne treatments, Ostad said that they can also be used to help promote collagen production — and more collagen can mean plumper, more youthful skin with fewer fine lines.
Adapalene, which is the gentlest in the retinoid family, also has some ability to improve the appearance of sun damage, said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades, who is also based in New York City.
“Generally speaking, over-the-counter retinol products are suitable for those with mild issues… [T]hose who need a stronger over-the-counter version… would use adapalene or Differin,” a name-brand adapalene product, Alexiades said.
Both Alexiades and Ostad said that, like all retinoids, adapalene has the potential to be drying, so it’s best to use just a pea-sized amount on the whole face, only at night, and to pair it with a moisturizer.
Most adapalene products — the best-known of which is Differin — have the same .1% concentration of the ingredient.