This Prescription-Strength Retinol Starts At $12 On Amazon

Adapalene is prescription-strength retinoid that can tackle everything from acne to hyperpigmentation.
Differin contains 0.1% adapalene, a type of retinoid that was previously only available by prescription.
Differin contains 0.1% adapalene, a type of retinoid that was previously only available by prescription.

Thanks to its all-purpose skin-improving abilities, many dermatologists agree that retinols and retinoids are an essential ingredient for most skin care routines. They also have the potential to be expensive, especially in over-the-counter preparations.

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.

“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. Ahead, you can shop all of the options we found on Amazon and read some reviewer comments about their effectiveness.

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Differin, probably the best known of adapalene-based products, claims that the more toned-down nature of this active ingredient compared to other retinoidsmakes it a good all-over face treatment that is suitable for everyday use, even sensitive skin types.

Promising Amazon review: "I suffered from acne from my teens to adult. My dermatologist recommended [this]! It really cleared and smoothed my skin! Just a little on my face every other night worked, and I believe it helps with early signs of wrinkles. I was developing small lines on my forehead and now they’re gone!! Make sure you moisturize too." — E.T. Lopez
This formula is from a lesser-known brand, but it's one of the most affordable adapalene options available.

Promising Amazon review:
"I have been struggling with hormonal acne in my mid 30's and this is my holy grail! My painful, under the skin, cyst like pimples shrink overnight. It goes on smooth and clear and absorbs quickly. It does not dry into a white residue and flake off in your sleep. This product dries pimples out and reduces redness without making my skin rough and crusty like other pimple creams." —Sarah
Acne Free
Acne Free is a skin care brand that was developed by dermatologists.

Promising Amazon reviews
: "Both my adult daughter and I use this product. Neither of us have acne, but I use it to lighten dark pigmentation and she uses it to control occasional outbreaks. It's gentle and disappears into the skin." — Imerk567

"I've been using this for over a year but not for acne but aging. I've noticed a huge difference, it took about 6 months for big gains but my texture and discoloration went fast. I have very resilient skin that's rarely irritated so I went all in daily but some may have to work up to that. Patience and consistency are key but it absolutely works on fine lines like crazy and deeper lines look at least reduced by 30%." — Kimberly112997
This adapalene gel comes from a big name in acne treatment.

Promising Amazon review:
"I’ve been stricken with horrible adult acne after having flawless skin my whole life. This product completely reversed my skin back to its original condition. It took about a month for results. Yes, my skin was worse for the first week and a half or so but it was worth it. Maybe start the product when you don’t have important plans for the next week. will never live without this product again!" — Molé
La Roche-Posay
La Roche-Posay is a French pharmacy staple behind several cult-favorite skin care products.

Promising Amazon review:
"I can now say that this stuff has basically gotten rid of the rest of my acne that didn’t go away with the birth control pill. The biggest difference I see is in the clogging rate of my pores. I have no blackheads or texture now. Secondly the hyperpigmentation goes away so much faster than with anything I’ve used so far — even my old retinol or any acids I was using. For example, if I had a dark spot from acne that I had picked, normally it would take at least 1.5-2 months to fade away entirely, but now it takes about 3 weeks-1 month. I really don’t have to wear any makeup now." — Amazon customer

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