Retinol has long been one of the most sought after skincare solutions, but as of late, niacinamide has also been picking up steam as a favorite ingredient. When it comes to these two ingredients, there’s one main question that seems to be on everyone’s mind: can I use niacinamide with retinol? Below, we’ll dive into everything you need to know when comparing niacinamide vs. retinol, and how you can work both ingredients into your routine.
What is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is a multi-tasking B vitamin (B3) that offers a wide range of benefits. This makes it a suitable ingredient for virtually anyone, regardless of their skin type or the specific concerns they are looking to address.
Niacinamide also has anti-inflammatory properties, and can help calm inflammation tied to acne, rosacea, and other skin conditions. The ingredient also strengthens the skin’s barrier (and in turn boosts its ability to defend itself against environmental aggressors), and can improve its moisture retention.
Additionally, niacinamide is able to regulate sebum production. This means it can play a role in reducing the risk of breakouts and minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores, making it a particularly useful ingredient for those with oily and acne-prone skin.
At the same time, niacinamide can also fade the appearance of hyperpigmentation to promote a more even skin tone. This ingredient is also helpful for those looking to create an anti-aging routine, as it has been shown to help soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that is perhaps best known as the gold standard anti-aging ingredient. It helps speed up cell turnover and increase the production of collagen and elastin. These effects help soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and can also improve elasticity and tackle a loss in firmness. Additionally, the ingredient can target discoloration to promote a more even skin tone.
Beyond its anti-aging benefits, retinol is also a highly effective solution for diminishing breakouts, thanks to its ability to increase skin cell turnover. There are plenty of well-formulated retinol products specifically made for acne-prone skin.
There are retinol products that you can have prescribed by your dermatologist (typically referred to as retinoids), as well as over-the-counter retinol formulas. Prescription-strength retinoids are more powerful and can lead to quicker, more visible results, but there are still a variety of highly effective OTC retinol products.
Is it Safe to Use Retinol & Niacinamide Together?
The good news is that it’s considered safe to use retinol and niacinamide at the same time. In fact, it’s a great combination for tackling a range of issues. You can layer separate products that feature these ingredients as the active ingredient, or use a single formula that combines them both (we’ll cover some recommendations below).
What are the Benefits of Using Niacinamide & Retinol Together?
One of the major benefits of using retinol and niacinamide together is that, since niacinamide has anti-inflammatory properties and supports the skin’s barrier, it may help counteract some of the side effects of retinol (which can include dryness and irritation).
Beyond that, both of these ingredients can work in tandem to address a range of concerns. For those with acne-prone skin, as retinol works to minimize breakouts, niacinamide can control oil production to further prevent clogged pores. Niacinamide may also help calm inflammation and reduce redness tied to current breakouts, while both ingredients can play a role in fading the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from previous blemishes.
This can also be a winning combination for those looking to fight signs of aging and maintain a youthful complexion. Retinol is the true powerhouse of the two when it comes to anti-aging benefits, but niacinamide will still play a role in softening fine lines and wrinkles. It also fights against moisture loss, which is a common issue for those with more mature skin.
If you have sensitive skin, the fact that niacinamide has anti-inflammatory properties may mean it’ll help improve your skin’s ability to tolerate retinol. One thing to note is that some people experience redness when using niacinamide. With that in mind, you should do a patch test before adding this ingredient to your routine. You should patch test any retinol product you want to add to your routine, as well.
What are the Side Effects of Using Niacinamide & Retinol Together?
There aren’t any known side effects of using niacinamide and retinol at the same time. These ingredients come with their own side effects (as noted above), but using them together shouldn’t increase the risk of any negative reaction.
One of the biggest things to keep in mind with retinol is that your skin will need to adjust to the ingredient. When first adding it to your routine, you’ll want to work it in gradually to minimize the risk of irritation and dryness. Consider using it just once or twice a week, and then increasing your usage from there if needed.
Virtually anyone can benefit from using both of these ingredients, since they both address such a wide range of concerns. Whether you suffer from acne, are looking to soften signs of aging, want to lessen scarring and pigmentation, or have another related concern you’d like to tackle, this can be a powerful duo to add to your routine.
How To Use Niacinamide and Retinol Together
In order to make the most of these ingredients, you need to know how to use them in your routine. One of the biggest questions people have is whether they should apply niacinamide before or after retinol. If you end up using two different products, in general, you’ll want to apply niacinamide first. Once the niacinamide product dries, you can follow up with your retinol product of choice. Applying niacinamide first can help defend your skin against the potential negative side effects of retinol.
There is a caveat to this rule to keep in mind. If you end up picking a niacinamide product that has a thicker consistency than your retinol (such as a moisturizing cream with niacinamide), then you’ll want to start with applying your retinol first to clean, dry skin. After allowing it to absorb for at least five minutes, you can follow up with your niacinamide product.
While niacinamide is generally well-tolerated by the skin and can be used up to two times per day, you need to practice a bit more caution when it comes to retinol. Retinol should only be applied in the evening. This is because it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, and can degrade when exposed to sunlight. Since retinol can irritate and dry out the skin, you also typically shouldn’t apply it every single night – although some may be able to apply less potent formulas on a nightly basis, if desired.
With all of this in mind, when it comes to this combination of ingredients, you should only be applying them in the evening. You also likely won’t want to apply them every single night (but again, this depends on the specific retinol you’ve chosen and your skin’s tolerance). Since niacinamide is gentler on the skin, if you’d like, you can choose to apply an individual niacinamide product at times when you aren’t using retinol.
On a final note, it’s important to do a small patch test of each product individually (or a product combining both ingredients). This will allow you to ensure you don’t have any severe reactions before applying the ingredients to your entire face. This step is especially important for those with sensitive skin.
Niacinamide and Retinol Recommendations
As noted, there are plenty of skincare products that feature just one of these ingredients. For example, there’s The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Serum, which can be especially great for those with acne-prone skin. As far as retinol goes, there’s a wide range of over-the-counter options, such as the Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment, which has a potent concentration of retinol.
However, if you’re looking to streamline your routine with a formula that combines both of these ingredients, I have a few different recommendations worth considering.
One of the best wallet-friendly retinol and niacinamide serums on the market is the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum. This dermatologist developed drugstore product was specifically made to improve uneven texture and tone, tackling hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and acne scars. At the same time, it works to fight signs of aging while preventing breakouts and refining the appearance of enlarged pores.
This lightweight CeraVe solution is made with encapsulated retinol, which allows the retinol to be slowly released to the skin. This reduces the risk of irritation and dryness, which makes this a particularly great option for those that are new to retinol. The formula also features three essential ceramides, which seal moisture into the skin, as well as soothing licorice root extract. The ceramides also work alongside niacinamide to boost skin barrier strength.
Another factor worth noting is that this solution is non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t contain ingredients known to clog pores. This makes it an ideal choice for those with acne-prone skin.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum Pros:
- Combines encapsulated retinol with niacinamide to tackle a range of concerns.
- Ceramides and licorice root extract soothe and improve moisture levels.
- Dermatologist developed.
- Non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, and paraben-free.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum Cons:
- May irritate sensitive skin (patch test before applying to the entire face).
- Not cruelty-free.
Shani Darden – Retinol Reform Treatment Serum
Suitable for all skin types, although those with sensitive skin should use caution.
Vegan and cruelty-free formula is made without fragrances or parabens, and is also non-comedogenic.
Lactic acid chemically exfoliates, promoting a smoother and more even complexion.
Encapsulated retinol provides anti-aging and breakout fighting benefits, but with a lower risk of irritation.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, I highly recommend the Shani Darden Retinol Reform Treatment Serum, which is designed to promote a clear, bright, and youthful complexion. Like the CeraVe serum, this non-comedogenic formula contains niacinamide, as well as encapsulated retinol to offer the benefits of this ingredient while reducing the risk of negative side effects.
However, one major area where it differs is that it also contains lactic acid, which is a chemical exfoliant. This alpha hydroxy acid helps clear away dead skin cells and debris on the surface of the skin, helping to promote a smoother and more even skin tone. By clearing away this debris, it also reduces the risk of clogged pores.
What also makes this formula great is that it contains extra ingredients that help calm and soothe the skin, including glycerin and aloe. Apple fruit extract also provides antioxidant benefits to defend the skin against damaging free radicals.
Shani Darden Retinol Reform Treatment Serum Pros:
- Combines encapsulated retinol, niacinamide, and lactic acid to tackle signs of aging, clogged pores, and uneven skin tone and texture.
- Contains soothing and hydrating ingredients.
- Vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic.
Shani Darden Retinol Reform Treatment Serum Cons:
- Not the most budget-friendly option (although still reasonably priced).
- May irritate sensitive skin (patch test before applying to the entire face).
Best Retinol Alternative:
Biossance – Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum
Packed with lightweight hydrators, including sodium hyaluronate and squalane.
Bakuchiol targets a range of visible signs of aging for a more youthful complexion.
Bakuchiol and niacinamide work together to minimize blemishes
Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive and acneic skin
If you have sensitive skin or are otherwise concerned about using retinol in your routine, you might want to consider a formula with bakuchiol, which is considered a natural alternative to retinol.
Much like retinol, this plant-derived ingredient works to increase skin cell turnover and promote collagen production. It has been shown to improve firmness and elasticity and soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and can also help with discoloration. Additionally, bakuchiol has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which makes it a suitable ingredient for those with acne-prone skin.
However, what makes this ingredient differ from retinol is that it is far gentler on the skin. It doesn’t often trigger many of the common side effects associated with retinol, such as irritation and dryness.
If bakuchiol sounds more your speed, a serum I highly recommend is the Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum. It combines this retinol alternative with niacinamide, and is formulated to target signs of aging while promoting an even skin tone and clear complexion. It’s the perfect alternative for someone looking for a gentler approach to using “retinol” and niacinamide in their routine.
In addition to these ingredients, this serum has additional ingredients that help improve hydration levels for soft, supple skin. This includes squalane, sodium hyaluronate, and glycerin.
Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum Pros:
- Gentler than retinol products, but provides similar anti-aging and acne-fighting benefits.
- Contains hydrating ingredients.
- Vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, and paraben-free.
Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum Cons:
- On the pricier side.