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Niacinamide vs. Vitamin C: How They Compare

Niacinamide and vitamin c are two of the most popular compounds found in both topical and ingestible skincare products. As the cosmetics industry continues to grow, and all kinds of “magic pills” continue to be advertised on social media it is seemingly impossible to know what actually makes sense to use in your skincare routine

To bring a little bit of clarity to the confusing nature of the skincare world, we’re breaking down two of the most frequently used power players. We’ll compare niacinamide vs. vitamin C, and see how each ingredient stacks up when targeting certain concerns.

What is Vitamin C?

You’ve probably seen vitamin C used in serums, moisturizers, and other formulas (and even if you haven’t noticed it, there’s a good chance you’re already using it in your routine!). There are many different forms, but some of the most common names you’ll see include ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, and sodium ascorbyl phosphate (to name a few). This ingredient addresses a wide range of different issues, which is ultimately why it’s frequently recommended for skincare routines claiming to address acne, aging, hyperpigmentation, and inflammation.

Vitamin C may be best known for being one of the most effective antioxidants in the skincare industry. It works to defend the skin against free radicals from environmental stressors, such as UV exposure and pollution. Free radicals can degrade barrier health and contribute to damage and premature signs of aging. This makes vitamin C an important addition to any anti-aging skincare routine, and helpful for protecting overall skin health.

You may have also heard vitamin C touted for its ability to reduce signs of aging – think fine lines and wrinkles, as well as that decline in elasticity and firmness we see as we get older. This is because the vitamin is able to boost the production of collagen. Collagen is a protein that gives our skin strength and structure, but since we have gradually less and less as we get older, our skin can start to show signs of aging. 

Vitamin C is also helps anyone looking to reverse dullness and fade the look of discoloration for a smoother, brighter, and more even skin tone. The ingredient has been shown to inhibit an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is responsible for melanin production (melanin gives the skin color). This means it can help treat hyperpigmentation and prevent new dark spots from permanently forming on the skin. While vitamin C may not have a direct effect on acne itself, the fact that it can fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation means that it can be beneficial for anyone with acne-prone skin. 

What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide isn’t quite as well known as vitamin C, but it’s one of the most popular vitamins used in the skincare industry. In fact, there’s a good chance at least one (if not more!) of the products you are using in your routine contain niacinamide. It’s regularly added to topicals like serums and moisturizers. 

Much like vitamin C, niacinamide is a multitasker. This B vitamin has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can help bring down levels of inflammation in the skin, especially inflammation related to conditions like rosacea and acne.

Niacinamide is also able to regulate sebum production and refine the appearance of pores, which makes it helpful for those with oily skin. With that in mind, it’s a beneficial ingredient for controlling breakouts, since it minimizes the presence of pore-clogging sebum on the skin. 

Don’t think this means niacinamide isn’t for people with dry skin – it offers a ton of benefits for all skin types. It is able to enhance barrier health and improve the skin’s ability to retain moisture – both of which are crucial for overall skin wellness. It does this by promoting the production of ceramides, which are necessary for a healthy, well-functioning skin barrier. There are also several studies that show niacinamide may help with collagen production, which means it may improve firmness and soften the look of fine lines and wrinkles for a more youthful appearance (however more research is needed for this claim to be considered “scientific fact”). 

Niacinamide has two other notable properties that make it similar to vitamin C. First, it also has antioxidant properties, which help shield the skin against the negative effects of free radicals. It also can help fade the appearance of hyperpigmentation (like dark marks from acne) for a more even skin tone. 

Niacinamide vs. Vitamin C for Acne: What is Better?

So when it comes to comparing vitamin C vs. niacinamide, which is better for acne? Both deserve a spot in an anti-acne routine, especially for those that are prone to hyperpigmentation. That said, niacinamide will play a more direct role in keeping acne in check. This is due to its ability to both control sebum production and bring down inflammation levels in the skin. 

That said, niacinamide isn’t the most powerful breakout-buster compared to some other science-backed ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. With this in mind, it’s best to use niacinamide in tandem with other ingredients that will help banish acne. 

If you want to add niacinamide to your routine, here’s a product that is especially beneficial for acne-prone skin.

Best Niacinamide Product For Acne:
The Ordinary – Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Serum

This super light serum from The Ordinary has a simple yet high-performance formula that is powered by a 10% concentration of niacinamide, as well as zinc. It helps reduce blemishes while treating a range of other concerns.

GoodGlow Score

4.5 /5 4.5/5 Product Rating
Effective

Effective

Hydrating and antioxidant niacinamide helps balance out oil production and reduce pore-clogging

Skin Type

Skin Type

Sensitive, oily, combination, normal. acne-prone, and mature skin

Benefit

Niacinamide + Concentration of Zinc

To balance visible aspects of sebum activity, thereby reducing the appearance of textural irregularities, enlarged pores and visible shine

Ingredient Callouts

Alchohol-free, oil-free, silicon-free, vegan, gluten free, and cruelty free

  • Niacinamide: a vitamin, which can lighten skin blemishes and improve pore blocking.
  • PCA zinc: a mineral, which can control the oil secretion of skin.

Aqua (Water), Niacinamide, Pentylene Glycol, Zinc Pca, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Tamarindus Indica Seed Gum, Xanthan Gum, Isoceteth-20, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is hands down one of the best niacinamide-powered products for anyone with acne-prone skin. It’s effective and well-formulated, and is sold at a reasonable price. 

Of course, the star ingredient is niacinamide, which is formulated at a potent 10% concentration. This higher concentration allows you to get the full benefits of this B vitamin, and will give you the best results for minimizing your risk of breakouts. 

Beyond the potent niacinamide concentration, what makes this serum particularly great for acne-prone skin is the addition of zinc PCA, which is included at a 1% concentration. This ingredient helps reduce blemishes and control sebum production. It can also work to minimize redness and inflammation, and helps moisturize the skin. 

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Pros:

  • Contains a potent concentration of niacinamide. 
  • Lightweight texture that absorbs quickly into the skin.
  • Vegan, cruelty-free, oil-free, and fragrance-free. 

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Cons:

  • May not be suitable for sensitive skin.

Niacinamide vs. Vitamin C for Anti-Aging: What is Better?

Both niacinamide and vitamin C are great additions to an anti-aging routine. As mentioned, both are antioxidants, which means they can limit free radical damage to prevent premature signs of aging (and general skin damage). 

When it comes to boosting collagen production, enhancing elasticity, and lessening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, vitamin C has more research behind it to back up its benefits. That said, niacinamide is still believed to play a role in reducing signs of aging, so you can benefit from using both ingredients, so I suggest using both ingredients for optimal results. 

If you’re thinking of using niacinamide in your anti-aging routine, here’s a product I recommend.

Best Niacinamide Product For Anti-Aging:
Paula’s Choice – 10% Niacinamide Booster

This Paula’s Choice serum combines niacinamide with other ingredients to target signs of aging while improving uneven skin tone and irregular texture. It’s also infused with soothing ingredients. 

GoodGlow Score

4.6 /5 5/5 Product Rating
Protecting Skin

Brightens & evens out skin tone

Visibly reduces enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, wrinkles, fine lines, redness, dryness & other signs of aging

Benefit

Uniquely multi-tasking

Combines powerful Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) with antioxidants and skin-replenishing plant extracts to naturally restore and rejuvenate your skin

Skin Type

Targets:

Enlarged and clogged pores, blackheads, bumpy texture, uneven tone, redness, wrinkle & fine lines, and dryness

paraben-free

No fragrance, no parabens, no fluff

Science-backed formulas that target any concern from wrinkles to breakouts

Water (Aqua), Niacinamide, Acetyl Glucosamine, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Butylene Glycol, Phospholipids, Sodium Hyaluronate, Allantoin, Boerhavia Diffusa Root Extract, Glycerin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Ubiquinone, Epigallocatechin Gallate, Beta-Glucan, Panthenol, Carnosine, Genistein, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hydroxide, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol

The Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster is my favorite niacinamide product, and one that I used in my regular skincare routine. Just like The Ordinary serum recommended above, this serum contains a 10% concentration of niacinamide. However, what makes this formula particularly ideal for those looking for anti-aging benefits is the addition of vitamin C (spoiler: these ingredients can in fact be used in tandem). Together, these ingredients work to soften lines and promote a more youthful complexion while also brightening and improving uneven skin tone. They also provide antioxidant benefits to defend the skin against free radicals that can contribute to signs of aging. 

In addition to these star ingredients, the formula features allantoin and licorice root extract. Both of these ingredients soothe the skin to improve overall comfort, and also provide extra antioxidant benefits. Additionally, the formula has a super light, water-like texture that absorbs quickly into the skin. 

Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster Pros:

  • Combines niacinamide with vitamin C for optimal anti-aging, antioxidant, and brightening benefits. 
  • Made with calming ingredients that enhance skin comfort.
  • Vegan, cruelty-free, and fragrance-free.

Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster Cons:

  • On the pricier side (although a bottle does last a long time).

Can Niacinamide and Vitamin C Be Used Together?

Niacinamide and vitamin C clearly both have a ton of advantages – so you’re probably interested in using them both in your routine. But can you layer them without experiencing negative side effects?

Outdated research from the mid-20th century indicated that vitamin C and niacinamide could aggravate the skin when used at the same time. Good news: the myth has since been debunked. Most people can safely use vitamin C and niacinamide at the same time, and they shouldn’t cause irritation when combined.

If it works best for your routine, you can also apply these products at different times. For example, you can apply a vitamin C serum in the morning, and then a niacinamide serum at night. It ultimately comes down to what works best for you. 

If you’re considering adding both a vitamin C formula and a niacinamide formula to your routine, I highly recommend starting with just one product instead of introducing both simultaneously. By doing a small patch test on an area of skin you can make sure your skin type does not have an adverse reaction to either product. I recommend a patch test for 2-3 days, followed by exclusive use of the new product for 2-3 weeks. After a few weeks of using the first product, you can introduce the second product into your routine. 

If you do decide to layer vitamin C and niacinamide, be sure to layer them correctly to get the best results. Generally, it’s best to apply products in order from thinnest to thickest. So if you are using a thinner vitamin C serum, you’ll apply that first, and then follow up with your thicker niacinamide product.  

FAQs

Are niacinamide and vitamin C both active ingredients?

Yes, niacinamide and vitamin C are both considered to be active ingredients. They are often used as the key ingredients in formulas, but may also be found as secondary ingredients in other formulas. 

Is niacinamide better than vitamin C for skin?

Niacinamide and vitamin C are both effective skincare ingredients that target different concerns, so there isn’t one that is better than the other. Anyone can benefit from adding both of these ingredients to their skincare routine.

Originally Published: April 28, 2023

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Analyzed by Kyra Heenan
Kyra is a Los Angeles-based content writer. She started her career after graduating from Santa Clara University, and has since worked with countless companies and online journals in the greater health, wellness, and beauty industries.

In the skincare space, she has partnered with numerous skin and beauty companies, helping to create informative content for their businesses. This includes popular skincare lines, men’s grooming brands, beauty tool companies, and natural supplement brands. She also works regularly with online publications (like GoodGlow!), writing review pieces and educational articles on acne treatments, anti-aging practices, viral skincare trends, and everything in between.

As someone who has been a skincare fanatic since her teens, she enjoys helping others learn the intricacies of skincare so that they can create a routine that works perfectly for their unique needs and lifestyle. She spent plenty of time making skincare mistakes as a teenager, and hopes to steer others in the right direction! The world of skincare can be complicated, so she aims to break down the endless information so that readers can take actionable steps. She also believes caring for your complexion holistically is essential. Being consistent with the solutions we put on our skin is equally as important as being mindful of what we are putting in our bodies.

Kyra is always on top of industry trends, and loves testing out new products and exploring new-to-her ingredients to see how they stack up. That said, she believes that following the tried-and-true science (and having a bit of patience!) is key for getting your best skin yet.

When not obsessing over skincare (and helping friends and family members perfect their routines), she can be found exploring her other interests in the health and wellness world, including meditation, yoga, cooking, and hiking. She is also an avid traveler, and runs her own travel blog. Read more of Kyra's articles.

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