Niacinamide vs salicylic acid may not seem like a topic that needs to be addressed. Their names aren’t similar, the don’t really seem to target the same thing (or at least they are not marketed at treating the same thing) – so why is this such a popular search on here?
Well the answer, in all honesty is, I don’t know but what I do know is that I can help you decipher the difference.
Firstly, let’s take a look at them individually.
I would say niacinamide is a relatively new ingredient in the world of the skincare consumer and it’s fast becoming apart of every skincare enthusiasts lexicon.
It’s a form of the Vitamin B3 (which is an essential nutrient for healthy skin), which can also be found in kale, almonds and a whole host of vitamin rich foods.
It’s very much marketed as a ‘multi-tasking’ ingredient. It hydrates, protects and penetrates the skin deeply to give you the most out of your product.
However, its main use is in anti-aging and skin brightening and it does have clinical studies behind it that show that it can do that.
What this all means is that niacinamide is good for evening the skin tone and texture, increases the skin’s ability to retain moisture, helps fight hyperpigmentation, aids skin cell rejuvenation and helps oily skin.
Salicylic acid is on a whole different planet when it comes to skincare because it’s main objective is to exfoliate the skin.
It’s an important ingredient when it comes to treating sensitive skin and is even ‘known’ as an essential ingredient in treating acne.
It’s a beta hydroxy acid, this means that it is oil soluble, not water soluble and that’s why they are so often used in treating oily skins.
Salicylic acid will penetrate through the lipid layers between the skin cells and therefore, it exfoliates the stratum corneum (outer layer of skin) and won’t cause as much irritation as something like glycolic acid.
This means salicylic acid works deeper and is able to penetrate into the pores in order to unclog them. The precise reason it is a popular ingredient for treating acne.
What’s important to remember in this comparison is that salicylic acid is not a multi-tasking ingredient. It’s primary function is to chemically exfoliate the skin.
In doing so it can keep the skin clear, make the skin less oily, even out skin tone and texture and help your other products work better.
Niacinamide vs salicylic acid
Okay, so after reading the above you may still be a little confused because they sound like they both do similar things.
Well, yes they have some similar qualities when it comes to the overall outcome but they get there in different ways.
Their most important difference is their mechanism of action.
Also, salicylic acid doesn’t help hydrate the skin whereas niacinamide does. Sure, salicylic acid may help your moisturiser work better but it can’t hydrate the skin on its own.
The truth is one isn’t better than the other. You can in fact use them both in the same skincare routine because they won’t interfere with each other.
What you do need to be careful of is the pH level of salicylic acid.
Niacinamide tends to work best in an environment with a neutral pH and because salicylic acid is, well, an acid it does not have a netural pH – it has an acidic one.
If you want to use them both one after the other, the best thing to do is apply your salicylic acid, wait 10-30 minutes then apply your niacinamide.
Alternatively, you could just apply the niacinamide on days when you’re not using a chemical exfoliant. or apply your niacinamide in the morning and your salicylic acid in the evening.
In conclusion, if you have acne, oily skin or hyperpigmentation that you want to treat then there is space in your routine for both of these.
If you want any product recommendations here are some of the niacinamide and salicylic acid products I’ve tried or want to try (including the Ordinarys Salicylic and Niacinamide).
All pictures courtesy of the brands
Farris P, Zeichner J, Berson D. Efficacy and Tolerability of a Skin Brightening/Anti-Aging Cosmeceutical Containing Retinol 0.5%, Niacinamide, Hexylresorcinol, and Resveratrol. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016 Jul 1;15(7):863-8. PMID: 27391637.
Draelos ZD, Ertel K, Berge C. Niacinamide-containing facial moisturizer improves skin barrier and benefits subjects with rosacea. Cutis. 2005 Aug;76(2):135-41. PMID: 16209160.