When it comes to skincare actives, it can be confusing when you are trying to decide which ones to use for your skincare issues and concerns. It gets even more confusing when you are trying to determine what actives can be used together in the same skincare routine, such as using salicylic acid with niacinamide, for instance.
Both niacinamide and salicylic acid are excellent skincare active ingredients with multiple skincare benefits. So can you use salicylic acid with niacinamide in the same skincare routine? First, let’s take a look at why you’d want to use each skin care active ingredient in the first place.
The Benefits of Niacinamide
Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, a water-soluble vitamin, is a multi-benefit skincare active. Niacinamide is known for its brightening properties and its ability to strengthen the skin barrier. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to speed up cellular turnover.
Niacinamide has potent anti-aging properties. This study demonstrated that a 5% concentration of niacinamide reduced the look of fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and dark spots, blotchiness, and skin sallowness while improving skin elasticity. Niacinamide also helps to stimulate collagen production, which can lead to a firmer more youthful-looking complexion. Niacinamide also increases the skin’s antioxidant capacity.
Niacinamide is excellent for those with sensitive skin as it has anti-inflammatory properties and helps reduce irritation and redness. If that weren’t enough, niacinamide can also be helpful for those who have oily skin and acne-prone skin. Niacinamide helps to reduce/regulate sebum production and helps to reduce the look of enlarged pores.
Like with any skincare product, the anti-aging effects of niacinamide are dependent on the dosage applied to the skin. While higher concentrations of niacinamide can be effective, most studies of niacinamide at 2% to 5% showed multiple benefits for the skin. Niacinamide products are commonly formulated anywhere from 2% to 10% and even as high as 20%. If your skin is sensitive, it is best to start out with a low concentration.
Related Post: Can You Use Niacinamide with Retinol?
The Benefits of Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid, derived from willow bark, wintergreen, and sweet birch, is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that exfoliates the skin. It is oil soluble which allows it to deeply penetrate pores and unclog them, sweeping away sebum, dirt, dead skin cells, and other impurities while improving skin texture and clarity.
This makes salicylic acid a favorite for those with oily skin and for those who frequently experience breakouts and acne, as salicylic acid goes to work on whiteheads as well as blackheads. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is another key benefit for those with acne, as it helps calm inflammation associated with acne.
Depending on the formula and your skin type, like other exfoliating acids, salicylic acids may cause irritation, redness, or peeling. If you have sensitive or dry skin you might be better off using alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like lactic acid or even glycolic acid, depending on the concentration. If your skin is sensitive and you want to try a salicylic acid product, look for products containing lower concentrations.
NOTE: Salicylic acid increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so it is important to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher while using salicylic acid and for a week afterward.
How to Use Salicylic Acid with Niacinamide
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as applying a salicylic acid product and then following with a niacinamide product. The reason why starts with a discussion of product pH.
pH and Your Skin
PH, or “potential of hydrogen”, measures hydrogen ions in a water-based solution. The pH scale runs from 0 – 14, with a pH of 7.0 being neutral (pure water). Measurements under 7.0 are considered acidic and measurements over 7.0 are considered alkaline. While this study showed that the natural pH of skin is just under 5.0, skin is generally between a pH of 4.7 – 6.0. Skin’s natural pH is slightly acidic and our skin’s acid mantle helps keep skin’s pH balanced.
Salicylic Acid pH and Niacinamide pH
- Salicylic acid is usually formulated with a pH of around 3.0-4.0 for optimal effectiveness and exfoliation. Therefore, salicylic acid lowers the skin’s pH to work correctly.
- Niacinamide on the other hand, usually has a pH of approximately 5.0-7.0, with an optimal solution for stability at 6.0.
Niacinamide will increase salicylic acid’s pH if it is applied to the skin too soon after salicylic acid, which could make the products less effective or cause a skin reaction like redness or flushing.
For best results, consider waiting about 30 minutes after applying salicylic acid to allow your skin’s pH level to return closer to normal. Then apply niacinamide, whether it be a niacinamide serum or another type of skincare product, such as a moisturizer formulated with niacinamide.
Of course, you can keep both niacinamide and salicylic in your skincare routine and use them at different times of the day, such as niacinamide in the morning and salicylic acid in the evening. Or you can alternate salicylic acid and niacinamide on different days of the week.
Niacinamide Skincare Products To Try
Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster contains 10% niacinamide in a super lightweight formula. The serum is almost as thin as water, making it easy to layer into your skincare routine.
This niacinamide serum also contains allantoin and licorice extract to soothe the skin and reduce redness. Vitamin C is also included in the formula for additional brightening and to help reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines. Sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid) hydrates and plumps the skin.
This serum calms, brightens, and hydrates skin. It also helps to reduce the look of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone and texture, redness, and dryness. You can apply it under a moisturizer, wear it alone, or even better since it’s so lightweight, you can add it to another serum or moisturizer. It can even be applied under the eye area, as long as you take care to avoid your eyes.
Affordable Niacinamide Serum: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
For a very affordable niacinamide serum alternative, consider The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, which contains 10% niacinamide. This serum is formulated to reduce the look of blemishes and congestion. It also contains Zinc PCA (zinc salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid) to balance visual sebum activity.
One of The Ordinary’s best-selling products, this serum also helps to brighten and even skin tone. It’s especially good for oily and acne-prone skin types as it helps to balance sebum production.
Related Post: The Ordinary “B” Oil Review
Salicylic Acid Skincare Products
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is Paula’s Choice #1 product worldwide. This treatment is a customer favorite since it unclogs pores, minimizes the look of enlarged pores, exfoliates dead skin cells, and brightens skin while evening out skin tone.
This leave-on formula contains 2% BHA in the form of salicylic acid. Perfect for dull complexions and for those who deal with acne, oily skin, and breakouts. It also contains green tea extract to soothe irritation. Green tea extract also has antioxidant properties that help to improve sun damage.
If you are looking for a salicylic acid treatment for your body, Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA gently exfoliates layers of dead skin on your body with 2% salicylic acid. Perfect for clogged pores on your arms and legs, this body lotion is also suitable for those with keratosis pilaris, a skin condition that causes tiny bumps (keratin buildup) and rough skin.
Related Post: The Best Body Lotions for Crepey Skin on Arms and Legs
Affordable Salicylic Acid Treatment: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque is perfect for dull skin and skin with textural irregularities. This rinse off mask contains 2% salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells from oily and acne prone skin. It also contains charcoal and clays to deep clean, unclog pores and remove impurities.
Formulated at a pH of 3.5-4.5, this masque helps to clear away congestion and decrease uneven skin tone. This rinse-off masque can be used once or twice a week on dry skin. It should not be left on for more than 10 minutes.
The Ordinary recommends patch testing prior to using this product for the first time. Please note that this product should not be used on sensitive, peeling, or compromised skin.
Final Thoughts on Using Salicylic Acid with Niacinamide
When used together, salicylic acid and niacinamide offer the skin multiple benefits, from pore-clearing and wrinkle-smoothing benefits to skin brightening and skin barrier protection. Combination and oily skin types may benefit most from using salicylic acid with niacinamide since both offer multiple benefits for oily and acne-prone skin.
Just be mindful of the pH of the salicylic acid and niacinamide formulas, since using an exfoliating acid-like salicylic acid will lower the pH of your skin, making the pH environment incompatible with a higher pH product like niacinamide. Be sure to allow about 30 minutes after applying salicylic acid for niacinamide application. Better yet use them at different times of the day or on different days entirely.
Thanks for reading, and here’s to your good skin health!