Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 21st Dec 2020

Skincare 101: Can Niacinamide and Retinol be used together?

Can Niacinamide and Retinol be used together?

The market is full of ingredients that claim to make a visible difference to your skin, and many of them are readily used by you, and having them work effectively for you is a good feeling. At the same time, this may motivate you to try everything and resolve all your skincare concerns. The market is full of active ingredients, but not all combinations work, and some ingredients don't go well together and create further problems for you. We don't want that, do we?

Talking about the two ingredients that we have gracefully accepted due to their proven abilities to do the unthinkable: Niacinamide and retinol. It is unlikely that they are not heard of; retinol has long been the premium anti-aging ingredient that smooths lines and texture, prevents acne, and evens hyperpigmentation. Retinol has made our skin feel young again while increasing skin cell turnover.

Coming to Niacinamide, it is among the skincare ingredients that can do-it-all. The ingredient is anti-aging, fights zits, reduces redness, hydrates, and top it all; it also reduces hyperpigmentation.

The two are effective in their respective fields and have won our hearts repeatedly, but what about combining them both? While many combinations turn out to be a big hassle given the complications involved, this combination is particularly something that you will like if you have sensitive skin and cannot reap the benefits of retinol.

Understanding Niacinamide  

Niacinamide, also referred to as nicotinamide, is a vitamin B3 vital for your body's essential cellular functioning like DNA repair and increasing cellular turnover and other chemical functions. The vitamin is now a rage in the industry; everyone raves about its topical benefits of fighting acne, aging signs, repairing sun damage, hydrating the skin, and calming any irritation the skin experiences.

Aging skin can be effectively improved by Niacinamide as it enhances the surface texture, smoothes the wrinkles, and inhibits photocarcinogenesis.

Niacinamide's anti-inflammatory effects combat acne, rosacea, redness, and irritation.

Acne-fighting abilities of Niacinamide arise from the study that throws light on Niacinamide's ability to inhibit sebum (natural oils, excess of which can lead to acne) production and, in turn, combating acne breakouts.

Cosmetic use of Niacinamide is viable in the context where improving skin's barrier function is vital for pigmentation, acne, hydration, and fighting aging signs. Several mechanisms of Niacinamide mentioned above, its versatile nature that is its applicability in all skin types, including sensitive skin, make it a liked and revered ingredient in the industry.  

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Understanding Retinol 

A vitamin A derivative, retinol, has been infused in creams as it boosts collagen and plumps your skin. It works its way through several mechanisms like reducing sebum production that further reduces acne; it increases collagen synthesis, strengthens the skin, and reduces the formation of wrinkles.

Retinol cuts down fine lines and wrinkles and improves your skin tone and color. The OTC retinoid, retinol, is effective on acne, aging signs, and hyperpigmentation.

All these benefits aside, retinol has its cons and can cause irritation and inflammation. The active ingredient is not tolerable by everyone. Sensitive skin types can have a problem.

One adverse effect of retinol is photosensitivity. Retinol makes your skin susceptible to sun damage, redness, dryness and peeling, and a burning sensation. Though these side effects often subside with time, they make retinol less of an option to consider.  

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Did you know?

Contrary to popular opinion that retinol thins the skin, retinol thickens skin by boosting collagen production and improving the appearance of wrinkles.  

To make retinol an option for each of us so we all can reap the star ingredients' benefits without all that hassle of irritation, niacinamide combination with retinol should be considered.

Let us understand the dynamics of combining retinol and Niacinamide. 

Can you combine retinol and niacinamide?  

Although being a gold-standard ingredient, retinol is not for every one of us since it can cause irritation, sensitivity, and redness. Particularly if you have sensitive skin, that's when it becomes unbearable. The side effects further make it hard to use the ingredient consistently, and retinol is an ingredient that shows visible difference only with religious use.

Enter Niacinamide: Vitamin B3 possesses properties that make it go along with retinol, an active ingredient. Moreover, even make it an ideal combination, one of the properties being Niacinamide's ability to hydrate.

Initiating retinol use may irritate, and your stratum corneum, the skin's barrier, is likely to suffer. Retinol's ability to loosen and make the barrier fragile, affects the skin's moisture and water levels.

On the other hand, Niacinamide potentially stabilizes your skin's epidermal barrier function. It also reduces water loss and hydrates your skin. Niacinamide increases the natural lipids count within your skin's outermost layer and protects your skin from free radicals.

The hydrating role of Niacinamide makes the pair work rapidly in achieving the desired result. While retinol will actively work on anti-aging, Niacinamide will keep the process calm and not let the active quality of retinol affect your skin's peaceful harmony.

Moreover, both ingredients work have some similar benefits making their work compatible yet different and in tandem. Both individually can fight acne and blemishes, even skin tone, and even fight wrinkles.

The thought of mixing the two shouldn't worry you; it is effective and safe. The concern is natural as many ingredients don't bond well together.

The combination will fight aging signs and also look after other skin concerns.  

Let us count the benefits of the combination of retinol and Niacinamide. 

Apart from how they work in tandem that we saw above, the skin engulfs with retinol more peacefully when applied with Niacinamide than when applied alone because retinol, when used individually, is often bound to irritate.

Niacinamide boosts ceramide production, allowing retinol to work on your skin's surface and improving the appearance. A 2008 study showed that Niacinamide significantly reduced the irritation and dryness of retinoic acid (retinol turns to retinoic acid when applied on the skin) when the combination of the two was applied.

The ceramide boosting and anti-inflammatory action of Niacinamide are essential benefits of the ingredient that help retinol function the way it does without irritation and even amplify the effects of vitamin A.

The barrier function of the vitamin B3 makes your skin robust and immunizes it to external irritants. The anti-inflammatory, on the other hand, minimizes the initial irritation that ensues with retinol.

Many research studies point out that Niacinamide helps retinol function to its content and calms the redness that it causes in the process. Studies also suggest that the combination improves tone, signs of aging, and acne.

Retinol's effects can be amplified when added to Niacinamide if we go beyond the combination's calming aspect, as Niacinamide boosts the cellular turnover providing a base for retinol to perform its duties. The combination particularly improves fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, and skin texture.

Enlarged pores can significantly benefit from the combination as both will work their way through your pores and control the sebum content, eventually shrinking the pores. As Niacinamide protects the barrier, the application of the combination doesn't affect your barrier function.

A study also highlighted this aspect of the combination that when Niacinamide is allowed to improve barrier function before opting for retinol, it will make your skin more tolerant of the ingredient and amplify the results. While the skin will peel, indicating that retinization( adjustment period for the skin post application of retinoid) is underway, it will not become irritated.  

How to add the combination of retinol and Niacinamide to your skincare routine?  

You can layer them or use a combined product like a cream that has retinol and Niacinamide to garner both benefits. As mentioned above, you can start with Niacinamide for some weeks to improve the skin's barrier function and its tolerance to retinol.

When you start with retinol, it won't damage your skin's barrier and cause its usual irritation.

You can use two separate products or one combined formula. These ingredients do not cut each other's benefits. You may use a niacinamide moisturizer after retinol or its serum before retinol.

Start slowly with retinol, go easy on the application, and add the moisturizing Niacinamide to soften the process. Start with moderate retinol concentrations, probably 0.25 to 0.5% concentration for 2-3 days a week, and when your skin is confident, you can increase the frequency.  

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Side effects of this combination 

There exists no evidence of any side effects of the combination; it is safe in general for all skin types.

Pay attention to your skin and notice if it is turning red and flaky. It means you are going too fast with the application of retinol. Go slow with the application and decrease the frequency or lower the concentration of the ingredients. Be careful of the concentration of each ingredient.

Side effects have an increased probability in the presence of certain skin conditions.

However, if you notice that your skin is reacting, the combination is not suiting you.

Your sensitivity to retinol may not be curbed entirely by Niacinamide, which might develop some adverse effects.

Minimalist's Word of Advice

If you have particularly sensitive skin, let your skin adjust to retinol by starting with once a week application. Then, as the tolerance of your skin to retinol increases, you may increase the frequency.

Retinol demands that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or more, as retinol can make your skin vulnerable to UV exposure.

Whatever you choose to go with, a combined product or different products, do not increase the frequency and go beyond the prescribed guidelines.  

Summing it up

Vitamin B3 and Vitamin A work perfectly well together; they amplify each other's effects and make your experience with retinol a pleasant therapeutic one.

Niacinamide, a gentle vitamin, diminishes aging signs, pigmentation, and acne. Retinol also does it all but brings with it the side effects unbearable for some of us.

Combining the two brings the best out of them, and they are entirely safe to use. Niacinamide's hydration calms retinol's irritation.

Niacinamide and retinol are effective treatments and provide similar skin benefits. They complement each other and improve your skin appearance.

They make a compatible and promising pair for skincare.