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Niacinamide vs Salicylic Acid

Niacinamide vs Salicylic Acid

By Calum Torrington

Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid: Products containing these actives are what *everyone* reaches for when a skin disaster strikes.

But what exactly are they?

Do they work in unison?

And what are some of the top products on the market right now?

Scroll on down to find out all about these skin saviors!

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What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3, and is ordinarily absorbed into the body through the consumption of fish, eggs, and green vegetables, among other sources.

Vitamin B3 aids the body's processing of fats and sugars- thus maintaining the health of skin as well as hair!

It is also key to the proliferation of skin cells, which makes for faster repair of scarring and other signs of damage.

If there’s a chance you are vitamin B3 deficient, you may want to consider supplementary Niacinamide.

This could be in the form of a pill or other such edible supplement, but it is also a great addition to your daily skincare routine in the form of a serum, cream, or other such product.

The strength of products differ and should be chosen to suit your skin type, though it is often recommended to start out with a lower dosage.

Niacinamide is an easy-going ingredient that is friendly toward most skin-types.

It is typically recommended for use twice a day (though this varies from product to product), and can reduce redness and diminish the appearance of pores.

If you are suffering from acne, this is definitely an ingredient to consider adding to your skincare regime.

In fact, Niacinamide is not just for the acne-prone; it is an ingredient that can do wonders for all.

Studies have shown that 12 weeks of use can improve elasticity and reduce signs of fine lines and wrinkles.

Anti-acne and anti-aging? Now, there’s a winner.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid (SA) is perhaps the most popular Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA), having been used to treat skin for millennia.

It is a naturally-derived form of Keratolytic medicine, which is typically used to soften and break down keratin.

Keratin is a key component of our skin’s outer layer which, when produced in excess, is acne-causing!

Salicylic acid is a desmolytic agent, which means it politely disrupts intercellular keratin filaments rather than outright breaking them.

This natural exfoliant is a great treatment for acne, psoriasis, and other such conditions that lead to scaly skin in need of shedding.

Pores are deep-cleaned, rejuvenation is prompted, and the skin is primed to absorb the additional components of your skincare routine.

Salicylic acid is also an anti-inflammatory hero, with its ability to suppress NF-kB pathways which regulate cellular behaviors.

Salicylic acid can be found in a variety of forms such as gels, serums, washes or lotions.

As with Niacinamide, the strength of the pure substance within products will vary and, depending on your skin type, you may choose a higher or lower strength.

Strengths range from 0.5% to 30%, with the lower dose most commonly recommended for first-time users.

Personalized advice on where to start is best sought from the product’s retail specialist!

So, what's the difference between the two?

Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid deal with many of the same issues, but have different ways of combating them.

There are unique benefits to be derived from each, respectively.

Salicylic acid is a more intensive, deep-cleaning ingredient that will dislodge and shed all of your skin’s nasties.

It controls excess oils to combat acne and prevent breakouts in future. However, this process can be dehydrating and irritative.

Niacinamide is less intensive, meaning it is effective in treating only moderate acne.

Importantly, it will promote skin cell proliferation and ensure your skin’s moisture is retained by strengthening the epidermis.

Through this process, the skin becomes better protected from external stresses, tone is evened, and pigmentation fades.

Can they be used together?

Niacinamide and Salicylic acid are not competitors- they are a match made in skincare heaven!

Though in fairness to Niacinamide, it’s an ingredient that will help your skin thrive alongside most products (other than large doses of vitamin C).

While Salicylic acid can be dehydrating, particularly in the beginning of its use, Niacinamide promotes hydration.

It does so by producing ceramides which strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier to prevent transepidermal water loss.

Studies show that 2 to 6 weeks of using these ingredients will suppress the production of Sebum, the oily substance that clogs your pores in the form of whiteheads and causes inflammatory lesions.

This leads to the diminished appearance of pores and a matte, shiny finish.

If you are using Salicylic acid, there is really no question- you want to be using Niacinamide too.

Niacinamide will aid the less positive effects of Salicylic acid, saving it from potential harm caused by external stresses such as UV light and bacteria- which the skin will be especially vulnerable to after application of BHA.

How to use them together?

Though they pair well, you will want to be careful how you are fitting them into your routine.

The pH levels of each product you are using has been carefully formulated.

As such, if you apply an acidic pH Salicylic acid directly with a neutral pH Niacinamide, the pH of the Salicylic acid will increase- making it less effective.

This can also cause a flush, which is not harmful but may linger for a few hours!

Combination products

If you find a specially formulated product that contains both Salicylic acid and Niacinamide, such as the Pilgrim Salicylic Acid & Niacinamide Oil Control Serum, you can fast track and simplify your routine. Oh joy!

Keep in mind however that these products that combine the two often have a lower dosage of each- which can make them less effective.

Use them at separate times

Another way around this is to alternate between using Salicylic acid at night and Niacinamide in the morning, or to alternate days when using the two ingredients.

Even just waiting 30 minutes in between applications of these ingredients can do the trick, but I know I sure don’t have time for that in the morning!

In general...

Find a routine that works for you, but remember to always apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 after using these ingredients.

This is due to the fact that BHA’s are known to leave the surface of your skin thinned out and particularly vulnerable to sun damage.

As sunscreen generally contains a neutral pH level that can disrupt the efficacy of the acidic Salicylic, you might want to apply your SA at night to be time-wise.

Otherwise, be sure to wait 30 minutes after applying SA before you apply your sunscreen!

Niacinamide, with its neutral pH, is suitable to apply directly prior to moisturizers and sunscreens which share a similarly neutral pH.

Finally, the specifics on how to apply these ingredients depends on the product you are using.

I use Niacinamide and Salicylic acid serums (more on that below), so after cleansing I apply a few drops of one of these directly to my skin and, using my fingertips, massage it with circular, upward motions.

Please always refer to your product’s packaging for the best directions suited to that specific product!

Our Product Recommendations

Our go to, The Ordinary, produces affordable and highly acclaimed serums of both Niacinamide (10%) and Salicylic acid (2%).

With their Salicylic acid serum in such piping-hot demand, it is often hard to get your hands on, but they also offer a Salicylic acid (2%) Masque for use once to twice a week.

The Ordinary’s products are vegan, cruelty-free, and their products come in glass or otherwise recyclable packaging. That’s just about every box ticked.

The Pilgrim Salicylic Acid & Niacinamide Oil Control Serum is another sustainable hero, and one that does the job just right.

This formula contains 2% strength Salicylic acid, 3% strength Niacinamide, and includes Hyaluronic acid which will optimize skin hydration and protection from external stresses.

Again: Cruelty- free, vegan, and plastic positive- the reviews on this one are raving.

A third personal favorite of mine, Paula’s Choice Niacinamide 20% Treatment, is a serum to look out for.

With just one use a day in tandem with an exfoliator, this innovative, high-strength formula rapidly reduces spots and scars as the skin becomes visibly tighter and smoother.

Finally, CeraVe’s Salicylic Acid Renewing Cleanser is a tried and true, widely-recommended facial wash.

Fragrance and alcohol-free, it is gentle yet effective with only 0.5% strength Salicylic acid, working to improve the texture of dry and bumpy skin while fighting excessive sebum and oil production.

Niacinamide vs Salicylic Acid: Conclusion

Niacinamide and Salicylic acid are my first recommendations to those suffering from acne or excessively oily skin, but really I would recommend these as an addition to just about anyone’s skincare routine.

The list of benefits of both ingredients, especially when used in tandem, are long and wide-ranging- just like the plethora of great products on the market to choose from!

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