They’re two ingredients that can help treat acne but which is better – niacinamide vs benzoyl peroxide? Can you use niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide together or will they ‘cancel each other out’?
It can sometimes feel like layering skincare ingredients together effectively requires a chemistry Phd but it’s a lot simpler than you may think.
Niacinamide is a water-soluble form of vitamin B3 that acts as an antioxidant and has a wide-range of benefits for your skin, including:
- Reducing the appearance of enlarged pores
- Controlling oil production
- Reducing hyperpigmentation (dark marks, age spots, melasma, etc.)
- Brightening skin
- Reducing inflammation and redness
- Improving acne
- Improving skin barrier strength by encouraging the natural production of ceramides.
- Boosting collagen production to improve fine lines and wrinkles
- Helping to protect skin from sun damage and skin cancer
It’s one of those all-rounder skin ingredients that does pretty much everything and is suitable for all skin types.
Benzoyl peroxide is an acne medication that can be found over-the-counter or by prescription. When you apply it to your skin, it breaks down into benzoyl radicals and benzoic acid.
Benzoyl radicals are a type of free radical that create oxygen in your skin. The bacteria that cause acne (c.acne) prefer an oxygen free environment (which is why they only really become an issue when your pores are clogged).
No oxygen = Increased c.acnes growth
By releasing free oxygen radicals in this way, benzoyl peroxide is able to kill the acne-causing bacteria in your skin.
Benzoic acid is thought to work in a similar way to salicylic acid and helps to exfoliate and unclog your pores.
Benzoyl peroxide may also target the inflammatory immune cells in your skin which prevents them from releasing the inflammatory molecules that can make acne look red and angry and sometimes feel painful.
Overall, benzoyl peroxide is:
- Oil controlling
However, it’s generally considered to be less effective at treating acne than retinoids and salicylic acid unless it’s combined with other ingredients.
Because it produces free radicals, benzoyl peroxide has been shown to deplete your skin levels of vitamin E, so using it alongside an antioxidant serum or moisturizer is recommended.
(Note that there is no evidence to suggest that the free radicals produced by benzoyl peroxide contribute to skin aging – there is also no evidence that they don’t but the anti-inflammatory effect of benzoyl peroxide may have anti-aging benefits)
Niacinamide vs Benzoyl Peroxide
As you can see, there are a few similarities in the skin benefits offered by niacinamide vs benzoyl peroxide but there are also a number of ways that they differ.
One example is how they treat acne. For example, benzoyl peroxide targets all four of the main causes of acne; dead skin cells, oil, bacteria, and inflammation, while niacinamide only targets three (it’s not exfoliating).
So benzoyl peroxide may be the better option for treating acne. However, it can cause dryness and irritation.
Niacinamide might be the better option if you have dry or sensitive skin that’s prone to acne as it can strengthen your skin barrier and increase the water content of your skin. It’s also suitable for sensitive skin and is often used to treat sensitive skin conditions like rosacea.
If you have any other skin concerns that you want to target, niacinamide would also be the better option as it has a much wider variety of skin benefits. So if you want to target the signs of aging, reduce pigmentation, or soothe your skin, it would be better to choose niacinamide vs benzoyl peroxide.
Can You Use Niacinamide and Benzoyl Peroxide Together?
If you can’t decide between niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide, the good news is you don’t have to!
In fact, they may work even better when layered together.
One example of how niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide may complement each other’s effects is the way that they target oiliness. Benzoyl peroxide actually increases surface oil after application but this isn’t because it increases oil production. Instead, benzoyl peroxide allows the oil within your pores to escape faster which helps clean your pores as the oil brings any trapped dead skin cells with it.
In contrast, niacinamide helps to reduce surface oil by reducing the levels of glycerides and fatty acids within the oil. Using niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide together may control oil better than when either are used on their own as the benzoyl peroxide brings the oil to the surface of your skin where niacinamide is able to exert its effects.
In fact, one clinical study found that the combination of 5% niacinamide and 2.5% benzoyl peroxide reduced oil faster than when the benzoyl peroxide was used alone in a cream. The combination also led to a better overall improvement in acne which was mainly explained by a better reduction in non-inflammatory acne.
By strengthening your skin’s barrier and increasing hydration, niacinamide can also reduce the irritation that’s commonly experienced when using benzoyl peroxide. Although there isn’t any research to suggest that this is the case, research has found that niacinamide can reduce retinoid-induced irritation which suggests that it may have a similar effect when used alongside benzoyl peroxide.
How To Use Niacinamide and Benzoyl Peroxide Together
Both niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide can be used once or twice a day and are available in a range of products like creams, gels, serums, and facial washes.
If you’re using benzoyl peroxide in a leave-on product, like a gel or a cream, be aware that it can bleach clothing, pillow cases, and towels. To prevent this, allow it to dry completely before getting dressed or getting into bed at night.
When introducing new skincare ingredients into your routine, it’s best to introduce one ingredient at a time so that if you have a reaction it’s easier to identify which ingredient was the culprit.
I would personally recommend adding niacinamide into your routine first for its barrier-strengthening benefits. This type of ‘pre-treatment’ has been shown to prepare skin for harsher treatments like retinoids and reduce the associated irritation.
Benzoyl peroxide can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun which increases your risk of sunburn and premature skin aging. Niacinamide has a protective effect on your skin but it’s still important to wear sunscreen everyday.
If you’re wondering which goes first – niacinamide or benzoyl peroxide, it’s probably better to apply benzoyl peroxide first and then, once it has absorbed into your skin, follow with niacinamide. This way the niacinamide can also help provide antioxidant protection to your vitamin e depleted skin.
The Bottom Line – Can You Use Niacinamide and Benzoyl Peroxide Together?
Yes, you absolutely can! Niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide offer better improvements to acne when combined together than when used on their own.
However, if you’re trying to keep your routine minimal, benzoyl peroxide may be the better option if you have acne and your skin isn’t particularly sensitive while niacinamide would be the better option for dry and/or sensitive skin and you’re trying to treat multiple skin concerns.