If you’re trying to simplify your skincare routine or are wondering what ingredient you should try next, you may find yourself trying to decide between niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid.
They’re two very popular ingredients but which one is right for your skin?
Niacinamide is also known as vitamin B3. It’s a powerful antioxidant that can help protect your skin from external stressors like the sun and pollution. It has a whole host of benefits for your skin, including:
- Increasing collagen production
- Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
- Treating acne
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing oiliness
- Brightening skin and reducing hyperpigmentation (dark patches of skin)
- Hydrating skin by strengthening your skin’s barrier
It’s suitable for all skin types although some people do find that higher concentrations cause breakouts and irritation (see here for how to avoid that).
Best Niacinamide Products:
Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense Serum (best for hyperpigmentation)
Dermalogica Age Bright Clearing Serum (best for acne)
Stratia Rewind (best for hydrating/moisturizing)
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant which means that it draws water from the deeper layer of your skin (your dermis) into the outer layer of your skin (your epidermis). It’s found everywhere in your body but most of it is in your skin.
In your dermis, hyaluronic acid works alongside collagen to give your skin its volume or ‘plumpness’ which helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
In your epidermis, hyaluronic acid is part of your skin’s natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) and regulates the amount of water that moves in and out of your individual skin cells.
Hyaluronic acid can bind up to 1000x its weight in water which makes it an excellent humectant.
It’s hydrating effect means that it can also:
- Improve fine lines and wrinkles (mainly short-term effects but may last longer over time)
- Reduce inflammation
- Calm and soothe skin
- Increase elasticity and plumpness
- Helps heal wounds by reducing inflammation and bacterial growth
Niacinamide vs Hyaluronic Acid
Hydrating Effects of Niacinamide vs Hyaluronic Acid
Both niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid help hydrate your skin but in slightly different ways.
Your skin’s hydration is controlled by your skin’s ‘barrier’ – the outermost layer of your epidermis known as the stratum corneum.
Your stratum corneum has a ‘brick-and-mortar’ like structure where your skin cells (the bricks) are held together by a glue-like mixture of lipids (mortar). These lipids are made up of a mixture of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids and work together to create a physical barrier that prevents water from escaping your skin and irritants from entering.
As mentioned above, your skin cells contain natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) like hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, urea, and amino acids, which control how much water goes in and out.
If you’ve got plenty of water in your skin cells, they’ll be nice and plump which will increase your skin’s elasticity (it’s ability to return to normal after being poked etc.) and keep it looking healthy and strong.
As you can see, your skin’s overall hydration depends on both the NMFs in your skin cells and the mixture of lipids that hold your skin cells together.
While hyaluronic acid increases the amount of water in your skin cells, niacinamide is able to increase the levels of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acid. This strengthens your skin’s barrier and prevents moisture loss.
Hyaluronic acids hydrating effects are also almost instant whereas it takes at least 4 weeks for niacinamide to replenish your barrier lipids.
Anti-Aging Effects of Niacinamide vs Hyaluronic Acid
Niacinamide has far more research to back up it’s anti-aging effects compared to hyaluronic acid. For example, There is plenty of research to demonstrate niacinamides ability to boost collagen production and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
It can also help prevent sun damage, the biggest cause of premature skin aging, via it’s antioxidant effects.
As you age, the levels of hyaluronic acid in your epidermis decrease which reduces the elasticity of your skin and can lead to a ‘saggy’ appearance. However, applying hyaluronic acid to your skin has been shown to increase skin elasticity.
One study did find that hyaluronic acid improved fine lines and wrinkles (as well as elasticity and hydration) after 8-weeks of use but this may be purely due to its hydrating effect.
In contrast, niacinamide can treat many different signs of premature skin aging. For example, it prevents the transfer of melanin from your melanin producing cells (melanocytes) to your surrounding skin cells which means that it can prevent the uneven distribution of melanin (hyperpigmentation/dark marks/etc.). It also improves skin texture, yellowness, redness, and elasticity.
Niacinamide vs Hyaluronic Acid For Acne
As hyaluronic acid has been shown to improve wound healing by reducing inflammation and bacterial growth, it may have some benefits for acne-prone skin.
Some research has also demonstrated that hyaluronic acid can reduce oil production.
Since acne is caused by a combination of reduced cellular turnover, bacteria, increased oil production, and inflammation, theoretically hyaluronic acid should offer some improvement in acne. However, there’s no research to suggest that this is the case.
In contrast, there’s a fair amount of research backing niacinamide as an acne treatment.
Research has shown that niacinamide can significantly reduce inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne over an eight-week period. It’s also more effective at treating acne than a commonly used topical antibiotic (clindamycin).
Plus, niacinamide at strengths as low as 2% can reduce oiliness in as little as two-weeks of use.
The fact that niacinamide can strengthen your skin barrier may also indirectly improve acne as acne is associated with skin barrier damage and reduced ceramide levels.
How To Use Niacinamide vs Hyaluronic Acid
Niacinamide and hyaluronic acid are both best used twice per day, although once a day is fine if it fits in better with your current routine.
One thing to bear in mind with hyaluronic acid is that, by drawing water from your dermis into your epidermis (where it can escape), it may end up dehydrating your skin if you’re in a dry environment.
If you live in a very humid environment then you probably don’t need to worry about hyaluronic acid dehydrating your skin. However, if you live in a dry environment, here are a few tips:
- Always apply hyaluronic acid to damp skin – for example, straight after cleansing or after the use of a facial mist/spray.
- Use a humidifier or apply in a humid bathroom (e.g. after showering) so that there is plenty of moisture in the air around you.
- Apply a moisturizer afterwards to lock in moisture (the hyaluronic acid can also draw water from the moisturizer into your skin).
Niacinamide is a little less fussy but it’s important to note that all of the research studies use lower concentrations (2-5%) than are contained in a lot of popular serums (e.g. 10%, 12%, 20%, etc). There’s no evidence to suggest that these higher concentrations are more effective but they definitely can be more irritating.
The Bottom Line
If you’re wondering which ingredient to use out of niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid it’s mainly down to personal preference and what you’re trying to achieve with your skincare routine.
If you’re looking for quick hydration then hyaluronic acid is definitely the ingredient for you. However, if you have other skin concerns like acne, aging, or hyperpigmentation, niacinamide would be a better choice.
Of course, you don’t actually have to choose between the two. In fact, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid may even work better together.