Niacinamide is one of those skincare ingredients that seems to do just about everything and suits every skin type. It’s a great addition to any skincare routine whether your concern is pigmentation, rosacea, or anti-aging. But can you layer it safely with other skincare ingredients?
In this article, I’m going to explain what niacinamide is, why it’s beneficial for your skin, and explain the myths behind what NOT to mix with niacinamide…
What Is Niacinamide?
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 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
There seem to be three main concerns when it comes to what not to mix with niacinamide:
- Niacinamide may increase the pH of acids that require a low pH to function optimally and therefore make them less effective
- Acidic ingredients may convert niacinamide to niacin (nicotinic acid)
- Mixing niacinamide with other skincare ingredients may increase the risk of skin irritation
What NOT To Mix With Niacinamide – Vitamin C (As Ascorbic Acid)
One of the biggest issues with vitamin C is that it is notoriously unstable in its active form (ascorbic acid) and is easily degraded by light and air. It also needs to be formulated with a low pH (less than 3.5) in order to penetrate your skin and exert its effects.
Your skin’s natural surface pH is slightly acidic with a pH level anywhere between 4.7 – 6.0.
Any skincare product you apply to your skin has to adjust to this pH and is usually formulated with this in mind.
When you hear people talk about differing pH levels in skincare, it’s usually a misunderstanding about how skin care product formulation works.
For example, an ascorbic acid product will be more effective if the formula has a pH of 3.5 or less, NOT if your skin has a pH of 3.5 or less.
As niacinamide has a similar pH to your skin, it won’t make ascorbic acid any less effective than your own skin would.
The issue of pH differences only becomes a problem when formulating products that contain niacinamide and ascorbic acid together.
In fact, niacinamide and vitamin C work very well together, particularly when it comes to brightening skin and fading dark marks as they both work in slightly different ways
Vitamin C prevents the activity of an enzyme that is essential for the melanin production process (tyrosinase) while niacinamide prevents the spread of existing melanin from your melanin producing cells (melanocytes) to your surrounding skin cells.
Also check out: Niacinamide vs Vitamin C
What NOT To Mix With Niacinamide – Other Acids
It’s not just pH dependent acids that people believe will be ineffective when layered with niacinamide. There’s also the fear that any acidic ingredient will convert niacinamide to niacin.
Niacin may be as effective as niacinamide, but it activates your skin’s immune system (Langerhans cells) which leads to the release of substances (prostaglandins) that increase inflammation and blood flow to your skin.
This facial reddening is often referred to as ‘niacin flush’ and can cause an uncomfortable or tingling sensation.
Many people avoid layering niacinamide and acids for this reason. However, niacinamide is a very stable ingredient and it takes a very low pH, a very high heat, and a long time to convert niacinamide to niacin in laboratory experiments.
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What NOT To Mix With Niacinamide – Irritating Actives
The final concern, when it comes to what not to mix with niacinamide, is whether layering niacinamide with other skincare ingredients may increase your risk of skin irritation.
In most cases, this concern is unwarranted.
Niacinamide can actually help reduce the risk of skin irritation commonly experienced with irritating actives, like retinol and acids, by strengthening your skin barrier.
Your skin has a ‘bricks-and-mortar’-like structure, where your skin cells are the bricks and are held together with a sticky mixture of lipids (mostly ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids).
Niacinamide increases the natural production of ceramides in your skin which helps to strengthen your skin barrier, keep your skin hydrated, and reduce irritation.
Not only can it prevent irritation from retinoids and acids, it can also enhance their effects.
Here are some ingredients that niacinamide pairs particularly well with (click to read more):
The main thing to bear in mind when it comes to the irritation potential of niacinamide is that all the research focuses on strengths of 2-5% which is much less than the 10% commonly found in a lot of serums.
There is a risk that using niacinamide at concentrations higher than 5% alongside irritating actives may increase your risk of skin irritation.
Summary – What NOT To Mix Niacinamide With
There are a few common misconceptions about what not to mix niacinamide with but the truth is that niacinamide is a very stable ingredient that is safe to layer with most skincare ingredients. It’s unlikely to increase your risk of skin irritation and may even help protect your skin from irritation as long as its used at the correct strength (less than 5%).