Can You Use Niacinamide and Retinol Together?

Published July 15th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Niacinamide and retinol are two popular ingredients that can be found in many skincare products. Niacinamide is also sometimes called niacin, or vitamin B3. Retinol is a form of vitamin A, which helps to regulate new skin growth while decreasing acne breakouts. Can you use Niacinamide and retinol together? What are the side effects of using Niacinamide and retinol together? Where can I get Niacinamide and retinol? We will answer these questions below!

What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide, also called nicotinamide, is a derivative of niacin, or nicotinic acid, and is a form of vitamin B3 that helps to maintain good skin health. It can be found in foods such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables, and whole grains, which are rich sources of niacin. There are many topical products containing Niacinamide (such as lotions and creams) for the treatment of acne vulgaris, more commonly known as acne. Niacinamide can also treat hyperpigmentation. Some people take niacin capsules orally for this purpose too, although the topical application of lotions, serums, or foams are the most popular method of using it. Although Niacinamide can also be used to treat the niacin deficiency of pellagra without causing skin flushing, today its main use is for treating acne. 

How does Niacinamide work on acne? 

The effectiveness of Niacinamide has been investigated through clinical trials with evidence showing an improvement in inflammatory cells after six months of use, suggesting anti-inflammatory effects associated with acne-prone skin. There are also Niacinamide creams that have been specifically approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to be labeled as "safe and effective" for use in treating acne. But how?

Niacinamide is the active ingredient in the medication and works on clearing your acne by suppressing glycolysis, which is the breaking down of glucose to form pyruvate. The niacinamide does this by inhibiting an enzyme involved in glycolysis called phosphofructokinase (PFK). It's a powerful acne fighter because it reduces sebum production that can lead to blocked pores and the formation of acne. Sebum is the natural oil your body produces in the sebaceous glands next to hair follicles. Increased sebum production can lead to oily skin and is often the main cause of acne.

What is the difference between Niacinamide and niacin? 

The words "niacin" and "Niacinamide" are thrown around and it can be confusing for those who have not encountered these terms before. Although very similar in chemical makeup and wording, the two are not the same. 

Niacin is Niacinamide with a chemical bond, which means it will not work as well on acne as Niacinamide does because of its inability to penetrate the skin easily. However, niacin has better effects than Niacinamide for cholesterol levels in the body making it preferable if you are looking at other benefits such as reducing your risk of heart disease or stroke. Niacin is less desirable if you have an interest primarily in treating acne. Niacinamide is a better option for the treatment of pellagra as it does not have the unintended side effect of skin flushing. 

What is Retinol?

Retinoids are a group of compounds that regulate the growth and differentiation processes in your skin cells, as well as stimulate collagen production. In other words, it increases skin turnover so you can see visibly healthier skin. The retinoic acid or vitamin A derivative, also known as retinol, is one such compound that behaves similarly to Niacinamide and niacin.

Retinol is a form of vitamin A that can be found in foods such as liver and milk. It also exists in topical creams and lotions for the treatment of acne. Additional benefits also include the treatment of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, or other signs of aging skin such as fine lines and dark spots. It even helps with uneven skin tone.

How does Retinol work on acne? 

Retinol is created from all-trans retinoic acid with niacin, another form of B complex vitamin. It works similar to other forms of topical tretinoins which are highly recommended for people who want clear skin but do not want to take oral medication for various reasons. 

Now let's break down the science of how it works on acne. The human body converts retinol to retinoic acid or retinal, another similarly spelled word that is NOT the same as retinol but in the same vitamin A family. It is then converted into all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) before it reaches the blood vessels throughout your entire system. Retinoic acid has been shown to reduce inflammation on the skin caused by acne vulgaris through its effect on cellular activity within sebaceous glands. The end result is fewer pimples. 

Can you use Niacinamide and Retinol together? 

Retinoic acid and Niacinamide can be used together to reduce acne symptoms. One study has shown that using both together can work even better than just using one alone. Niacinamide helps with reducing inflammation, while retinoic acid, the form that retinol takes after being broken down by your body,  reduces the amount of sebum produced by your skin cells. 

Using Niacinamide plus topical vitamin A might increase side effects because it will have a higher concentration on your skin. You can try Niacinamide alone first and see how your skin reacts to it, if you are not seeing enough improvement then you can add retinol. Before you do this though, it is always advisable to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see what works best for you. 

What are the side effects of using Retinol and Niacinamide together?

It's important to note that some people may experience side effects when using Niacinamide with retinol. 

It is not advisable if you: 

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding 
  • Are under the age of 14
  • Suffer from diabetes mellitus type I (insulin-dependent) 
  • Suffer from liver cirrhosis
  • Suffer from hyperlipidemia (high blood fat levels) in association with high serum triglyceride levels
  • Have chronic alcoholism and are receiving niacin therapy; or
  • If you use an immunosuppressive agent such as chemotherapy or a medication that inhibits immune response like corticosteroids 

Side effects that have been documented as a result of using Niacinamide plus topical Vitamin A include contact dermatitis which is redness on the area where both products were applied. Skin irritation is the most common side effect and includes, but is not limited to:

  • Itchiness
  • Burning or tingling of the skin 
  • Tightness of skin 
  • Dryness and peeling

If you notice any side effects, please contact your dermatologist or pharmacist immediately to determine the safest course of action.

Where can I get Niacinamide and Retinol? 

Niacinamide can be found in many of the cosmetics that you use, including your makeup and moisturizer. You will need to consult with your doctor or pharmacist about taking Niacinamide tablets for skin health. Niacinamide in pill form is not available over-the-counter and only through prescription. 

This is also true for retinol. It is also available in a stronger medication through prescription but is found in lower doses in over-the-counter medications. Please consult with your physician or pharmacist to determine the most effective treatment and skincare products for you. 

Conclusion 

Retinol and Niacinamide are both good for your acne and help counter the effects of aging. Niacinamide is a skincare product that helps reduce the signs of aging and improve skin texture and tone while also reducing acne. Retinol, which the body converts to retinoic acid, and retinoic acid is an active form similar to niacinamide that can be found in a prescription form or over-the-counter after being broken down by your body into ATRA. Retinoic acid has been shown to reduce inflammation on the skin caused by acne vulgaris through its effect on cellular activity within sebaceous glands. Taken together the two can form a formidable one, two, punch against acne if recommended by your doctor. 


Sources: 

Harvard Health Publishing – Drugstore skincare: Science-backed anti-aging ingredients that don’t break the bank

Oregon State University – Vitamin A and Skin Health

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