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How to Use Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide

Updated: Jan 21

If you are struggling with uneven, dull, and textured skin, you might have heard that glycolic acid and niacinamide are two actives that are known to aid with these concerns. However are they safe to use together in the same routine? How often can they be used?

a glycolic acid toner and a niancinamide powder from the skincare brand The Ordinary

Does one nullify the effect of the other? How long should you wait to apply each? There are a lot of questions you may be asking yourself when it comes to pairing niacinamide and glycolic acid. This post will answer them all.

Using Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Together

Glycolic acid is an AHA that exfoliates the surface layer of the skin to reveal smoother and brighter skin. It helps smoothen and even out skin texture by dissolving dead skin cells that cause the skin to be rough and dull. Niacinamide is the active form of Vitamin B3, a very versatile active that supports various skin functions such as hydration, and sebum production and also helps to fade hyperpigmentation for even skin tone.

a glycolic acid toner and a niancinamide powder from the skincare brand The Ordinary

For a long time, these two actives were thought to be incompatible with people stating that niacinamide with a pH of 6 reduces the effectiveness of glycolic acid with a pH of 3.5. However recent studies and brand-formulating skincare products that contain both actives have proven that glycolic acid and niacinamide can be used together.

How to Combine Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide

Glycolic acid and niacinamide can be used both in the same routine, separately, or in a product that blends both actives. Here is a breakdown of the various ways to use both in your routine.

Alternate Usage

If you have two separate products that contain each actives, for example, a glycolic acid cleanser and a niacinamide serum; use your glycolic-based product at night to avoid sensitivity to the sun. You can use the niacinamide-based product in the morning.

Using Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide in the Same Routine

The easiest way to use niacinamide and glycolic acid together in the same routine safely is by using a highly quality and stable product that combines. The two actives do not negate each other but on the contrary, work synergistically to brighten and smoothen the skin.

If you prefer to layer both actives, the order of application will depend on the form they come in e.g. cleanser versus toner/cream. Both are water-soluble actives so will be found in water-based products.

Will Glycolic Acid Cause Me A Niacin Flush?

When niacinamide gets exposed to a very low pH it can get converted to niacin which is equally as effective for the skin as niacinamide but may trigger inflammation and redness. That is what is referred to as the “niacin flush”.

a glycolic acid toner from the skincare brand The Ordinary

Because glycolic acid is effective at a pH of 3.5% it was believed that pairing it with niacinamide p.h 6 will trigger this “niacin flush”. However, this is a great misconception due to the misunderstanding of how ph works. The skin’s pH sits at a pH of 4.7 to 5.75 which by this erroneous logic means it is more likely for your skin to render glycolic acid more ineffective than niacinamide.

The way pH functions is that all skincare products when properly formulated adjunct to the skin’s pH remain effective. This means that although glycolic acid is said to be effective when formulated at a pH of 3.5, it does mean your skin needs to sit at the same pH for glycolic acid to be effective. The same goes for niacinamide.

Studies have proven that for niacinamide to be converted to niacin and trigger the “niacin flush”, it needs to be exposed to a very low pH but also has to be in contact with very high heat, and this over a very long period. These are the same conditions when applied to the skin. Therefore, it is unlike the blend of niacinamide and glycolic acid to trigger a “niacin flush”.

This doesn’t mean however that each actives do not present a risk of irritation to the skin which we will address in another section of this article.

Benefits of Using Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Together

Fights Hyperpigmentation

Using glycolic acid and niacinamide together can help fade hyperpigmentation of discolorations on the skin. Glycolic acid works by exfoliating dead skin cells and pigmented skin found on the surface layer of skin like dark spots and UV-induced discoloration. Niacinamide has strong anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation in the skin which usually triggers excess production of melanin.

Suitable For All Skin Types

Unless you have very sensitive glycolic acid niacinamide is tolerated by all skin types. For dry skin, this pair can help boost skin hydration and support skin barrier function. Oily and acne-prone skin types can also benefit from this combo as it will help reduce excess sebum production and unclog pores. This means fewer acne breakouts.

Reduces Skin Aging

Studies have shown that niacinamide can help tackle signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines. Glycolic acid on the other hand boosts collagen production that results in smoother and firmer skin and slows premature aging.

Improves Skin Texture

Both glycolic acid and niacinamide can help improve rough and textured skin. Combining both actives in your routine therefore will help you get not only a more even skin tone but also smoother skin.

Possible Side effects of using Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide

While these two actives are mostly tolerated by all skin types, there still exists a risk of irritation when it comes to their use;

  • Glycolic acid has a small molecular size meaning it easily gets absorbed into the skin and has a higher potential to irritate the skin. Be careful to start with a low percentage <5% and build up to know your skin’s tolerance.

  • Allergy to niacinamide is not common but also not unheard of especially when the dosage at more than 5%. Again start slow and build up your skin’s tolerance.

The Best Glycolic Acid Products to Buy

This affordable yet very effective glycolic acid toner has gone viral so many times not only as a great facial exfoliant but also as an amazing exfoliant for dark armpits.

This night serum, with a special blend of glycolic, polyhydroxy, and fruit acids, gently exfoliates, dissolving dead skin cells for a refined texture by morning. It noticeably brightens dull skin, delivering a smoother finish without any sticky residue.

This product is enriched with a blend of AHAs like glycolic, lactic, pyruvic, and tartaric acids, targeting uneven textures, and revealing soft and smooth skin. With the hydrating benefits of red algae, it ensures skin feels supple. It's versatile enough to double as a facial cleanser.

The Best Niacinamide Products to Buy

This dual-action serum doubles as a highlighter. With niacinamide, watermelon amino acids, and hyaluronic acid, it hydrates and brightens over time, while its luminous sheen offers immediate radiance. Suitable for pre-makeup application or as an over-makeup highlighter for an instant glow.

This potent serum boasts 10% niacinamide and 1% zinc PCA, clinically validated to diminish dark spots, pores, and the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles. I have used this product and here's my review of it.

This toner is an alcohol-free product and with niacinamide, arbutin, and licorice root extract, it addresses dullness, hyperpigmentation, and inflammation.


Can Glycolic Acid Be Used with Niacinamide?

Yes glycolic acid and niacinamide can be used together

Does Glycolic Acid Come Before Niacinamide in a Routine?

The layer order will depend on the form of the products you're using and also on personal preferences. Both are water-based actives and are usually formulated in water-based products. So go from thinnest to thickest.

Can You Mix Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide for the Armpits?

Glycolic acid can help prevent odor-causing bacteria from developing in the armpit while niacinamide can support it to brighten dark under armpits.

Does Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Treat Acne?

Glycolic acid can help unclog pores and reduce the risk of acne breakouts. Niacinamide has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe inflammatory forms of acne and reduce sebum production in acne-prone skin.

Does Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Treat Hyperpigmentation?

Yes, both glycolic acid and niacinamide can help fade various forms of hyperpigmentation such as dark spots, melasma, and UV-induced pigmentation.


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