Today we answer the question, can I use Vitamin C and Niacinamide together in my skincare routine?
The answer is yes. You may have heard not to mix these 2 ingredients together, but let me explain WHY you can most definitely use them both in your skincare routine.
If you’re new here, my name is Jackie and I’m the CEO and Chief Product Obsessor at Maelove.
So, if you’re asking this question, then you’re probably already aware that Vitamin C and Niacinamide, which is Vitamin B3, are both good for the skin.
Vitamin C fights sun damage and free radicals, which are huge drivers of premature aging of the skin.
On the other hand, Niacinamide is another superstar ingredient. Niacinamide fortifies the skin barrier and increases its ability to retain moisture. It’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory. So all combined, niacinamide has a calming effect on a compromised skin barrier and on dry skin that often suffers from redness and irritation.
In addition, Vitamin C and Niacinamide can both increase collagen production and combat hyperpigmentation. Awesome benefits right?
Vitamin C and Niacinamide go about delivering these benefits via different angles and mechanisms, so when used together they’re more effective than using just one.
Now, you might ask yourself. I take a multi-vitamin that has Vitamin C and Vitamin B3 in it. Why do I also need to apply these ingredients on my skin? Let us explain.
For Vitamin C, as we age, the levels of Vitamin C naturally decline in the skin EVEN if we maintain a healthy and well balanced diet. The exact mechanism on why that happens is unknown, but it may be related to decreased blood flow to your skin because of aging-related changes in microvasculature. In fact, one study published in 1993 by Tsuchida showed that the blood flow to your skin at 70 years old decreases to less than half, about 40% that of a 20 year old. This in turn can reduce nutrient flow to the skin.
In healthy skin, levels of Vitamin C are 425% higher in the epidermis than the dermis which is the layer that receives blood flow, so your epidermis needs to pull Vitamin C from your dermis.
You want that Vitamin C in that outer layer of skin, the epidermis, because it protects everything inside from UV damage. In aging, you have decreased Vitamin C in both the dermis and the epidermis, and so it’s a vicious cycle, where you not only have more damage but also are subject to more damage without that protective antioxidant layer of Vitamin C in your epidermis.
Further, antioxidants like Vitamin C get depleted as they fight free radicals so to maintain that protection, you have to replenish Vitamin C levels regularly. Topical supplementation directly onto the skin can offer an efficient route of restoring increased levels of vitamin C in our skin.
For Vitamin B3, there is a fascinating study we want to tell you about. Before we get into the study, there is a term we need to introduce: ”Cofactor.” Cofactors are helper molecules that play critical roles in keeping our cells functioning. Without them, enzymes can’t do their job.
Our body takes niacinamide and converts them into very important cofactors. What is interesting from this study is that they demonstrate that declines in these niacinamide derived cofactors play a huge role in the aging-related changes in the cells themselves.
In 2001, Oblong and colleagues presented their research in which they took skin cells (specifically cells called fibroblasts, which are dermal cells that make collagen) and cultured them in dishes. One cell line was derived from skin from a 7 year old and the other from a 72 year old.
What the researchers found is that when the cells received the exact same nutrients in the dishes, the skin cells from the older person had only about half of the NADPH levels compared to that of the younger person. NADPH is one of the cofactors derived from Niacinamide. Further, the older skin cells produced much less collagen. Loss of collagen is why our skin looks more saggy as we age.
This is called “senescence” in biology, where cells just gradually deteriorate with age. However, not all is doom and gloom.
When Niacinamide was added to the nutrient medium for the older cell line, intracellular NADPH levels inside the older cells increased and the cells began to pump out more collagen. Hence, supplementation with niacinamide could partially compensate for senescence and restore functioning of the older skin cell so that it behaved like a younger cell.
This is why direct, topical supplementation of vitamins can have a meaningful effect on skin health - as we combat the effects of the environment and general aging to maintain firm, youthful, and healthy skin.
So, long story short, not only can you use both Vitamin C and Niacinamide in your skincare routine, we think you should use both because they’re great, well-researched and proven ingredients that have complementary benefits.
Now, when you’re making a skincare formulation, like we do at Maelove, there is a reason NOT to combine Vitamin C and niacinamide into a single product. Why is that you ask?
First of all, in most cases, the Vitamin C you’d find used in skincare products is ascorbic acid. Or L-ascorbic acid to be more specific although on ingredient labeling you’d see just “ascorbic acid” because that’s the official recognized ingredient term by INCI. I-N-C-I which is international standards in cosmetic ingredient labeling.
If a skincare product says it contains Vitamin C, probably 95 out of 100 times, it’s ascorbic acid. This is because ascorbic acid is the most widely used type of Vitamin C as it’s the most researched and proven form of Vitamin C.
Ascorbic acid is water soluble, which is why you usually find it in a serum form but it has to be formulated very specifically for it to actually get past your skin barrier and into your skin in significant amounts.
Ascorbic acid should be formulated to be pretty acidic - in pH 3.5 or lower and optimally at 10% or higher concentration. Ideally you also want to see it formulated with both Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid. This is because a study by Lin and colleagues in 2005 showed that if you add antioxidants Vitamin E and Ferulic acid to Vitamin C, this not only improves the stability of Vitamin C, but it also increases the photoprotective ability of Vitamin C by eightfold compared to Vitamin C alone
On the other hand, Niacinamide should ideally be formulated between a pH of 4 and 6 Why? Because outside of this pH range, Niacinamide is more likely to break down into Niacin which can be irritating to the skin.
If you’ve experienced irritation from a niacinamide product in the past, it could be because perhaps the product you used was not appropriately formulated and the niacinamide in it turned into niacin. You also want to see products with a Niacinamide concentration of at least 5% since studies have shown this concentration has better efficacy than lower concentrations.
So if you see ascorbic acid and Niacinamide formulated together, one or the other may not be working as well as it should because these two ingredients are optimal or stable in different pH ranges.
In summary, yes you can use both Vitamin C and Niacinamide in your skincare routine. These two ingredients should come in separate products. You can apply them separately in steps. We’d say give enough time between products. The general rule of thumb is a minute or two between steps.
Lin FH, Lin JY, Gupta RD, Tournas JA, Burch JA, Selim MA, Monteiro-Riviere NA, Grichik JM, Zielinski J, Pinnell SR (2005). “Ferulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doubles its Photoprotection of Skin.” J Invest Dermatol 125: 826-832.
Oblong JE, Bissett DL, Ritter JL, Kurtz KK, and Schnicker MS. “Niacinamide stimulates collagen synthesis from human dermal fibroblasts and differentiation marker in normal human epidermal keratinocytes: Potential of niacinamide to normalize aged skin cells to correct homeostatic balance” 59th Annual Meeting American Academy of Dermatology, Washington, 2001.
Tsuchida Y (1993). “The effect of aging and arteriosclerosis on human skin blood flow.” J Dermatol Sci 5(3): 175-181.