Can You Use Lactic Acid and Niacinamide Together?

If you care about the appearance of your skin, then it’s safe to say you are on the lookout for skincare ingredients that can help you fight the signs of aging.  Lactic acid and niacinamide are two research-backed ingredients that have been proven to be effective.

Can you use them together to achieve your best skin? The good news is yes, I use both of these ingredients in the same skincare routine with no problems.

You can use lactic acid and niacinamide together to achieve smooth, even-toned skin. Lactic acid exfoliates the top layer of skin cells to reveal the fresh, younger-looking skin underneath. Niacinamide fights the signs of skin aging as well as reduces acne and inflammation.

Can you use lactic acid and niacinamide

Today I’ll share with you how you can benefit from both of them and use them together for the best results.

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Benefits of Lactic Acid

Lactic Acid is one type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which are chemical compounds used to exfoliate the skin. Alpha-hydroxy acids help diminish fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, uneven skin tone and improve skin texture. They work on the skin’s surface, loosening the bonds between the dead skin cells and the skin underneath. These dead skin cells naturally fall off on their own but, unfortunately, this process slows down as we age.

By weakening the bonds between the skin cells, the AHA’s speed up the process of cell turnover and skin exfoliation to allow that softer, younger-looking skin underneath to show.  There have been studies showing that AHA’s are helpful for acne scars, collagen production, and hyperpigmentation among other skin concerns.

As someone with sensitive skin, lactic acid is actually my favorite of the alpha hydroxy acids to use. The molecule size of lactic acid is larger than glycolic acid, making it more gentle since the larger molecules don’t penetrate as far into the skin. It’s a great starting point for someone who is new to using chemical exfoliants.

Lactic acid is commonly found in strengths of either 5% or 10%.  It’s unusual to see it higher than 10% since at that point it would probably be more effective to use a 5% glycolic acid product. One benefit specific to lactic acid is that it is hydrating, making it a great choice for dry skin.

✅For more on the different types of AHAs, how to best use them and their benefits, take a look at my guide to AHAs.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10%

Benefits of Niacinamide

Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3 also known as nicotinamide, has become an increasingly popular skincare ingredient in recent years. It’s an antioxidant that offers a wide array of skin benefits.

Antioxidants fight free radicals, which damage your skin and cause signs of skin aging such as dark spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Free radicals come from sources such as the sun, pollution, and cigarette smoke to attack your skin cells.

If you are interested in learning about other powerful antioxidants, check out my articles on green tea and Vitamin C.

Niacinamide also decreases hyperpigmentation. Dark spots from sun damage make us look older because our skin tone is uneven.  In this study, formulations of 2% and 5% niacinamide significantly reduced hyperpigmentation in just 4 weeks.

If you have acne-prone skin, you’ll be happy to hear that niacinamide is also a great ingredient in fighting acne. This is great news for those with sensitive or dry skin types since many other acne treatments are difficult to tolerate. Niacinamide is known for being gentle and having few side effects and has been shown to be just as effective as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

Last in this long list of niacinamide benefits is that it is anti-inflammatory. For me, this is a huge benefit because I have very pale, sensitive skin. Many days, I feel like my skin is puffy and red.  Niacinamide has been effective for me in this area and overall makes my skin less red.

chart showing how niacinamide can help hydrate skin

How To Use Lactic Acid with Niacinamide

To use both these ingredients together you want to make sure they are applied in the right order. Because lactic acid is an exfoliant, it should be applied to bare, clean skin. I apply lactic acid immediately after cleansing, usually in the evening. It can be applied in the morning, but I prefer to use an antioxidant serum in the morning and an exfoliant in the evening.

When applying lactic acid and niacinamide, you only need to wait until the lactic acid is absorbed into your skin before applying the niacinamide. Many people think that because lactic acid has a lower PH level, that it needs to be given time to work before this is applied. Paula’s Choice has an excellent article on why that isn’t true.

Another option is to do as I do and apply one product in the morning and the other in the evening.

NiacinamideLactic Acid
Benefitsfades dark spots, brightens skin, fights acne, reduces inflammationExfoliates skin, hydrating 
Side effectsrare, but can cause irritation at high concentrationsCan cause irritation for sensitive skin if overused, makes skin more sensitive to the sun
Table Comparing Niacinamide vs Lactic Acid

Best Lactic Acid and Niacinamide Products

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% or 10% +HA

The Ordinary lactic acid serums contain hyaluronic acid for moisture as well as Tasmanian pepperberry, which is soothing to the skin. They make lactic acid in both 5% and 10% concentrations. I currently use the 10% serum and have repurchased it several times. I find The Ordinary products to be effective and a good value.

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

This light lactic acid exfoliant is amazingly hydrating and gentle enough for sensitive skin. It has squalane and aloe along with prickly pear extract to soothe skin. Licorice brightens and lemongrass is great for calming the skin and also smells amazing!  Good Genes is my all-time favorite exfoliant and can be found in both 1 ounce and 1.7-ounce sizes. This is a splurge for me as I’m usually a pretty frugal person. But every time I use it I fall in love all over again!

Buying Tip: If you want to try it without a big investment there are travel sizes available with Sunday Riley’s Luna Oil in the Power Couple or with the Ceramic Slip Cleanser in the Flash Fix. These are great ways to try it out without a big investment and they also make cute gifts for skincare lovers.

Naturium Niacinamide Plus Zinc Serum

This serum combines niacinamide, zinc Vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid for an effective product that hydrates skin while brightening skin tone. Zinc and niacinamide both work to reduce acne. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that will protect your skin from damage that causes the signs of skin aging. As a bonus, this also comes in a pump dispenser which is hygienic and easy to use.

Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster

This product was my first introduction to niacinamide and I have repurchased it many times. Paula’s Choice is a skincare brand that you can’t go wrong with. She uses research-backed ingredients and never adds artificial fragrance or dye. Although niacinamide is the star ingredient, this serum also has hyaluronic acid for hydration, a Vitamin C derivative for brightening power,  and licorice root extract to calm redness.  Paula’s Choice also has a 20% niacinamide serum, which I haven’t tried since I see good results with the 10%.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s take a deeper dive into some common questions about these two amazing ingredients.

Is lactic acid weaker than glycolic acid?

The strength of an alpha hydroxy acid depends on the size of the molecule. Since glycolic acid has a smaller molecule size than lactic acid it penetrates into the skin deeper and more quickly. This causes it to exfoliate more effectively, but also to be more irritating.

I find lactic acid to be effective without causing irritation for my sensitive skin. If your skin is extremely sensitive, you may want to try mandelic acid or malic acid. They are both larger than lactic and so will be even less irritating.

The best way to try any new skincare product for the first time is to do a patch test on a small section of skin prior to using it on your face. Wait at least 24 hours to make sure you don’t have any skin irritation.

For more on glycolic acid check out this article on using Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid together.

Is niacinamide the same as niacin?

Niacinamide and Niacin are not the same things, although they are both forms of Vitamin B3.  Niacin can cause skin flushing at higher doses so it is not usually used in skincare products.  Niacinamide does not have this side effect. The body can convert niacin to niacinamide, so niacin is more commonly taken as a supplement as opposed to be applied topically to the skin.

What should you not mix with niacinamide?

Niacinamide can be used together with most other skincare ingredients. Although it was previously thought al ascorbic acid Vitamin C serum and niacinamide are incompatible, modern formulations of Vitamin C are more stable and the two ingredients can be used together.

Can you mix lactic acid and niacinamide together?

Don’t mix any two separate products together.  Each product is formulated to work best with the specific active ingredients and at the precise PH at which it is made. If you want to use both lactic acid and niacinamide together in your skin care routine, apply the lactic acid product first and allow it to sink into the skin.  Then apply the niacinamide product.

Final Thoughts On Using Niacinamide With Lactic Acid

Lactic Acid and niacinamide are both effective for achieving smooth and even-toned skin. I hope this article has been helpful for you in learning how to use them together, Regardless of whether you have oily skin, sensitive skin, or are acne-prone, you can use them both for great results.

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