Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide: The Perfect Skincare Duo

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If you’re always looking for products to improve your skin’s texture, tone, and overall appearance, then you may have heard of two popular skincare ingredients: glycolic acid and niacinamide.

Both are known for reducing fine lines and wrinkles while improving skin texture and hydration.

woman with a white serum dropper putting serum in her hand

But how do you use these ingredients together in your skincare routine?

In this article, we’ll dive into the benefits of glycolic acid and niacinamide and provide tips on how to use them effectively to achieve the best possible results.

Fast Facts

  • Glycolic acid is an exfoliating AHA derived from sugarcane, while niacinamide is a hydrating and anti-aging vitamin B3.
  • Both ingredients offer a range of skincare benefits, but it’s important to use them correctly to avoid irritation.
  • You can use glycolic acid and niacinamide together. Wait 15 to 30 minutes between applications, or apply glycolic acid at night and niacinamide in the morning.
  • Start with lower concentrations if you have sensitive skin, and be cautious of potential adverse reactions.

Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide: The Basics

At quick glance, what are glycolic acid and niacinamide? How do they differ?

Here are some of the key characteristics of these two powerful ingredients:

Glycolic AcidNiacinamide
What Is It?An alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that exfoliates the skin.A water-soluble vitamin that moisturizes the skin.
Who Is It For?Best suited for people with dull, dry, or mature skin.Best suited for people with oily, acne-prone, or sensitive skin.
What Is It For?Can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.Can help improve the overall health and hydration of the skin. Can also smooth out wrinkles.
Is It Irritating?Can be irritating for some people and should be used in moderation.Non-irritating and can be used in higher concentrations than glycolic acid.

Quick Tip

In general, if you are looking to brighten and exfoliate your skin, glycolic acid may be a better choice.

If you are looking to regulate sebum production, reduce the appearance of pores, and improve overall skin health, niacinamide may be a better choice.

You can introduce both ingredients into your skincare routine and use them together to maximize their perks. Read on to learn how.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). It is a water-soluble acid derived from sugarcane and commonly used in skincare products to exfoliate the skin, reduce signs of aging, reverse damage, and improve discoloration.

This ingredient works by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, allowing them to be easily sloughed off to reveal smoother, brighter skin underneath.

It’s generally well tolerated by most skin types, but it can be irritating to some people, especially those with sensitive skin.

A woman is applying a face mask with glycolic acid to her face.

Benefits of Using Glycolic Acid

Exfoliates the Skin

Because of its incredible ability to remove dead skin cells off the surface of the skin, it helps unclog pores and prevent frequent breakouts. This results in smooth, clean, and healthy skin.

Combats Signs of Aging

Glycolic acid stimulates collagen production, which can help restore elasticity and reduce fine lines, wrinkles, sagginess, and other signs of aging. It also improves tone and texture to give mature skin a more youthful appearance. 

Evens Skin Tone

Glycolic acid helps get rid of darker skin cells that cause hyperpigmentation. As such, it makes dark spots caused by excess melanin production or sun damage fade quickly. 

Allows for Better Absorption of Other Skincare Products

With superior exfoliating abilities, this ingredient clears away impurities to allow active ingredients from skincare products, such as cleansers and moisturizers, to penetrate the skin more efficiently.

Can Be Used on Various Skin Types

Glycolic acid is safe for oily, dry, and combination skin.

Can Be Found in Various Skincare Products

A major ingredient in a variety of skincare products, including cleansers and serums, glycolic acid is easy to incorporate into any existing skincare routine.

Who Should Use Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid can be beneficial for different people with different skin types. 

That said, it’s particularly ideal for those with the following skin concerns:

  • Aging skin
  • Hyperpigmentation and dark spots
  • Acne-prone skin
  • Normal to oily skin

Quick Tip

  • It’s important to note that glycolic acid may not suit everyone, especially those with sensitive skin.
  • It’s best to start with a lower glycolic acid concentration and do a patch test with the product before using it all over your face.
  • If you experience any redness, irritation, or discomfort, stop using it right away and consult your dermatologist about alternative options.

What Is Niacinamide?

Also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinamide, niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin that has become a popular ingredient in skincare products.

This ingredient can help improve the skin’s barrier function, which helps keep the skin hydrated and prevents transepidermal water loss (a phenomenon linked to persistent dryness).

It also helps improve skin texture, decrease fine lines and wrinkles, and increase collagen production, making it a popular anti-aging ingredient.

Like glycolic acid, niacinamide can be found in a wide range of skincare products, including moisturizers, serums, and toners.

Most skin types can benefit from using products with niacinamide. 

Benefits of Using Niacinamide

Improves Skin Hydration 

By strengthening the skin’s natural moisture barrier, niacinamide helps boost the skin’s moisture content and prevent dull, itchy, or dry skin. 

Fights and Defends Against Signs of Aging

Niacinamide stimulates collagen production that improves skin elasticity, leading to plump skin with noticeably fewer wrinkles and fine lines. 

Additionally, it protects the skin from environmental pollutants and UV damage that can contribute to signs of aging. 

Treats Acne

A cropped photo of a woman focusing on acne on her face.

This vitamin also helps control oil production and reduce blemishes, making it ideal for those with moderate to severe acne. As a bonus, it also shrinks enlarged pores, which are prominent in acne-prone skin.  

Brightens Skin

A clinical study in 2002 showed that niacinamide can brighten dark spots and reduce hyperpigmentation.

Works on Sensitive Skin

Niacinamide calms excessive redness and soothes inflammation, which is beneficial for anyone with sensitive skin or inflammatory conditions like rosacea

Who Should Use Niacinamide?

While niacinamide is suitable for most skin types, it may be more beneficial for people with the following skin concerns.

  • Mature skin
  • Oily or acne-prone skin
  • Dry or dehydrated skin
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Sensitive or irritated skin

Quick Tip

The percentage of niacinamide you should use will vary depending on your specific skin concern. 

  • If you have oily skin with mild blemishes, a 2% to 3% concentration is enough to help reduce shine.
  • If you have severe acne, go with a 10% concentration.
  • If you have dry skin, a 3% to 6% concentration works better in helping improve your skin’s moisture levels. 

Can You Use Glycolic Acid With Niacinamide?

Yes, you can use glycolic acid and niacinamide together in your skincare routine.

These two ingredients can work together to reduce wrinkles, treat acne, and brighten dull skin, but it’s important to use them correctly to avoid any potential irritation.

Take note that glycolic acid and niacinamide have different pH levels.

The ideal pH level range of niacinamide is 4 to 6, while glycolic acid has an optimal pH level range of 3 to 4. 

When products with different pH levels interact, they can cause facial flushing and redness. 

A good way to avoid this is by using niacinamide in the morning and glycolic acid at night or by waiting for 15 to 30 minutes between applications.  

A woman with body wrapped in a white towel is putting niacinamide on her face in front of a mirror.

How To Use Niacinamide and Glycolic Acid Together

If you want to use glycolic acid and niacinamide at the same time, make sure to layer them correctly. Here are a few tips to help you achieve this. 

Apply Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide in the Evening

Glycolic acid should be used only at night because it can increase photosensitivity or your skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation from sunlight. 

Niacinamide, on the other hand, can be used either in the morning or in the evening so that it can adjust to your use of glycolic acid. 

Use Glycolic Acid First

When layering skincare products, experts recommend starting with the product with the thinnest consistency and the lowest pH level. 

Between niacinamide and glycolic acid, it’s the latter that meets the above criteria. So it’s best to start with glycolic acid. 

Since it’s a superb exfoliator, it also removes dirt or dead skin that prevents niacinamide from absorbing fully into your skin. 

Wait 30 Minutes Before Using Niacinamide 

Make sure to wait 15 to 30 minutes before using niacinamide. This will prevent redness and enhance your skin’s absorption rate of both ingredients. 

Use a Lower Concentration of Glycolic Acid

Additionally, it’s generally recommended to use a lower concentration of glycolic acid (around 2 to 4.4%) and a higher concentration of niacinamide (5 to 10%), as niacinamide is less likely to cause irritation than glycolic acid.

If you have sensitive skin, it’s important to start slowly and get products with lower concentrations of these ingredients in smaller concentrations into your routine. 

How Often Can Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Be Used Together?

The frequency with which you use glycolic acid and niacinamide together depends on your skin type, sensitivity, and the concentration of the products you are using.

Here are important points to remember:

  • It’s best to start using these two ingredients together once or twice a week.
  • Over time, you can increase the concentration as your skin adjusts to the ingredients.
  • If you’re using a glycolic acid product with a higher concentration (5 to 10%), make sure to use it less frequently, such as once or twice a week.
  • You can use niacinamide every dayeven twice a day!
Young woman applying the correct amount of sunscreen for face and neck.

Possible Risks of Using Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Together

Using niacinamide and glycolic acid together can have potential adverse effects.

When used together improperly, they can cause the following:

To protect yourself from these risks, keep these tips in mind:

  • As previously mentioned, applying niacinamide in the morning and glycolic acid at night yields better results.
  • Make sure to use a moisturizer after applying either ingredient to protect your skin.
  • Don’t forget to use sunscreen during the day when using these ingredients, particularly glycolic acid, as it can increase your photosensitivity.
  • If you notice any adverse reactions, cut back on the frequency of use or discontinue use altogether.

Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide: Must-Try Products

Looking for product recommendations with each of these ingredients as headliners? We’ve got you covered. 

Our favorites are The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution and The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%! 

Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these products below. 

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Affordable and effective, this product is a great choice for skincare enthusiasts on a budget! 

Key benefits: Removes dead skin cells; treats hyperpigmentation; reduces signs of aging


  • Contains 7% glycolic acid
  • Formulated with natural ingredients
  • Ideal for dry and sensitive skin

With regular use, you can expect smoother, more radiant skin!


This toning solution contains 7% glycolic acid that helps exfoliate and brighten the skin.

It’s designed to be used after cleansing to help remove any impurities you may have missed during cleansing.

Moreover, it contains hydrating and soothing ingredients, including rose water, Centaurea cyanus flower water, aloe vera leaf water, and glycerin.

By clearing clogged pores, reducing blackheads, fading dark spots, and minimizing wrinkles, it enhances the tone and texture of your skin. 

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Formulated with 10% niacinamide, this potent serum combats blemishes and pore congestion.

Key benefits: Controls excess oil; treats inflammation; shrinks enlarged pores


  • Designed to target multiple skin concerns
  • Non-greasy formula
  • Free of harsh chemicals 

Get brighter, clearer skin with this serum!


Lightweight and highly concentrated, this water-based serum absorbs quickly into the skin, giving you quick and visible results with just a few uses. 

It also provides superior oil control and enhances the effects of acne treatments, which makes it a stellar choice for acne-prone skin.

On top of that, it’s free of harsh ingredients like parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.

Want to know how to incorporate niacinamide and glycolic acid from The Ordinary into your skincare routine? Here’s a detailed video for you:

COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

Banish whiteheads and blemishes for good with this product! 

Key benefits: Cleanses and exfoliates; restores radiance; improves skin health


  • Contains both glycolic acid and niacinamide
  • Focuses on improving skin texture
  • Free of parabens, synthetic dyes, and mineral oils

All skin types can benefit from this hypoallergenic essence.


For gentle exfoliation with powerful natural ingredients, look to this product! 

The combination of 2% niacinamide and 7% glycolic acid in its formula, along with mild cleansers and nourishing fruit water, allows this product to bust whiteheads and impurities to keep your skin clear and smooth. 

It also helps even skin tone and lends a radiant glow to your skin. Best of all, it doesn’t use chemicals to get the job done; only skin-friendly ingredients feature in its formula!

Note: Use these skincare products responsibly and follow the product instructions. Be mindful of potential adverse reactions and discontinue use if any negative side effects are experienced.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Mix Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide for Underarms?

Using glycolic acid and niacinamide together on the underarms is not recommended.

Glycolic acid has gained traction as an underarm care must-have recently, but skincare experts advise against using it. 

As a strong exfoliating ingredient, it can make your armpits prone to irritation, dryness, and discoloration.

However, you can use niacinamide by itself to lighten dark or uneven spots on your underarms. 

You can also choose a deodorant or underarm mask with small amounts of glycolic acid in its formula. 

What Should You Not Mix With Glycolic Acid?

If you’re planning to use glycolic acid, use it carefully and avoid mixing it with certain other skincare ingredients to prevent skin irritation or other adverse effects.

If you don’t want to experience such effects, here are some skincare ingredients that you should not mix with glycolic acid.

What Should You Not Mix With Niacinamide?

Similar to glycolic acid, there are some skincare ingredients you shouldn’t mix with niacinamide if you want to prevent skin sensitivity or irritation.

These are the ingredients you should not mix with niacinamide:

Two brown bottles of cosmetic product on a stone and a beige background

Should You Incorporate Glycolic Acid and Niacinamide Into Your Skincare Routine?

Incorporating glycolic acid and niacinamide into your skincare routine can be a great way to achieve a smoother, brighter, and more even complexion.

These two powerhouse ingredients are beneficial for skincare pros looking for new ingredients to up their game or newbies starting their skincare routine from scratch. 

To make sure you use them together safely and maximize their skin-boosting powers, follow our tips above.

With consistent use and patience, you can enjoy their benefits and achieve your skincare goals!

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  • Stephanie Martin

    Stephanie Martin blends her beauty industry background with expertise in communications to lead in the fashion and beauty world. As a fashion and beauty editor, she is known for engaging and informative articles. Her lifelong passion for fashion, makeup, and hair shines through her work, earning her widespread respect among readers and clients. Stephanie's style, a mix of classic and contemporary, makes her a dynamic and influential figure in the industry, inspiring others with her knowledgeable and approachable insights.

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  • Amanda Meehan

    Amanda Meehan, a licensed esthetician and massage therapist, brings holistic beauty to the forefront. Trained at the Aveda Institute Denver and the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy, her accolades include the High Honors and Beauty Is As Beauty Does awards. Beyond skincare, she's a certified Reiki Master and yoga instructor.

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