Niacinamide Vs. Salicylic Acid For Inflammatory Acne | Skin Fit Well, Skin Fit Well (2023)

Niacinamide Vs. Salicylic Acid For Inflammatory Acne | Skin Fit Well, Skin Fit Well (1)

1 Comment / Acne Treatments, Uncategorized / By skinfitwell

If you are suffering from inflammatory acne, niacinamide and salicylic acid are great ingredients to resolve these issues.

Finding what works best for your skin can involve a lot of trial and error. By understanding how each of these ingredients work and how they can affect your skin, you will be better able to decide if you want to incorporate these into your skincare routine.

Table of Contents

What Is It?

Niacinamide, otherwise known as vitamin B3, provides a multitude of benefits for every skin type. It is especially great for sensitive, red, dry skin that is prone to breakouts and irritation.

What Does It Do?

Niacinamide has been shown to significantly penetrate into the skin (1). This is important because it means the product can actually do something when applied, rather than sitting atop the skin.

Let’s go through a few of the many benefits provided by niacinamide in cosmeceutical products.

It has antioxidant effects on the skin. When we are exposed to certain stressors, such as UV rays from the sun, X-rays, and air pollutants, the body produces Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) (2). These are molecules that contribute to aging, inflammatory conditions, and heart disease. Specifically for the skin, ROS damages our DNA, disrupts cell function, and affects collagen production, leading to visible aging (3). Niacinamide works to reduce the damage caused by ROS.


Niacinamide is a great anti-inflammatory ingredient. This ingredient has been shown to reduce erythema, which is redness in the skin (1). When the skin comes into contact with environmental stressors, niacinamide reduces the irritation experienced as a result of these interactions, thus leading to a decrease in redness.

It can improve barrier function (1). Your epidermis is the outer layer of your skin. An incredibly important aspect of keeping your skin healthy involves regulating its water content. Niacinamide reduces transepidermal water loss, otherwise known as the loss of water from the skin, keeping your skin strong, healthy, moisturized, and able to fight against pollutants and other irritants.

Niacinamide reduces hyperpigmentation. Those dark spots that appear on the skin after an acne breakout may take awhile to go away. Niacinamide affects the formation of the dark spots, and increases skin lightness (4).

How Does It Work?

Niacinamide undergoes a variety of mechanisms once it is absorbed by the skin.

The first includes its ability to increase Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate or NAD(P) in the skin. It is a substance that is essential in metabolic processes. It plays an important role in repairing molecules affected by free radicals, thus showing its antioxidant activity (5). In other words, applying niacinamide to the skin leads to an increase in NAD(P) which leads to better skin that is less irritated from ROS.

Niacinamide also works to increase the amount of serine palmitoyltransferase in the skin. This is an enzyme that promotes sphingolipid formation, which is a type of fatty acid (1). Ceramides are a type of sphingolipid that contribute to the function of the skin and its moisture content. Niacinamide increases the amount of ceramides in the skin, thus leading to a better and stronger epidermal barrier.

In terms of pigmentation of the skin, dark spots occur when melanosomes (a type of cell organ) gets transferred to a skin cell, producing dark pigmentation (6). Niacinimide has been shown to inhibit this transfer, reducing pigmentation in the skin (1).

Who Should Use Niacinamide?

Everyone can benefit from niacinamide use in some way.

If you have red, inflamed, or acne-prone skin, niacinamide can reduce erythema.

(Video) Here's WHY Salicylic Acid is Best For ACNE

This ingredient is also beneficial if you have dry or irritated skin. Since niacinamide decreases water loss, it can help retain moisture in the skin.

You can try to incorporate niacinamide into your routine if you have used harsh products, such as aggressive cleansers or strong acne treatments. It will help to repair the disrupted skin barrier.

Now onto another wonderful acne treatment.

Salicylic acid is available in many over the counter products and is easily accessible.

Let’s dive into why salicylic acid may be right for you.

What Is It?

Salicylic acid is a colorless substance that has been used in cosmeceutical products for many years. It comes in concentrations up to 2% in over-the-counter products, but is available in higher percentages at skin clinics.

What Does It Do?

Salicylic acid is a desmolytic agent. This means that it interferes with the structure of desmosomes in the skin. Desmosomes are like rivets that hold skin cells together (7). By disrupting these junctions between cells, salicylic acid plays a role in improving a variety of skin conditions.

It has been shown to decrease the production of sebum (oil) in the skin, leading to a decrease in acne formation (7).

In addition, salicylic acid has been shown to be directly comedolytic. This means that it promotes the shedding of skin cells, leading to less debris that could clog pores (8).

(Video) Skincare Ingredients DO NOT MIX

The exfoliation properties of salicylic acid contributes to the appearance of smaller pores and more even skin tone (8).

In a study of participants that used salicylic acid at a concentration of 0.5% for 12 weeks, it was shown that the amount of inflammatory acne lesions were significantly decreased (8).

How Does It Work?

Salicylic acid is a lipophilic substance – This means that it dissolves well in oil or sebum (7). In this way, it is able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin when applied topically. In doing so, salicylic acid removes the proteins that make up desmosomes (the “rivets” that connect skin cells together). This causes skin cells to break away from each other, allowing for adequate exfoliation of the skin.

This ingredient directly interferes with the lipids that are attached to skin cells. In this way, this topically applied acid promotes a peeling effect on the skin, leading to exfoliation and a decrease in bumps or rough texture (7).

Who Should Use Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid should be used by anyone experiencing small skin-coloured bumps, blackheads, rough skin texture or red bumps. It is not recommended to use if you have a disrupted skin barrier.

Niacinamide Vs. Salicylic Acid For Inflammatory Acne | Skin Fit Well, Skin Fit Well (2)

From this chart, it is evident that both salicylic acid and niacinamide share many properties together. Primarily, niacinamide should be geared towards those looking to repair your skin barrier or suffering from red or inflamed skin. Salicylic acid is more reserved for those with blackheads, smaller bumps or rough texture.

Take a look at salicylic acid vs. azelaic acid to learn if azelaic acid may also be an option for you.

  1. Levin J, Momin SB. How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Feb;3(2):22-41. PMID: 20725560; PMCID: PMC2921764.
  2. Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jul;4(8):118-26. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.70902. PMID: 22228951; PMCID: PMC3249911.
  3. Rinnerthaler M, Bischof J, Streubel MK, Trost A, Richter K. Oxidative stress in aging human skin. Biomolecules. 2015 Apr 21;5(2):545-89. doi: 10.3390/biom5020545. PMID: 25906193; PMCID: PMC4496685.
  4. Hakozaki T, Minwalla L, Zhuang J, et al. The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer II. Br J Dermatol. 2002;305:260–268.
  5. Kirsch M, De Groot H. NAD(P)H, a directly operating antioxidant? FASEB J. 2001 Jul;15(9):1569-74. doi: 10.1096/fj.00-0823hyp. PMID: 11427489.
  6. Wu X, Hammer JA. Melanosome transfer: it is best to give and receive. Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2014 Aug;29:1-7. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2014 Mar 21. PMID: 24662021; PMCID: PMC4130791.
  7. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Aug 26;8:455-61. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S84765. PMID: 26347269; PMCID: PMC4554394.
  8. Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012 May;5(5):32-40. PMID: 22808307; PMCID: PMC3366450.


What is better for acne niacinamide or salicylic acid? ›

Because salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it penetrates deeper into the skin layers, although it also dehydrates and irritates it. Meanwhile, niacinamide boosts the skin's natural moisture and reduces inflammation.

Is niacinamide good for inflammatory acne? ›

Niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory that works to reduce the swelling and redness associated with acne. It also works to regulate the amount of acne-causing oil being produced by the glands in your skin.

Can I use salicylic acid and niacinamide for acne? ›

Salicylic acid helps to unclog pores, exfoliate the skin, and reduce acne breakouts, while niacinamide can help to soothe the skin, improve skin tone and tone, and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

Can I use salicylic acid on inflamed acne? ›

Salicylic acid.

It can also help to break down inflamed acne lesions while preventing them from coming back. You can use it all over your skin, but make sure to follow up with a moisturizer, because it can cause dryness over time.

How do you choose between salicylic acid and niacinamide? ›

It's not about which is better but which is better for what your skin needs. If your skin is dry and you need something both mild and effective, something like niacinamide serum may be the perfect product. What is this? On the flip side, a product like salicylic acid may be your best bet if you have oily skin.

What is better than salicylic acid for acne? ›

If you're already using an oral or topical treatment for acne, benzoyl peroxide might be a more effective option — but start with a lower concentration and gradually move up from there to see what your skin can tolerate.

What is best on inflammation acne? ›

DO apply ice to reduce pain and swelling. As soon as you notice the blemish, wrap an ice cube in a paper towel and apply it to the area for five to 10 minutes. Repeat this two more times, with 10-minute breaks between icing. DO apply a product that contains 2 percent benzoyl peroxide to the pimple.

What is best for inflamed acne? ›

Doctors may treat inflamed acne with one or more of the following: antibiotic pills, creams, gels, or lotions, which can help kill acne bacteria and calm inflammation. birth control pills, in females, to help balance hormones that cause acne flares. isotretinoin (Accutane) for severe acne.

What is good for inflammatory acne? ›

Topical acne anti-inflammatory products include: Azelaic acid. Benzoyl peroxide. Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that has anti-inflammatory, moisturizing and soothing effects.

Which is better for oily skin salicylic acid or niacinamide? ›

Salicylic Acid unclogs pores by removing dirt, sebum, and dead cells. Niacinamide tightens the pores by increasing skin elasticity. Together they reduce the appearance of pores by inhibiting sebum secretion. Niacinamide prevents further pore opening by acting on the skin barrier.

Should I use niacinamide or salicylic acid first? ›

What goes first salicylic acid or niacinamide? It is considered the best idea to apply niacinamide before salicylic acid. This is because the humectant traits of niacinamide ensure the natural skin barrier contains the correct levels of water.

Does salicylic acid get rid of inflammation? ›

Salicylic acid belongs to a class of drugs known as salicylates. When applied to the skin, salicylic acid may work by helping the skin to shed dead cells from the top layer and by decreasing redness and swelling (inflammation).

Does salicylic acid anti-inflammatory? ›

Salicylic acid is responsible for the anti-inflammatory action of aspirin, and may cause the reduced risk of colorectal cancer observed in those who take aspirin.

When should I stop using salicylic acid for acne? ›

Salicylic acid may produce mild side effects, such as skin irritation or peeling. If people experience more severe side effects, they should stop using the product and contact their doctor.

Which acid is best for acne scars? ›

Retinoic acid (RA) is said to improve acne scars and reduce postinflammatory hyperpigmentation while glycolic acid (GA) is known for its keratolytic properties and its ability to reduce atrophic acne scars.

Does niacinamide unclog pores? ›

Its bacteria-fighting properties are incredibly effective in unclogging pores and reducing blemishes. One of the major issues of excess oil is inflammation which leads to acne. Niacinamide serums help reduce the swelling and redness of acne, and can lead to fewer blemishes over time and improved skin texture.

How long does it take for salicylic acid and niacinamide to work? ›

Using salicylic acid? You should see a reduction in oily skin 'very quickly' and an improvement in acne should take a 'couple of weeks'. Dr Fabusiwa suggests niacinamide to reduce redness and inflammation on the skin, which should be noticeable after a 'couple of weeks'.

What works better than salicylic acid? ›

Ahead, we've listed down some milder alternatives to salicylic acid.
  • The double-duty benzoyl peroxide.
  • The bacteria-repelling tea tree oil.
  • The skin-soothing allantoin.
  • The pore-unclogging glycolic acid.
  • The salicylic-complementing sulfur.
Dec 24, 2021

Why is salicylic acid not helping my acne? ›

Why it might not be working: There are multiple types and causes of acne — and if your acne is severe, salicylic acid might not be strong enough for you. “Cystic acne will need something stronger than salicylic acid,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist based in New York City.

What type of acne does salicylic acid get rid of? ›

Salicylic acid works best for mild acne (blackheads and whiteheads). It can also help prevent future breakouts. Keep reading to learn how salicylic acid helps to clear acne, what form and dosage to use, and what potential side effects to be aware of.

What triggers inflammatory acne? ›

When follicles become plugged, skin bacteria (called Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes) begin to grow inside the follicles, causing inflammation. Acne progresses in the following manner: Incomplete blockage of the hair follicle results in blackheads (a semisolid, black plug).

How do you get rid of inflammatory acne overnight? ›

Try the following:
  1. A small crushed-up aspirin paste to a pimple helps with drying up the spot and inflammation.
  2. Toothpaste—the opaque kind, not gel—can be used to dry up pimples.
  3. Ice to a red pimple gives immediate blood vessel constriction and helps with redness.
Jan 30, 2023

How long does it take for inflammatory acne to go away? ›

How long does it take a pimple to go away? Most pimples take 1-2 weeks to go away on their own. Some can take up to 6 weeks. Although they can't be cured overnight, they can be treated with many different methods that have been proven to work such prescription acne treatment like tretinoin and topical antibiotics.

How can I reduce inflammation in my face? ›

More on reducing swelling in your face
  1. Getting more rest. ...
  2. Increasing your water and fluid intake.
  3. Applying a cold compress to the swollen area.
  4. Applying a warm compress to promote the movement of fluid buildup. ...
  5. Taking the appropriate allergy medication/antihistamine (over-the-counter medication or prescription).
Oct 16, 2018

How can I reduce inflammation in my skin? ›

Home remedies
  1. using cool, wet compresses or wraps to help ease irritated skin.
  2. applying ointments or creams to avoid irritated and cracked dry skin.
  3. taking a warm oatmeal bath, made of components that're anti-inflammatory and can act as a shield against irritants.
Nov 30, 2018

How do you get rid of acne redness and inflammation fast? ›

How to Reduce Redness After You Pop A Pimple
  1. Wash your face (again).
  2. Wash your hands (again!)
  3. Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  4. Dab a small amount of spot treatment or an antibacterial remedy to protect from bacteria and further redness or swelling.
Dec 27, 2021

What do dermatologists say about niacinamide? ›

Niacinamide also has brightening effects for skin. “It's helpful for acne, it's helpful for rosacea, and it's helpful for inflammation, making it helpful for anti-aging overall,” she says. “When we talk about slowing aging, it is comprehensive.”

Does niacinamide make acne worse before better? ›

“Purging” is another term for breakouts, though there are some differences. Though some people do report experiencing irritation and breakouts after using the ingredient, niacinamide is unlikely to cause purging. That's because it doesn't affect the skin in a way that usually triggers purging.

Can I use niacinamide in the morning and salicylic acid at night? ›

You can also try using your salicylic acid on alternating mornings or nights. So, one morning you could apply salicylic acid after cleansing, and the night morning, niacinamide. Or, you could do the same thing at night, depending on what works best with your skincare routine.

Can I use niacinamide and salicylic acid everyday? ›

Can I use salicylic acid and niacinamide everyday? Yes you can, but always ensure you use them correctly to avoid unwanted reactions. You are safe to use both ingredients everyday once you have built a tolerance, especially to the potent BHA, salicylic acid.

Which ingredient is best for acne? ›

Benzoyl peroxide.

This ingredient kills bacteria that cause acne, helps remove excess oil from the skin and removes dead skin cells, which can clog pores. Benzoyl peroxide products that you can buy without a prescription are available in strengths from 2.5% to 10%.

Why does my skin look worse after salicylic acid? ›

Skin purging occurs because of some ingredients that accelerate your body's natural process of getting rid of dead skin cells. Products that contain certain components—including lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and retinoids—are likely the culprits of your acne breakout.

Is salicylic acid good for hormonal acne? ›

Salicylic acid and glycolic acid products can potentially benefit hormonal acne patients, as well. "Salicylic acid can help reduce inflammation and pimple size and glycolic acid will exfoliate the skin's surface, which helps keep pores clear," Dr. Hartman says.

Who should not use salicylic acid? ›

Salicylic acid should not be applied to large areas of the body, used for long periods of time, or used under occlusive dressing (air-tight covering, such as kitchen plastic wrap) in children. Use of salicylic acid topical in children younger than 2 years of age is not recommended.

How long does it take for salicylic acid to clear face? ›

Salicylic acid starts working by 2-3 weeks, and takes around 2-3 months to show full effect. This potent antioxidant reduces pigmentation and builds up skin collagen. You will start noticing a brighter complexion in 4-6 weeks but actual improvements, in terms of dark spots reduction, will take around 3-4 months.

What percentage of salicylic acid is good for acne? ›

When it comes down to what percentage of salicylic acid is good for acne, here's our rule of thumb: Most skin types, especially normal to oily, can get away with using 2%. If your skin tends to be on the dry or sensitive side, start with a lower percentage or opt for the 2% but use it 2-3 times a week instead of daily.

Does salicylic acid help cystic acne? ›

There are three common active ingredients in over-the-counter products that can help reduce inflammation caused by cystic acne: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and adapalene.

What ingredient is best for severe acne? ›

Benzoyl peroxide.

This ingredient kills bacteria that cause acne, helps remove excess oil from the skin and removes dead skin cells, which can clog pores. Benzoyl peroxide products that you can buy without a prescription are available in strengths from 2.5% to 10%.

Is salicylic acid enough for acne? ›

Salicylic acid can be an effective ingredient in skin care products to help treat acne. Salicylic acid can help unclog blocked pores by breaking down and removing dead skin cells and oil. Salicylic acid may produce mild side effects, such as skin irritation or peeling.

Can I use salicylic acid and niacinamide together? ›

Can niacinamide and salicylic acid be used together? The simple answer is yes. They complement each other well. Being oil soluble, salicylic acid can penetrate deeper into the skin layers, but it can also dehydrate and irritate skin.

Which is best for oily skin niacinamide or salicylic acid? ›

For people with oily and acne-prone skin, Salicylic Acid and Niacinamide are both excellent choices. They can both assist in controlling oil production and prevent the skin from creating too much oil. They can both aid in reducing the appearance of big pores.

How long does it take for niacinamide to clear acne? ›

While some niacinamide-containing products start to show initial benefits in two weeks, most results will show in four weeks or more. "You have to remember that it doesn't take two days for spots to form so you can't expect them to be removed in two days either," explains Engelman.

How long does niacinamide clear acne? ›

But studies do give us clues as to how long it may take results to show up—if they're going to. Many clinical studies on niacinamide note changes after six to 12 weeks. But consistent use, as directed by these products, is also a requirement.

How do you know if you should stop using niacinamide? ›

Follow the instructions on the label of the topical skin-care product you're using, and stop using the product if you experience any negative reactions such as redness or irritation. (Keep in mind that reactions may not be caused by the niacinamide, but another ingredient in the product.)


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