Hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide—how do these two skincare powerhouses differ?

Experts explain hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide so you can see how these skincare powerhouses compare

collage of woman applying skincare
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While researching and refining your skincare routine, you’re likely to have come across both niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. Though they feature in a lot of popular products, knowing the exact differences between hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide is important before you add one or both to your regime.

Although they’re both versatile skincare fan favorites, both ingredients serve different purposes for skin. You're probably already aware that adding one of the best hyaluronic acid serums is a reliable way to inject some hydration into thirsty skin. 

“Hyaluronic acid is a sugar and niacinamide is a vitamin, so they’re all fundamentally different kinds of ingredients that do different things for us,” says Dr. Nathan Brown, chief science officer at Parallel Health. On that note, let’s dig deeper into the uses, benefits, and differences of these unique ingredients.

Meet the experts on hyaluronic acid and niacinamide

Dr. Nathan Brown

Dr. Nathan Brown is co-founder and chief science officer of Parallel Health, a platform that offers microbiome testing and personalized skincare. He's advised My Imperfect Life readers on both niacinamide and hyaluronic acid benefits, as well as their key differences.

Marie Reynolds

Marie Reynolds is the founder of Marie Reynolds London, a multi-qualified beauty expert, and has worked in the skincare and wellness industries for over three decades. She shared her insights on using these two ingredients. 

Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu

Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu are professional skincare chemists, founders of Chemist Confessions, and the authors of Skincare Decoded, and have explained some of the benefits of niacinamide for this piece. 

What is hyaluronic acid?

First up is hyaluronic acid, a polysaccharide that is naturally found in our bodies, from the skin to the eyes, joints, and connective tissues. In skincare specifically, though, it’s best known for helping the skin retain moisture and for making dull or dry complexions look and feel smoother and plumper.

One of the key benefits is that it's easy to use at home in the form of topical gels, serums, or masks—our The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid Serum review is a great in-depth analysis of a nice and affordable option on the market. Fun fact: this ingredient is actually also used in dermal fillers. 

“The long, stringy sugar molecule absorbs water to form a gel that is useful for hydrating the epidermis, the outer layer of skin that we see in the mirror, and providing structure when injected into the dermis, the skin layer just beneath our epidermis,” says Dr. Brown. “Niacinamide can’t help hydrate our skin like hyaluronic acid.” 

Skin and wellness expert Marie Reynolds adds that hyaluronic acid ”can hold up to 1,000 times its molecular weight.” In short, it's a no-nonsense humectant that soaks up moisture and keeps it there, resulting in a more hydrated and youthful complexion. 

What are the benefits of hyaluronic acid?

  • Creating plumper, more supple skin
  • Retaining hydration
  • Reducing fine lines
  • Eliminating dryness and dullness

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide offers plenty of sweet skincare benefits, but it’s not a sugar like hyaluronic acid. "Niacinamide is one of the B vitamins, specifically a form of vitamin B3,” explains Dr Brown. “Vitamins are molecules that our bodies cannot produce by themselves and must be received through nutrition or topical application."

While hyaluronic acid is a skincare specialist in hydration, niacinamide has a pretty extensive resume. “It is your vitamin B3, jack-of-all-trades active ingredient that’s found to help with fortifying your skin barrier, regulating excess sebum for oily skin, and even brightening and evening skin tone," according to Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu, the authors of Skincare Decoded

The skincare chemists add that it’s an easy ingredient to formulate with, so the people who develop products love working with it. Dr. Brown notes that its versatility has helped it earn the position as “one of the hottest skincare ingredients” on the market today.

What are the benefits of niacinamide?

  • Reducing inflammation and redness
  • Brightening the complexion
  • Evening skin tone
  • Reducing excess sebum production
  • Minimizing the appearance of pores
  • Preventing acne
  • Replenishing natural lipids
  • Promoting cellular metabolism and renewal

However, as with many powerful actives like the best vitamin C serums, it's important not to overuse niacinamide. “Less is always more,” Marie says, noting that using too much could lead to adverse reactions. 

And those words of wisdom apply to the frequency of use as well as the concentration of niacinamide in the serum or moisturizer you’re using. Victoria and Gloria recommend “checking out the ingredient lists of the product in your routine to make sure you’re not overdoing this active ingredient—2% to 5% is the sweet spot. Try not to exceed 10%.” 

How to add hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to your skincare routine

The good news is that both of these ingredients can be used at either time of day, so they're very flexible in your routine. That said, niacinamide is considered particularly beneficial in the morning because of its antioxidant properties, which means it can protect your skin against some environmental effects.

When it comes to using them in the correct skincare routine order, an oft-touted rule of thumb is that products are best applied from thinnest to thickest consistency. So, bear this in mind when deciding which to apply first in your routine if you are using both in serum form.

Hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide: the verdict

What's clear is that weighing up hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide is a bit like comparing apples to oranges—as is hyaluronic acid vs retinol or hyaluronic acid vs glycolic acid. These two ingredients are heavy-hitters in the skincare world, but they don’t work against each other. Instead, they can partner together to help you achieve more healthy, radiant, and youthful skin if you sequence them into your routine properly, both in terms of hydrating and antioxidant benefits.

Aleesha Badkar
Former Deputy Editor at My Imperfect Life

Aleesha was Deputy Editor and Beauty & Fashion Editor for My Imperfect Life, where she headed up the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. Previously she was Shopping Writer at woman&home and gained an AOP awards nomination after working on their news team. She earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London in 2017 and has since worked with a number of brands including, Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto. When she’s not testing all the new beauty & lifestyle products on the market, Aleesha spends her time soaking up the newest bestsellers and Netflix releases, watching everything Marvel, learning about different wines, attempting new languages and traveling as much as she can.