Hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide: what’s the difference?

We pit hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide to see how these skincare marvels compare

Hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide: a close up of a vial of skincare ingredients
(Image credit: Getty Images )

As you research and refine your skincare routine, you’ve likely come across two key ingredients: niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. They’re both used in a lot of popular beauty products—but if you’re not sure what the difference is, read on. We’ve got an expert take on hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide.

Although they’re both versatile skincare fan favorites, both ingredients serve different purposes in your routine, for example, adding one of the best hyaluronic acid serums is a sure-fire way to inject some hydration in 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.

Let’s dig deeper into the uses, benefits, and differences of each so you can start using hyaluronic acids and niacinamides with confidence.

Hyaluronic acid: the ultimate hydrating agent

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

The best hyaluronic acids are easy to use at home as topical gels, serums, or masks—but it’s also an ingredient that’s 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.” 

Marie Reynolds, a skin and wellness expert who runs her signature skincare line and clinics from London, adds that hyaluronic acid ”can hold up to 1,000 times its molecular weight.” It’s a no-nonsense humectant that soaks up moisture and keeps it there, resulting in a more hydrated and youthful complexion. 

Hyaluronic acid benefits:

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

Hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Niacinamide: the jack-of-all-trades vitamin 

Now onto niacinamide. This ingredient 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,” says 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 true skincare specialist for 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 the authors of Skincare Decoded, Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu. 

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

Niacinamide benefits:

  • 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, niacinamide is best used in moderation. “Less is always more,” Marie says, noting that overuse can 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 work hyaluronic acid and niacinamide into your line-up

When it comes to weighing up hyaluronic acid vs niacinamide, it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges. 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.

If you’re layering products, start with hyaluronic acid to a freshly cleansed and slightly damp face. Let your skin deeply absorb that serum or gel to ensure it locks in the moisture and works its hydrating and plumping powers on your epidermis. Follow up with niacinamide toward the end of your routine.

But you don’t have to use both at once. There’s always the option to use one product in the morning and the other at night. Try hyaluronic acid at the start of the day to help your skin stay hydrated. Then, apply niacinamide at night for an extra boost of beauty rest.

My Imperfect Life thanks Dr. Nathan Brown of Parallel Health, Marie Reynolds of Marie Reynolds London, and Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu of Chemist Confessions for their time and expertise.

My Imperfect Life

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