Niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid: uses, differences, and when to use each skincare ingredient

Not sure when to use niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid? We break it down

a shot of a collection of skincare serums, to llustrate the niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid debate
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Wondering how niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid measure up? They’re both excellent skincare ingredients, but are they right for your complexion?

Mastering your skincare routine doesn't mean using every single ingredient out there, however tempting. With so many new launches and super-serums landing weekly, it's easy to feel pressured to cram in endless skincare combinations. But, that way trouble lies – overloading your skin will just irritate it, and you won't reap the benefits from any of the products. 

Understanding exactly what each skincare ingredient does will help you narrow down exactly what you need to use, and when. Both niacinamide and hyaluronic acid can help all skin types, but do you really need both – or either? We spoke to Aesthetic Doctor, Dr. Paris Acharya to get her expert take on the niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid debate. 

Niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid

What are niacinamide and hyaluronic acid?

Before we go to deep into niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid, we should understand what each ingredient actually is. Dr. Paris explains:

  • Niacinamide: "Is a form of Vitamin B3. It's a great all-rounder with powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-pigmentation properties."
  • Hyaluronic acid: "A sugar molecule or glycosaminoglycan that is naturally abundant in the body, found in skin, joints, and connective tissue."

What are the benefits of each?

Dr. Paris continues:

  • Niacinamide: "Protects against DNA damage, increases the skin's immune function as well as hydrating, and strengthens the skin barrier. It can help improve redness, as well as regulate oil production."
  • Hyaluronic acid: "Is a powerful hydrator and has the ability to hold 1000 times its own weight in water molecules. Besides its humectant abilities, it also has natural antimicrobial, antioxidant, wound healing, and anti-inflammatory properties."

Differences between niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid

Admittedly on paper, both do seem quite similar – both help hydrate, are antioxidants, and have anti-inflammatory properties, but they are quite different. If we're just talking about the top-line benefits in this niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid (HA) debate, the former is an oil regulator that can help with redness, whereas HA is more about hydration. 

Dr. Paris agrees, "They are really different - primarily as niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 and the other hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule," she says. "HA is a powerful hydrator whereas niacinamide is more of an antioxidant with added hydrating properties."

Do they have any downsides?

A close-in shot of a serum dropper to illustrate the niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid debate

(Image credit: Getty images)

When it comes to these all-singing, all-dancing wonder ingredients, it may seem that there are no drawbacks, but that's not always the case. Both have potential disadvantages, especially if your skin doesn't react well to them. Dr. Paris explains: 

  • Niacinamide: "Can sometimes cause some skin irritation with itching and redness – especially for those with a predisposition to allergic skin reactions."
  • Hyaluronic acid: "If applied to exceptionally dry skin, it may draw water from the deeper layers leaving the skin feeling tighter and parched. Always apply your best hyaluronic acid products to damp skin, to prevent this from happening."

How to use both ingredients

In our experience, the best way to get the benefits from any hardworking ingredient is to use it in the form of a serum, either during the day, in your best night serums – or often both. Light, water-based formulas will sink deeper into the skin, getting to work more quickly and efficiently. 

The bonus of both niacinamide and hyaluronic acid is that they also work quite well in other forms, like your best face moisturizers. We can never get enough hyaluronic acid into our skin, and it's included in all sorts of products, in skincare as well as body treatments and makeup – there's not really a product that it won't work well in.

Niacinamide works especially well in a serum or moisturizer, but we're noticing a trend of it popping up in other places, like the best facial sunscreens and even primers and foundations. Be wary of the ingredient percentages in these products – a lot of brands are guilty of chucking minuscule concentrations of trending ingredients into formulas just for the hype factor. A minimum of 4% makes it worthy of a shoutout, we'd say. 

Should I use hyaluronic acid and niacinamide together?

You can. Because they're not too irritating or clashing, you can use both niacinamide and hyaluronic acid at the same time. In truth, they're often found in products together, putting this niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid contest into a nice, harmonious swing. 

Dr. Paris agrees. "You can absolutely combine the two, they will synergistically complement each other and many products do actually combine them for best results," she enthuses. "When combined, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid help strengthen barrier function, hydrate and brighten for optimal skin health." It sounds like a win all-round. 

Is niacinamide or hyaluronic acid better for oily skin?

If prioritizing skincare for oily skin is important to you, there is one ingredient that comes up top. "Niacinamide is definitely better for oily skin," says Dr. Paris. "I recommend this ingredient instead of vitamin-based antioxidants for oil-prone skin types." If you find that even the best vitamin C serums break you out, consider swapping Vit C for Vit B3 – your skin may prefer niacinamide instead. 

Niacinamide VS hyaluronic acid: our beauty editor’s verdict

A selection of skincare formulas to illustrate the niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid debate

(Image credit: Getty images)

I'm a big fan of both ingredients, so I was really curious to see which would come our on top in this niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid debate. Having spoken to Dr. Paris, I think we can agree that they both have equal benefits within their different uses.

Hyaluronic acid is the superior pick for hydration, impressively quenching thirsty skin. It gets to work quickly and makes a noticeable difference within hours of use. Niacinamide is better for oily skin, helping to regulate oil production and soothe inflammation caused by blemishes and breakouts. 

If I had to pick just one, I'd go for HA, purely because my skin errs on the dehydrated side, no matter how many gallons of water I chug. I'll definitely continue to use niacinamide when I have any acne flare-ups, helping to calm any inflammation or sore patches. There's a space for both in any skincare routine, so you can absolutely harmoniously use these ingredients together without having to pick a favorite. 

Rhiannon Derbyshire
Senior Beauty Editor

Rhiannon Derbyshire is the Senior Beauty Editor for Woman & Home and other publications. 

She started interning for glossy magazines while working alongside her Fashion Journalism degree. There, she was lured to the beauty desk, seduced by matte lipsticks, posh shampoos, and every skincare product imaginable. 10+ years into her career, she can confidently tell you why the best mascaras are always high street, and why SPF is a non-negotiable all year round. Ask her about her curly hair routine, skincare minimalism, and how to find the exact right red lipstick