Niacinamide vs vitamin C: uses, differences, and when to use each in your skincare routine

Unsure when you should be using niacinamide vs vitamin C? Our expert guide gives you the full lowdown on each ingredient

A flatlay of skincare serums to illustrate the Niacinamide VS Vitamin C debate
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Not sure when you should be using niacinamide vs vitamin C? They've both been hailed as skincare superheroes but, as with any ingredient, using them in the right way is key. 

With so many ingredients claiming to be an essential part of your skincare routine, it's hard to narrow down what you actually need. What I do know is that overloading your skin with too many products can lead to trouble – for your complexion, and your bank account. Active products like your best vitamin C serum can only do their finest work when given the right environment to do so and with an understanding of exactly how to layer your skincare combinations correctly.  

When it comes to niacinamide vs vitamin C, it’s important to know exactly what to use them for and when – if, indeed, you need to use them at all. I’ve enlisted the help of aesthetic doctor, Dr. Usman Quershi for his expert take, so you can go forth with all of that knowledge and more. 

Niacinamide vs Vitamin C: the deep-dive

What are Niacinamide and Vitamin C?

Before we get into the depths of the niacinamide vs vitamin C debate, let’s break down exactly what each ingredient is. You'll likely know more about the often shouted-about vit C, but if you're wondering what is niacinamide, Dr. Quershi breaks it down for us.  

  • Niacinamide: "Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin. More specifically, it's a form of Vitamin B3 that works with the skin’s system of cells."
  • Vitamin C: "This is another water-soluble vitamin and mild acid (also known as ascorbic acid). It's one of the most potent antioxidants we can use on our skin."

What are the benefits of both?

Niacinamide: Dr. Quershi says, "It has several benefits but its primary use is anti-inflammatory so it's great for repairing the skin. Niacinamide also helps build ceramides, and can also boost hydration, strengthening the skin barrier, evening skin tone, minimizing pores, and preventing acne." 

Vitamin C: The ingredient's best-known benefit is brightening skin, but according to Dr. Quershi, it can do a lot more. "Vitamin C is a superstar ingredient for targeting pigmentation and sun-damaged skin," he says. "It helps enhance collagen production, and can also help with lax skin, particularly on the neck and décolletage." 

Main differences between Niacinamide and Vitamin C

A close-in shot of different skincare cream swatches, to show the differences for the Niacinamide vs Vitaim C debate

(Image credit: Getty Images)

So, we're clearly looking at two hardworking ingredients here. The simplest way to sum up the difference between niacinamide vs vitamin C is that you're essentially looking at vitamin B vs vitamin C. For two antioxidants, they have quite different benefits, which can be summed up as:

  • Blemish busting: Wondering is niacinamide good for acne? Yes indeed, you'll often find niacinamide in spot treatments and skincare routines for acne, and that isn't the case for vitamin C. That's because the former reduces oil production and also helps with redness, so it can prevent acne from forming, and also helps calm down any irritation and soreness. 
  • Irritability: Depending on the potency of the vitamin C in your serum or moisturizer, it may aggravate your skin. Dr. Quershi explains, "Niacinamide is gentler for your skin as vitamin C is slightly acidic. Some people with more sensitive skin may prefer niacinamide over vitamin C."
  • Brightening benefits: Vitamin C is by far the superior exfoliator, which will leave your skin looking brighter and radiant when you're consistent with it. This isn't the case with niacinamide.
  • Pigmentation powers: Niacinamide won't improve your pigmentation or age spots, whereas vitamin C is often touted as one of the best hyperpigmentation treatments
  • Clashing combinations: Niacinamide will get on well with most other ingredients, but there are some ingredients that won't bode well with Vitamin C. Dr Quershi advises, "Avoid using glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and lactic acid at the same time as applying vitamin C. Generally, the exfoliating acids should be used in the evening and vitamin C in the morning."

Do they have any downsides?

As touched on above, some may find vitamin C a little bit irritating – but it depends on the strength you're using. Easing in gently will help prevent this though, says Dr. Quershi. "If you're using a high percentage of Vitamin C (between 10-20%) your skin could take some time to build up a tolerance, so you could experience some irritation. If this happens, just use it every few days and gradually build up until your skin gets used to it."

On the other side of the niacinamide vs vitamin C debate, niacinamide seems pretty angelic – it doesn't have any noticeable downsides unless your skin happens to have a reaction to it. Dr. Quershi notes any unhappy-skin symptoms to keep an eye out for, just in case. "As with any skincare ingredient, some people could be allergic or experience irritation when using a new product. Side effects can include itching, redness, and a tingling sensation."

How to use both ingredients

A flatlay of 7 different serum pipettes and swatches, to show the best way to apply Niacinamide VS Vitamin C

(Image credit: Getty images)

From my experience, the best way to use any active skincare ingredient is in a serum. The super-light formulas sink deeper into the skin than a moisturizer, and they generally tend to be more stable (as long as they're packaged to be airtight). There's no point using any active ingredients in a cleanser – it won't sit on your skin long enough to make a difference, so you're just washing the goodness down the drain. When it comes to using any serums, niacinamide, vitamin C, or otherwise, always apply to the skin after cleansing, before your moisturizer, and sunscreen. 

Can you use Niacinamide with Vitamin C?

You can indeed. As with niacinamide vs hyaluronic acid, there's not much that could clash in both ingredients, so in theory, you could use both together if your skin reacts well to them. A good way to combine both would be to use a vitamin C serum and follow on with a gentle cream that's infused with niacinamide, so you don't have to worry about layering too many serums on at once. However, if you're happy to layer up the general rule would be to go for the lightest formula to the thickest. 

Niacinamide VS Vitamin C – our beauty editor's verdict

The niacinamide vs vitamin C debate is quite a balanced one – there are plusses and minuses to both ingredients, and you could absolutely use both together, so there's no need for a big rivalry to build. I think there's definitely space for both in any skincare routine, not necessarily together unless you want to. In my experience focusing on one concern at a time is the best way to get a happy complexion – I'm a skincare minimalist.

Dr. Quershi's verdict is similar. "They are both excellent choices, but my preference would depend on your concerns", he says. "Vitamin C is a perfect choice for pigmentation and dull, tired-looking skin. Niacinamide would be a better choice for those suffering from acne or spot-prone skin. Niacinamide is also gentler, so if you tend to have sensitive skin, that would be a better choice. Ideally, I’d recommend both, using vitamin C in the morning and niacinamide in the evening."

In short, there's space for both in any routine – no need to break out the boxing gloves. 

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