Salicylic Acid and Niacinamide

The Importance of Exfoliating Mature Skin

Niacinamide and salicylic acid are hot in the streets of skincare. And for good reason! If you have mature skin, exfoliating with salicylic acid will reveal a youthful glow. And following with niacinamide to strengthen your skin barrier will keep complexion smooth and bouncy. 

Learn how to curate a skincare routine for clear, glowing skin morning, noon and night. Become a bathroom counter chemist to clear & treat aging or acne-prone skin with salicylic acid and niacinamide.

But first, some of our favourite salicylic acid products.

Disclosure: empyri is a participant in affiliate services which provide a means for us to earn a small commission through links to Amazon and other sites at no additional cost to you.

Empyri Top 3 Exfoliating Products with Salicylic Acid 

Top Overall

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid

Gently exfoliates and clears pores for a brighter, even-toned complexion. 

4 oz for $32.30
Top Budget

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Your at-home chemical peel solution for blemishes, enlarged pores, uneven texture and dullness. 

1 oz for $12.97
Top Lux

La Roche Posay Effeclar Salicylic Acid 

Purifies clogged pores and reduces surface level oils. Formulated with niacinamide and thermal water to soothe blemishes and acne scarring. 

1 oz for $45.00


What is Salicylic Acid? 

Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) commonly used in skincare products. It is derived from willow bark and has both anti-inflammatory and exfoliating properties. Salicylic acid works by penetrating deep into the pores and exfoliating the skin from within, making it an effective ingredient for treating acne and reducing the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads. It is also used to help treat conditions such as psoriasis, dandruff, and corns. Salicylic acid is available in various forms including face washes, toners, spot treatments, and peel pads.

OK, so now you know what salicylic acid is, but what does it do? 

See You Later, Dead Skin Cells 

Salicylic acid is a gentle chemical exfoliant. Unlike glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid that works only on surface sebum levels, salicylic acid can travel deeper into your pores.

It's like when you scrub your face & body with a washcloth and skin sheds off. Instead of the cloth texture and scrubbing motion causing skin to shed, the salicylic acid does the work for you. 

Amazing, right? Just wait... that's not even the best part! 

Salicylic acid is oil soluble, which means it dissolves with oil (rather than with water). It is compatible with our skin's lipid (fat) structures so it penetrates beyond the outer layer of the skin (called the stratum corneum if you want to get technical!).

The real magic happens here, deep in your pores: salicylic acid will remove dead skin, excess oil and regulate sebum production. Clogged pores can lead to acne - both blackheads and whiteheads - as well as general skin congestion. 

"Normal" skin sheds in a regular cycle, but acne prone skin does not. Dead skin cells stick together which causes pores to clog and then stretch to make room for the excess.

You know when you eat a BIG holiday meal and you can feel your jeans being pushed to their limits to make room? It's like that. Salicylic acid loosens skin cells so they can slough off. Just like unbuttoning your jeans at the dinner table. 

Sweet relief. 

Sometimes salicylic acid is used by dermatologists for more invasive skin procedures. Have you ever heard of a chemical peel? Dermatologists remove top layers of the skin, so that new skin can grow back. Chemical peels can use salicylic acid at high concentrations. It's that powerful! 

 Over-the-counter products only contain between 0.5 and 2 % salicylic acid as allowed by the FDA. That's the type we're talking about here, OTC salicylic acid, and how to combine with niacinamide. So what's that?

Empyri's Best Salicylic Acid Products 

#1 Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid

Why You'll Love It:

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid is a highly effective exfoliant that helps to unclog pores and reduce the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of acne. The salicylic acid in the product helps to remove dead skin cells and smooth the skin's texture, leading to a clearer, brighter, and more even complexion. Additionally, the product is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and can help to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.


#2 The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Why You'll Love It:

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is an effective exfoliating treatment that provides a deep, intense chemical peel to help reveal smoother, brighter, and clearer skin. The combination of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) in the product helps to gently remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging. Additionally, the product is well-priced compared to other similar products on the market and has received positive reviews from users for its visible results and gentle formula.

#3 La Roche Posay Effeclar Salicylic Acid

Why You'll Love It:

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid is an effective acne treatment that contains salicylic acid, which helps to unclog pores and reduce the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of acne. The product is also formulated with other ingredients that help to soothe and hydrate the skin, making it suitable for people with sensitive skin. Additionally, the product is dermatologist-tested and has received positive reviews from users for its gentle formula and visible results.


#4 artnaturals Salicylic acid Serum 

Why You'll Love It:

Just like the other SA products, this serum helps to control acne breakouts. It can be used as a spot treatment or all over the face. This serum brings the added gentle benefits of being alcohol-free (non drying) and paraben free. 


#5 Rejuve Naturals Skin Clarifying Vitamin C Serum + 2% Salicylic Acid

Why You'll Love It:

This serum from Rejuve Naturals is an all around anti-aging elixir. It's cleansing, exfoliating, brightening and the list goes on! Plus it's a 100% safe, natural and vegan formula. 

What is niacinamide? 

Niacinamide is a form of Vitamin B3 that is commonly used in skincare. It is a water-soluble ingredient that is well-tolerated by most skin types and is known for its ability to improve the appearance of the skin. Niacinamide can help to:

  1. Boost skin hydration levels and improve skin barrier function.
  2. Reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
  3. Calm skin irritation and redness.
  4. Improve skin texture and tone by reducing the appearance of enlarged pores.

    Niacinamide is available in a variety of skincare products, including serums, creams, and face masks. It is often used in combination with other active ingredients to enhance their effectiveness.

    Is it safe to mix salicylic acid and niacinamide together? 

    Yes, it is safe to mix salicylic acid and niacinamide together. In fact, combining these two ingredients can lead to increased efficacy in treating acne, hyperpigmentation, and skin ageing. Together, they are one of the best topical combinations. However, it's important to follow the instructions for usage and to start with lower concentrations of each product before gradually increasing the amount used.

    Anyone with sensitive skin should always take extra caution when mixing skincare products. It is best practice to try a small surface area to test for irritation. 

    When can I combine the two? 

    Morning, noon and night! OK, not really. But since both niacinamide and salicylic acid are such skin saviours, we understand why you may want to. 

    Combine salicylic acid with niacinamide when you want to regulate oil production, improve uneven skin tone, or as part of an anti-aging routine. 


    Yes, you can combine salicylic acid and niacinamide together in a cream. This combination can offer a synergistic effect, as salicylic acid helps to unclog pores and exfoliate the skin, while niacinamide can help to soothe and improve the overall appearance of the skin.

    But proceed with caution... 

    Applying salicylic acid cream should be a spot treatment for moderate acne. I repeat, SPOT TREATMENT. Do not slather that stuff all over your face. 

    It is important to follow the recommended usage instructions for each product and to patch test before using the combination on a larger area of skin. Additionally, it's best to choose products from reputable brands and to store them properly to ensure their effectiveness and safety.

    Niacinamide creams get a pass., not an A+. For optimal absorption, serums are preferable to creams for niacinamide. More on this below! 

    First Came the Face Wash, then came the... 

    Face washes formulated with salicylic acid are very popular. They are especially helpful for oily skin, because you rinse off all the excess oil, sebum and skin that has been dissolved. 

    With all its hype, you'll certainly find niacinamide cleansers, but they are not worth your hard-earned cash. Niacinamide treats the skin, so it should be a treatment layer in your routine. 

    Serums make niacinamide shine 

    Theoretically, you can use both niacinamide and salicylic acid in a serum product, but if doing the latter, proceed with caution.

    We do not advise applying salicylic acid serum all over your face. This can cause mild peeling, redness, irritation, dry skin and sensitivity to sunlight. 

    Spot treatment is safer and always avoid the eye area when applying any AHA or BHA products. Acid in the eyes? No thank you!

    If you're experiencing severe acne, consult your doctor and dermatologist. 

    Choosing a niacinamide serum is the best option. Most of the research demonstrates niacinamide works best between 2 and 5%. More is not necessarily better.  

    How do you use niacinamide with salicylic acid? 

    As a general rule, apply salicylic acid first, then niacinamide.

    Of course this depends on what product types you choose (scroll up if you missed our list of possible combinations!). And you can use both ingredients at the same time of day, i.e. in your morning or night routine.

    If you have sensitive skin, it's best practice to use at different times of day, or alternate back and forth. Wait about 30 minutes after applying salicylic acid (if all over), because it changes the skin's pH level. 

    What happens when you mix salicylic acid and niacinamide? 

    When you mix salicylic acid with niacinamide, the two ingredients can work together to address various skin concerns. 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.

    In other words...

    Dreams come true! Skin care dreams that is.

    Niacinamide and salicylic acid come together to benefit all skin types, and are especially effective for oily skin. 

    A niacinamide-salicylic acid pairing is perfect for blemish prone skin types.

    First, salicylic acid works to unclog pores by dissolving oil, sebum and dead skin. Then, niacinamide treats enlarged pores, "shrinking" them back to their original size. 

    What can you not mix with niacinamide?

    Niacinamide is a relatively stable and gentle ingredient, but there are a few things that should be avoided when using it in skincare products.

    1. Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid): Both vitamin C and niacinamide are antioxidants and can inactivate each other when used together. You don't need to give up the skin brightening and collagen production benefits of vit C. Just make sure to use them at separate times or in different products.
    2. High concentration of acidic ingredients: Niacinamide has a pH of around 7, and using it with highly acidic ingredients, such as glycolic, can reduce its efficacy.
    3. Essential oils: Essential oils can be irritating to the skin and can also inactivate niacinamide.
    4. Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide and niacinamide can interact and lead to skin irritation.

      What should not be mixed with Salicylic acid? 

      There's one duet you don't want to choreograph for salicylic acid and that's a dance with retinol.

      Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and skincare giant in its own right. You should not mix retinol with alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids. (Salicylic acid is a BHA, remember?). The combination can cause dryness, redness and irritation.

      In other words, it's lonely at the top! The more powerful an active ingredient, the more likely it's best used alone. 

      OK, so what's the skin(ny)? 

      You can become a mix master with your skincare ingredients to level up your routine.

      Hyaluronic Acid + Aquaxyl to heal dry skin and plump fine lines? Yes!

      Antioxidants + SPF to fight free radicals? Of course!

      And today's star duo? Salicylic acid + niacinamide to clear acne and heal stressed out skin.

      There's a perfect pairing for every skin type. Before you go layering skincare products, understand your skin type and skin concerns. And before you adopt the same skincare routine as your favourite Tik Tok guru, always do a patch test to be safe.

      Happy mixing! 

      You Are Loved.