Can You Use Salicylic Acid with Niacinamide?

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Niacinamide and salicylic acid are hot in the streets of skincare. And for good reason!

If you struggle with acne, listen up. Together, these two ingredients are a powerful remedy for annoying acne flare ups. Clogged pores, be gone!

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

But first, some basics. 

What is Salicylic Acid? 

Salicylic acid is a widely used cosmetic ingredient that helps to treat and prevent acne. It's is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Don't be scared by the word acid - it's an organic ingredient that is safe to use on your skin. Salicylic acid is the most common BHA on the skincare market today, and soon, you'll see why. 

The other acid used in skincare is alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). AHA's are making a name with popular ingredients like lactic acid and glycolic acid. AHA's are water soluble whereas BHA's like salicylic acid are oil soluble (more on why that's important later!). 

There's evidence that salicylic acid has been used topically for 2,000 years! It was traditionally sourced from willow bark. Today, it continues to be sourced from nature (willow bark, wintergreen and sweet birch), or it's made synthetically. 

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. That means it removes dead skin from the surface.

It's like when you scrub your face & body with a washcloth and dead 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 cells, excess oil and sebum that's causing clogged pores. 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. 

Salicylic acid is most commonly found in cream or foaming cleansers. Here's an excellent double cleanse for acne prone skin:

  1. For the first cleanse, choose an oil cleanser high in linoleic acid. LA thins the sebum to help it stay runny. 
  2. For the second cleanse, choose a foaming cleanser with salicylic acid to remove that excess sebum. Be sure to let it sit on the skin for a few minutes before rinsing - otherwise you're just pouring the active ingredient down your sink! 

linoleic acid oil cleanser


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? 

What is niacinamide? 

Niacinamide has made a big name for itself as a skincare routine must-have.

It's a naturally-occurring vitamin B derivative, a water-soluble vitamin, also sometimes called nicotinamide.

Our bodies need vitamin B3 to help repair skin cells as well as grow new ones.

Beauty experts recommend taking a B3 supplement and applying the topical vitamin niacinamide.

Read on to find out why! 

Improve Skin Texture 

Niacinamide benefits the skin in many ways. 

Up first, niacinamide reduces the look of enlarged pores. 

We cannot actually shrink our pore size. It's sad, we know. Luckily, pores are less noticeable when they are free and clear of congestion.

Like we mentioned earlier, salicylic acid dissolves build up in the pores. In a sense, it does the heavy lifting. 

But what niacinamide brings to the table is the ability to reduce inflammation. And trust us, pores that have been through a bad breakout are inflamed.

You probably are too, hot-headed about the fact that you've just see your ex at a party with a big zit on your forehead. 

By calming your stressed out pores (and hopefully you), niacinamide improves skin texture.

It also regulates oil production to reduce the risk of those pores clogging up again. We love a bonus.  

Now for our skin's barrier. This is a big one. 

Our skin has its own natural processes for pushing stuff out of our pores (like sweating and skin shedding!). 

It's kind of gross, but VERY TRUE . 

So the main purpose of our skincare routine should always be to repair and support the skin barrier to do it's thing. Our skin barrier serves to protect us from potential damages, environmental and otherwise. 

Niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier by building up the lipid layer. This reduces transdermal water loss, also known as dehydration. Dry skin is the source of some our worst skin nightmares, including fine lines and wrinkles.

Yes, we can apply creams and lotions with specialized ingredients to hydrate. But it's also important that we support our skin to do that on it's own too.

Unfortunately, a lot of our skin's processes change and weaken over time. Surprise! Niacinamide can help with that too. 

Last, but most certainly not least, niacinamide is anti-aging. You didn't think it could get any better, did you? 

Niacinamide increases cell turnover, which slows as we age.

It's also skin brightening and has been shown to treat hyperpigmentation. Dullness and dark spots are usually associated with UV exposure, which again, is something that happens over time. Since it treats sun damage, it can be helpful with fine lines and wrinkles, another fan favourite of skin ageing... not! 

And one more thing!

The topical vitamin is considered gentle enough to be used by all skin types. That means you should share what you learn about niacinamide with your friends, okay? 

Is it safe to mix salicylic acid and niacinamide together? 

Using salicylic acid and niacinamide together is safe, and in fact, it's encouraged! Together, they are one of the best topical combinations for folks with acne prone skin.  

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 skin texture, or as part of an anti-aging routine. 

Cream? 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. 

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. 

Niacinamide is best in a serum. 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? 

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. 

Acne Prone Skin Savior 

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.

Quick reminder: pores stretch to make room for excess oil - they can appear large and puffy after an acne break out. While you cannot change your skin's pore size, niacinamide can reduce inflammation and improve uneven skin tone. 

What can you not mix with niacinamide?

Not all ingredients mix well. 

It's not recommended that you mix niacinamide with vitamin C. This goes for all forms of vitamin C, but especially ascorbic acid. The potential outcomes range from making the vitamin C less effective to causing redness and skin irritation.

There's no expert consensus on this, so better to safe than sorry.

But you're thinking, "I want to use both". Of course you do! 

Both ingredients benefit the skin in different ways. So it's just a matter of timing. 

Our solution? Use vitamin C in the morning - it's a potent antioxidant that will boost the protection of your sunscreen. Use niacinamide in the evening so it can repair and nourish while you slumber. 

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 patch test to be safe.

Happy mixing! 

You Are Loved. 


Jennifer Grant with Hemp Roots


Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri.  Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO