What isn’t there to love about retinoids? They are one of the few classes of skincare ingredients that address a multitude of skin concerns, ranging from acne to aging to hyperpigmentation. But, retinoids aren’t entirely perfect. In fact, they carry a major caveat: they can be extremely irritating and drying. The reason for this: retinoids impair skin barrier function by promoting trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). This can be a serious problem, since it can exacerbate existing skin issues (i.e. hyperpigmentation, fine lines), as well as potentially create new ones such as irritant dermatitis.
Minimizing the adverse effects of retinoids can be achieved through multiple techniques. Two of the most popular ones are mixing and buffering, which serve to dilute retinoids (typically with bland moisturizers), which in turn reduce the intensity of their side effects.
Another way of reducing the risk of excess dryness and irritation from retinoids is by using niacinamide. This ingredient is another multi-functional, powerhouse skincare ingredient, which offers a host of benefits to the skin when applied topically. Some of these include: anti-inflammatory effects, increased skin hydration, improved skin barrier function, collagen stimulation, sebum reduction, and reduction in hyperpigmentation through the inhibition of melanocyte to keratinocyte transfer in the basal cell layer.
In this post I will highlight the various benefits that come from using retinoids with niacinamide, as well as discuss how their combination not only reduces irritation, but leads to enhanced skin benefits.
Non-conflicting pH levels
When it comes to combining active ingredients – the pH level matters! In the case of retinoids, specifically retinoid precursors such as retinol and retinaldehyde, it’s important to know that they require a pH of 6 to 7 to optimally convert to tretinoin (a.k.a. retinoic acid – the active form used by the skin). Using lower pH ingredients can mess with this optimal range and diminish the effectiveness of the retinoid, so it’s best to combine ingredients with similar optimal pH ranges.
Fortunately, niacinamide is one ingredient that works perfectly with retinoids. Niacinamide has a more neutral optimal pH range (5 to 7), so using it in conjunction with retinoid precursors like retinol will not pull them out of their optimal pH range. No diminished effectiveness here!
Reduced irritation and synergistic effects
Niacinamide is able to attenuate the drying and irritating effects of retinoids by increasing hydration retention in the stratum corneum (outermost layer of the skin) and by strengthening skin barrier function through increased synthesis of ceramides and stimulation of keratinocyte differentiation.
These two ingredients can safely be combined together through buffering (with niacinamide applied first and retinoids after or vice versa – no waiting time required) or mixing (mixing both ingredients in the palm of your hand and applying to your skin).
Apart from reduced irritation, the combination of retinoids with niacinamide additionally leads to synergistic skin benefits. Particularly in regards to anti-aging and skin lightening. With the latter, benefits can be quite drastic, since both retinoids and niacinamide lighten skin to a degree. Retinoids lighten skin by removing melanin-filled keratinocytes in the upper layers of the skin, while niacinamide suppresses a key step in melanogenesis (the transfer of melanocytes to keratinocytes). Moreover, retinoids can enhance the penetration of niacinamide, which can increase its efficacy. All in all, using these ingredients concurrently can produce a synergy of skin lightening.
Niacinamide can safely be used in conjunction with retinoids to reduce irritation and enhance anti-aging and skin lightening benefits.