How to use Niacinamide and Tretinoin in your skincare

Niacinamide and Tretinoin are both common ingredients in anti-aging skincare, and they each work in different ways. Many people wonder if they can include both in their skincare routine-and which one should come first and when? The short answer is yes, you can use both in your routine, but you should pay attention to a few things.

What is niacinamide

Niacinamide is a derivative of Vitamin B3 (meaning it is an ester form of Vitamin B3). It also goes by the name nicotinamide.

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Niacinamide and other Vitamin B3’s are called vitamin helpers, because they assist the body in producing the all-important anti-oxidants. Niacinamide has been used in skincare for quite some time now. Its most prominent use is in anti-aging, firming creams, and lotions, but you will also find it in many anti-oxidant and anti-acne products.

Niacinamide is therefore considered a “Vitamin Powerhouse.” Vitamin B3’s are essential for the formation of glucosamines and also for epinephrine activity in the skin. Niacinamide is also very effective at mending the skin’s lipid barrier, which means that it can help with dry skin as well.

It helps to stimulate the production of collagen, leading to more elastic and firmer skin, as well as to increased skin volume and skin thickness. Niacinamide is also a great anti-inflammatory skincare ingredient for treating acne.

Niacinamide can also improve skin tone and texture as it is a brightening agent and also because it decreases sebum production.  It is also great for hydrating the skin and moisturizing it in the process.  It does an excellent job of enhancing the skin barrier and keeps it hydrated.

How to use niacinamide

For optimal results, use Niacinamide in skincare products that also contain other antioxidants, preferably Vitamin C or ferulic acid. Adding Niacinamide to your routine without these additional antioxidants will not compromise its effectiveness, but it may not be able to reach its full potential.

The concentration of topical niacinamide products goes up to 10%, but studies have shown some effects with as low as 2%.

PCA SKIN Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum, Anti Aging Serum for Dark Spots and Skin Discoloration, Made with Hydrating Niacinamide and Antioxidants, Helps Minimize Redness and Uneven Skin Tones, 1.0 Pump PCA SKIN Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum, Anti Aging Serum for Dark Spots and Skin... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

StriVectin Advanced Acids Hyaluronic Dual-Response Face Serum with HA and Niacinamide, Rehydrate and Replump the Skin, 1 Fl Oz StriVectin Advanced Acids Hyaluronic Dual-Response Face Serum with HA and... @ Amazon

Before we introduce what tretinoin is, head straight to How to fit both products into your skincare routine if that’s what you want to find out.

What is tretinoin

It’s time to first talk about retinoids. The first thing that you should know is that there are several different types of retinoids. You can think of them as the different shapes of the same basic molecule.

For example, there are retinoids that have one single bond (e.g. retinol), there are retinoids that have two single bonds (e.g. retinaldehyde, a.k.a. retinal), and there are retinoids that have three single bonds (e.g. retinoic acid, a.k.a. tretinoin).

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The first thing that is important for us to remember is that all retinoids take part in the chemical pathway that turns fats and carbohydrates into lipids and is also responsible for building and maintaining the collagen and elastin matrix.

Retinoids are cell signaling molecules. These are molecules that communicate between cells. Like all cell signaling molecules, they have to physically get from one place to another, rather than communicating directly. They use messenger molecules to communicate and these messenger molecules have to be shuttled between cells.

Tretinoin is a mixture of all-trans retinoic acids, which is then linked to 12 other active components. Tretinoin has a wide range of use in beauty and cosmetics. This retinoid truly seems to do it all. It works on acne, reduces wrinkles, fine lines, and pigmentation (i.e. skin discoloration).

It is used for anti-aging, sun damage, as well as an acne treatment. However, it has several other cosmetic effects including improvement in skin elasticity and achieving a smooth appearance.

But this retinoid especially shines when it is used in anti-aging treatments because it increases cell turnover, which is good for the removal of old cells in the skin. By boosting cell production within your skin, using retinol can lead to the generation of young cells that are necessary for repairing damaged skin. You will notice the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles reduce after consistent use.

When you’ve used all of the typical acne-fighting ingredients – salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and even retinol – it might be time to try tretinoin. Tretinoin is a powerful acne-fighting ingredient that dermatologists love because it is one of the best ingredients for fighting acne.

Tretinoin decreases oil (i.e. sebum) production in the skin, which can prevent future breakouts. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which clear up active acne pustules. Along with its ability to speed up the rate of skin cell turnover, it can be very useful in dealing with acne.

Tretinoin primarily affects the epidermal skin layers but also changes the skin’s dermis to a degree. Thus it is also a popular ingredient in skincare products that are intended to retexturize or otherwise improve the skin’s appearance.

Last but not least, tretinoin is one of the most powerful skin brighteners. It works because of its ability to increase collagen and elastin production. For this reason, this ingredient can cause the skin to appear “glowy,” which makes it a popular ingredient for facial creams.

How to find Tretinoin

These are currently available with a prescription only, and come in these US and Canadian brand names:

  1. Atralin
  2. Avita
  3. Refissa
  4. Renova
  5. Retin-A
  6. Retin-A Micro
  7. Tretin-X
  8. Rejuva-A
  9. Stieva-A

The first option is topical Tretinoin cream. This option is the least expensive option but the highest concentration as well. You should apply it directly after you cleanse your face and before you moisturize.

The cream needs to be applied at night because when you are sleeping, your skin is regenerating and is most receptive to the increased cell turnover that comes with the increased collagen and elastin.  The US brand names include

The second option is in gel form (Clindamycin). It would be applied the same way as a cream. Gels are lighter and work faster but are more likely to cause skin irritation.

There’s also Retin-A Micro (gel microsphere). This prescription option is the costliest of the three, but it is also the most effective of the three. The microspheres are not as effective as a peel or as microneedling, but they performed the best of all the options in early studies when it came to long term effects.

How to use Tretinoin correctly

The following are a few quick tips that will help you maximize the benefits of using Tretinoin:

  1. First, be consistent. The longer that you can maintain your application, the better. This is because your skin will establish its own rhythm.
  2. Also watch for the amount you apply and do not become excessive. We don’t want to cause any skin irritation as a result.
  3. Make sure you are using a moisturizer after.
  4. Also make sure you are storing these products in their own air-tight container so they are not exposed to the air. Otherwise, they could oxidize and stop working properly.

The main things you need to watch out for are skin sensitivity, redness, breakouts, and itching.

For a new user trying to ease into Tretinoin, especially for those with sensitive skin, it’s best to use it no more than twice the first week. Then 3 times the following week, increasing the frequency this way until you are comfortable with daily use.

Apply a thin layer to the targeted areas of the skin once a day. Use it a night time only, before bed. It should be absorbed within a few minutes. Then follow up with a nice moisturizer.

The day following tretinoin you need to be extra diligent about using a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30.

Tretinoin purge

When you start using Tretinoin, the most common issue with it is a growing tolerance to it and eventually a resistance, which acne patients call the Tretinoin Purge. During the first few weeks, especially if you were using Tretinoin to treat acne, you may find it worsens your acne issues instead of making it better.

The more you use a retinoid cream or gel the quicker your skin becomes less sensitive to it – but it is only a temporary phenomenon. The sensitivity does not completely diminish, but you are able to tolerate higher levels of the retinoid without suffering any side effects.

It’s so tempting to stop using the retinol altogether when you run into a purge, but resist. Things should get better in less than a month’s time, with tolerance built-in fully by the 6th to 8th-week mark.

Dermatologists usually say even patients with dry, sensitive skin type, eczema, rosacea, or other skin condition with extreme sensitivity can still use a mild retinoid sparingly. Don’t give up quite yet.

Should I use it every night?

Once you’ve worked up to the tolerance, then yes you can use it every night.

Broken Skin

Note that applying Tretinoin to damaged skin may cause more harm than good.

The exact role of retinoids in general on the healing of wounds is confusing and controversial. Based on only a few reports, systemic retinoids are presumed to be harmful to wound healing. Most doctors and dermatologists recommend to not apply Tretinoin on broken skin.

If you don’t have access to the prescription Tretinoin, here’s an excellent choice StriVectin which has intensive retinal, one of the more potent forms of retinol.

StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer, 1.1 Fl Oz StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer, 1.1 Fl Oz @ Amazon Amazon Prime

How to fit both products into your skincare routine

Yes fitting both superstar ingredients in your routine can be beneficial for most people. If you are getting them in 2 different products, it’s most logical to use Niacinamide in the morning and Tretinoin at night.

For Niacinamide, you can apply it in the morning, right after you cleanse your face. It is one of the most effective ingredients for brightening skin tone, as well as for providing the skin with moisture. You’ll notice a difference in your skin tone almost immediately when you start using it.

Tretinoin cream is primarily used to treat acne.  But it’s known to also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as eliminating acne scars, smoothing out skin texture, and improving the skin’s overall elasticity. Use it after you have cleansed your face, but before you use any other type of skin care product.

Finding tretinoin and niacinamide in one product

Knowing the benefits of both ingredients, it’s easy to see why you’d want to use both of them at the same time. By mixing both ingredients together into one cream, wouldn’t you get the best of both worlds? Theoretically, using both ingredients together is the smartest way to get the best anti-aging results.

You can also expect them to boost the results of each other and create a smoother and more revitalized effect. A 2008 study reviewed the use of niacinamide and retinoic acid together and concluded niacinamide lessens the irritation and dryness caused by the retinoic acid. It confirms there’s a higher chance we can use retinol with fewer side effects if we pick a skin care product that also contains niacinamide.

Both help protect from sunburn, reduce the severity of UV-induced skin damage, and can help stabilize collagen and elastin and maintain the skin’s barrier function.

HOWEVER, given Tretinoin is prescription only, it is actually not that easy to find over-the-counter products with both in it.  Most people are prescribed Tretinoin and then add niacinamide to their skincare routine.

If you are still with me and really want to get the benefits of both niacinamide and retinol in one product, then these are some great recommendations that you can easily find online.

La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3. Anti Aging Face Serum for Lines, Wrinkles & Premature Sun Damage to Resurface & Hydrate. Suitable for Sensitive Skin, 1.0 Fl. Oz La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3. Anti Aging Face Serum... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

La Roche-Posay’s Pure Retinol Anti Aging Facial Serum is a perfect option for any woman who wants to even out her skin tone. It includes pure retinol and niacinamide to reduce the look of wrinkles and signs of premature sun damage, reducing the appearance of fine lines. Made with a non-irritating formula, you’ll find this serum is gentle enough for daily use.

Murad Resurgence Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream – Anti-Aging Face Cream for Lines and Wrinkles – Hydrating, Firming and Smoothing Skin Care Treatment, 1.7 Fl Oz Murad Resurgence Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream – Anti-Aging Face Cream for... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

Murad Resurgence Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream is a retinol that works both as a preventative against signs of aging and as a corrective. It improves skin’s protective barrier, using the latest research on retinol. With its potent formula, it gives quick results while still being gentle to your skin. In two weeks, 93% of users saw improvement in lines and wrinkles, and from then on, continued to see less visible signs of aging every day.

What are the side effects of using niacinamide and tretinoin?

Both of these ingredients are safe to use on your skin, up to a certain extent. You may experience breakout from using Tretinoin (see Tretinoin purge above), but it is easily treatable with a benzoyl peroxide product. You may also experience some retinol irritation, which is also easily treatable.

Questions and answers

How do you use niacinamide and tretinoin together?

You can use tretinoin with niacinamide. Niacinamide brightens the skin and reduces inflammation, while tretinoin can be used to reduce cell damage and heal acne scars on the face. They work great together.

What can you not mix with tretinoin?

You cannot use any other exfoliating or acid-containing products in conjunction with your tretinoin, as this combination can cause severe irritation in the skin.

Side effects of tretinoin

Tretinoin (vitamin A) can cause some skin redness and irritation in the beginning. However, over time the skin will get used to the Vitamin A and the side effects will subside.

Side effects of niacinamide

Side effects of niacinamide are rare in isolated cases and can include skin irritation, redness, and possibly itching.  Generally niacinamide is considered to be very safe, even for sensitive skin types.

Do you put moisturizer on before or after tretinoin serum?

It is recommended to apply a moisturizer after because it will act as a skin barrier against the essential product.

What is the best moisturizer to use with tretinoin?

It’s best to use a gel-based moisturizer, and perhaps one containing niacinamide to reduce irritated skin.

How long does the tretinoin purge last?

The Tretinoin purge occurs in the first 6-8 weeks of use. After that, the skin is more acclimated to the product.

Can I use hyaluronic acid with tretinoin?

Yes, if you apply tretinoin at night, you may use hyaluronic acid in the morning.

Should I apply tretinoin with moisturizer?

You should definitely use a moisturizer. Tretinoin is applied at night after washing your face. It can be applied to the face and neck. Definitely follow it with a moisturizer. Other than the moisturizer, do not apply any other products to the same area where you applied the Vitamin A.

Can niacinamide be used with AHA or BHA?

Niacinamide and AHA (such as glycolic acid) or BHA (salicylic acid) or even another acid like azelaic acid can fit in your skin care routine, as long as you use them at the right time, in the right order. Just remember we can use niacinamide and another acid in a routine, but never together. Read our guide on How salicylic acid and niacinamide work together to give you even and glowing skin.

Jen Roberts Glowing Gorgeous

Jen Roberts

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About our Chief Editor

Jen Roberts, is a passionate beauty specialist and blogger with a deep love for skincare and wellness. More about me here.


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