Kojic acid and Niacinamide are two of the most popular ingredients in skincare today. They have been shown to have a wide range of benefits for the skin, including reducing hyperpigmentation, lightening age spots, and smoothing out fine lines.
But what happens when you combine the two? Can they work together to give you better results than either one would on its own?
That’s what we wanted to find out.
How do Niacinamide and Kojic acid work?
Niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide) is a form of vitamin B3 that can penetrate the skin’s surface readily and has been shown to have a stabilizing effect on epidermal barrier function. This means that it helps to keep moisture in, block chemicals from entering your skin (from pollution or cosmetics), and prevent bacterial infection.
Niacinamide is found in many food sources—meat, nuts, whole grains, legumes, yeast, oat flour, maize (corn), wheat germ oil, palm kernel oil (extracted from the center of palm nuts), soya beans and molasses (derived from sugar cane). Animal organs like the liver and muscles also contain niacinamide.
The topical application of niacinamide has been shown to
- reduce facial hyperpigmentation appearance (lightening dark spots)
- moisturizing the skin
- reduce fine lines and wrinkles
- improving skin elasticity
- reducing acne breakouts
- improving skin texture
- help treat skin disorders such as rosacea
Niacinamide, when applied topically, prevents melanosomes from being transferred from melanocytes to keratinocytes. This process lightens the skin and makes it appear more even-toned and radiant. Unlike other skin-lightening substances that act as direct inhibitors of tyrosinase (e.g., arbutin, kojic acid), niacinamide doesn’t affect the production of melanin altogether.
Kojic acid is another compound that has been shown to be effective in treating hyperpigmentation. It is commonly found in Japanese beverages (sake) and food, such as soy sauce or miso—and it’s also an ingredient in many cosmetic products like face wash, soaps, and serums.
Kojic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it can prevent the production of melanin in skin cells. It’s also an antioxidant—which means that when you use products containing kojic acid on your skin, they help protect against free radical damage caused by environmental factors like sun exposure and pollution.
The iron in our skin plays a role in the formation of wrinkles caused by excessive sun exposure. Kojic acid binds with this iron and has been shown to have an anti-wrinkling effect.
Studies have shown that kojic acid is safe for long-term use, and the combination of kojic acid with glycolic acid has also proven to be effective in reducing the pigment in melasma patients.
In terms of effectiveness, kojic acid is less effective than hydroquinone—a standard treatment for melasma patients. Research has shown that a 4% hydroquinone-based preparation is 5 times more effective at lightening pigmentation than the combined use of kojic acid (0.75%) and vitamin C (2.5%).
When used in combination, these substances are safe, but only if they do not exceed a certain concentration.
Applying kojic acid and niacinamide together is safe, but be careful not to overdo it—using too much of either ingredient can irritate your skin.
Niacinamide is best used at concentrations of 2% – 5%. If you go above 5%, then it can be irritating, so keep it at a lower concentration if possible. You’ll see results after about four weeks of using this ingredient on its own.
The Cosmeceutical Ingredient Review (CIR) recommends a maximum concentration of 1% for kojic acid, citing cytotoxicity concerns. Other scientific data, however, support its safety at concentrations as high as 2%. In concentrations above 2%, kojic acid can be irritating to some people.
A 2019 study investigated the effectiveness of kojic acid and niacinamide in treating melasma, PIH, and hyperpigmentation among 55 healthy Brazilian women with Fitzpatrick skin types I-IV. A face serum (Discoloration Defense, SkinCeuticals) containing 3% tranexamic acid (TXA), 1% kojic acid, 5% niacinamide, and 5% hydroxyethylpiperazineethane sulfonic acid (HEPES) was used as a treatment. Results showed that this combination led to significant improvement in hyperpigmentation, increased skin texture, and homogeneity of skin tone. There was also a major reduction in cases of melasma after using the serum for a certain period of time.
It’s all about finding your sweet spot—the amount that works best for your skin. You’ll want to take your time to understand how your skin reacts to the ingredients, and what sort of effects you’re looking for.
Choose your products carefully
For best results, look for products with lower concentrations of each ingredient—and remember that it’s always better to start off slow when introducing new products into your routine!
If you’re looking for a product with both niacinamide and kojic acid, check out the below products.
- The Derma Co 2% Kojic Acid Face Serum
- MonétBeauty Kojic Acid Dark Spot Corrector w/ Niacinamide
- Nasola Kojic Acid Skin Brightening Lotion
- SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Before applying a product to your face, apply it first to the inside of your arm. If no irritation appears after several hours, you can safely use the product on your face. Consult with a dermatologist if you experience any discomfort or problems after using these two ingredients together
Kojic acid and niacinamide are two popular ingredients that can be found in numerous lotions, creams, and other cosmetic products. If used in the right amounts—and paired with sun protection!—they can enhance your skin tone. However; if you choose to combine them at high concentrations, it may cause an allergic reaction or irritation on contact with sensitive skin.