Nearly Science: The Ordinary’s Niacinimide 10% + Zinc PCA 1% Review (& Glossier Comparison)

I’m literally, actually, one hundred percent always ready to spend some money and start new, unnecessary series on my blog. So welcome to Nearly Science. For the folks who got a liberal arts degree, instead of following through with that biology thing like they promised their mom.

Am I projecting?

Also, I’m splitting up the reviews from my big Ordinary order by product firstly because I hope that’s easier to search for and also because it would be long to the point of unintelligible and cumbersome if I tried to fit everything in one review. So!

The Ordinary’s entire gimmick (I say that lovingly) is simple, one or two ingredient actives with very little in the way of much else. Being said, I think it’s therefore especially important to really understand exactly what these ingredients are supposed to do, since that’s literally all it has going for it.

What is Niacinamide? 

“Niacinamide” (Nicotinamide) and Niacin hang their hats in the Vitamin B3 family. Both are found naturally in the body, and deficiencies, particularly of niacin, can cause health issues like anemia, fatigue, lesions, nausea, etc. Niacin is also used as cholesterol medication, and both Niacin and Nicotinamide are necessary for the production of ATP, which helps do fun stuff like help keep you alive.

While Niacin has other, separate medical uses, it’s nicotinamide that’s usually used to treat niacin deficiencies because it doesn’t have the same side effects as ingesting niacin in high/consistent doses. A lot of it is the general fun stuff: GI issues, as well as raising blood sugar levels and even blood pressure, but for our purposes today I want to point out that one of the most common side effects of taking niacin is flushing.

Niacin and Nicotinamide are not the same, and niacin can’t even be directly converted to niacinamide. Similarly, though they are both necessary for ATP production and niacinamide can be used to help niacin deficiency, nicotinamide hasn’t been shown to help with cholesterol the way niacin can. What I mean is, they behave the same in some, but not all, ways.

I bring this up because there are people who do experience flushing with Niacinamide topically, despite it being the “no-flush” alternative. Likely this is from the niacinamide in the formula converting to niacin once on the skin. (Niacinamide is usually very stable, though, and this is rare.) Even if you have used niacinamide before, I would always recommend patch testing new formulas, just in case.

Niacinamide in Skin Care

Topically, niacinamide is used largely for its anti-inflammatory abilities. It’s been shown to inhibit a specific inflammatory receptor in the skin, and also help with ceramide synthesis that helps barrier repair. With regards to breakouts, niacinamide will provide what we called in my most favorite political science courses “a necessary but insufficient condition” to helping clear that up. It’s not going to act the way something like benzoyl peroxide (largely an antibacterial) or even salicylic acid (an anti-imflammatory, though not in the same way as niacinamide, and a BHA) will, but it will soothe the resultant inflammation and redness from a breakout.

The Ordinary itself doesn’t claim this to be an acne treatment per se, and I appreciate that. Rather, like the Glossier Super Pure, it’s recommended for acne-prone skin generally.

Niacinamide is also thought to help suppressing melanin from reaching the surface layers of the skin, and it’s usually for this reason and it’s uses in ceramide synthesis/barrier strengthening that it’s included in “anti-aging creams,” like Olay Regenerist (which is, perhaps, rightfully hyped).

What is Zinc PCA?

Zinc is an essential element that’s found in a whole bunch of enzymes, proteins, and amino acids in the human body, in some form or another. Like Niacin and Niacinamide, while Zinc is found naturally in the body it’s also necessary to ingest a certain amount of it from your diet to avoid Zinc deficiency, which can cause developmental delays or issues in children as well as increase a person’s susceptibility to disease. (Though, having too much zinc in your body will just give you a whole other set of issues. But that might be another topic for another day.)

The “PCA” bit stands for Pyrrolidine Carboxylic Acid, which is the salt of an amino acid that has been shown to act as a humectant and skin conditioner. (In the sake of disclosure, the percentage at which PCA was shown to have these qualities isn’t super clear — to me, anyway. The only paper I’ve seen with a specific number floats it at or above 2%, but was published several years ago.)

Zinc in Skin Care

Topically, zinc is used as an antimicrobial and a skin protectant, in addition to as a sunscreen (depending on the formulation). It’s also a soothing agent, and Zinc PCA specifically is a conditioning ingredient. Zinc might be something I have to tackle in detail later, as its uses in all its forms are pretty varied, but Zinc PCA is largely a one trick pony. It’s soothing. End.

Product Performance

I enjoy this serum, but I don’t think it’s going to be necessary for everyone. I vastly prefer it to the Glossier Super Pure, which I also used — even went through an entire bottle of. Glossier refuses to state what percentage of niacinamide or zinc is in their formula, but I would guess it’s not nearly as much as what’s in the Ordinary, based on that reluctance, firstly, and its performance, more than anything.

Full Ingredients (The Ordinary)

Aqua (Water), Niacinamide, Pentylene Glycol (Solvent/Emollient), Zinc PCA, Tamarindus Indica Seed Gum (Thickener/Viscosity Control), Xanthan Gum (Thickener/Viscosity Control), Isoceteth-20 (Surfactant/Emulsifier), Ethoxydiglycol (Solvent/Viscosity Control), Phenoxyethanol (Preservative), Chlorphenesin (Preservative)

Full Ingredients (Glossier)

Water/Aqua/Eau, Niacinamide, Glycereth-26 (Emollient/Thickener), Propanediol (Viscosity Control/Solvent), Zinc PCA, Citric Acid (pH Adjuster), Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Extract, Peg-12 Dimethicone (Emollient/Emulsifier), Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose (Viscosity Control/Thickener)

For the record, COSDNA labels the Honeysuckle extracts in the Glossier as an astringent. I hadn’t really seen them before, so I did a quick google to lukewarm results in terms of credibility…in my personal opinion. Some folks have argued this extract has antioxidant properties, and there seems to be a longstanding debate as to if these can be processed in some way to be a “green” preservative. I’m unsure to what end, if any, they were included in the Super Pure, and as I mentioned, Glossier is mum about their “secret formulas.” The Citric Acid in their formula can also be used as a preservative, though I’m unsure why they would use that specifically in a formula with niacinamide as the star ingredient…just wanted to put it out there either way!

The Ordinary’s serum is better in terms of immediately soothing redness on contact. While I felt the Glossier Super Pure helped with my ever present redness as well, it was too slippy/oily feeling and I had to use more than I felt I should have to. Also, within several minutes of application I ultimately felt like the redness was back to it’s usual, annoying, level.

Both serums claim to reduce pore size. Glossier had no effect on my pores at all, but the Ordinary’s seems to be helping with some of the congestion, and I think is making them appear a little smaller (though I’m also using regular acid exfoliators.) We’re all friends here, so I don’t need to tell you that there is no actual way to physcially shrink your pores, and also that pores are necessary to you living. Please love them. Even and especially when they are visible.

I mentioned the Glossier Super Pure was slippy, but the Ordinary’s is much more like water. As it’s drying, I notice more sticky/tackiness than I do the Glossier, but within a few seconds any stickiness is gone, and I don’t experience pilling putting lotion on top. It’s a nice addition to my nighttime routine, especially when I’m about to go on the rag and my skin is looking just generally unhappy.

In terms of doing what it says on the tin, The Ordinary’s Niacinamide scores full marks. It’s a good booster to other actives, particularly an acid. (Lactic Acid for redness and texture and Salicylic for acne concerns would be my personal suggestions.) The Niacinamide does help with any potential irritation using these, and for folks looking for a little something extra I think you’ll enjoy this. If you’re looking for a radical game changer that will leave you waking up with different skin or a one-stop shop that will “cure” your redness or acne, this will leave you underwhelmed.

I feel confident recommending the Niacinamide serum from the Ordinary to someone who knows what to expect going in, certainly over the Glossier Super Pure, and am glad to see an affordable option that lets people play around with the ingredient to see how they like it.

Let me know what you thought about this or any of the other Ordinary products! Nearly Science will return with The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid 5% + 2% HA.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and your week is easy-breezy ahead of you. 🙂


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