How Niacinamide Can Help Your Skin: What It Is, What It Does and Why It Treats Almost Every Skin Con
The one vitamin you NEED in your skincare routine.
What is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is the active form of niacin (vitamin B3).
As a water-soluble vitamin, it won't dissolve in oil, so you'll typically find it in water-based serums. Perfect for anyone whose skin hates oils and oily solvents!
Niacinamide is also one of the more stable active ingredients in skincare, with a pH around neutral. So unlike alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and retinoids, it is non-acidic and non-irritating.
Niacinamide Mechanism of Action
In our bodies, niacinamide is formed when we eat foods high in niacin (like liver or mushrooms). We convert the niacin into active niacinamide, which in turn acts as a precursor to the coenzymes NADH and NADPH.
One of the key roles for these coenzymes is in boosting cellular metabolism, meaning they give our skin cells the energy to carry out their functions. In fact, they are involved in more than 40 biochemical processes, including such important jobs as DNA repair and cell turnover.
Since niacinamide has been found to readily penetrate into the skin, we don't have to rely solely on our diets—we can also benefit from using it topically!
As for its mechanism of action, niacinamide has the following properties:
Sebostatic (sebum reducing)
Niacinamide Skin Benefits
Ready to see what niacinamide can do? Here are all the ways it can help your skin (it's a long list!):
1. Fights Free Radicals
"Niacinamide increases the antioxidant capacity of skin after topical application by increasing the reduced forms [of the NADP family of coenzymes] (NADPH), which have potent antioxidant properties."
That means you can use niacinamide as your antioxidant, instead of the usual vitamin C!
I personally prefer it, as L-ascorbic acid is notoriously unstable, acidic and often oily on the skin. Definitely consider switching to niacinamide if you'd prefer something lightweight and longer-lasting.
2. Fades Pigmentation
Niacinamide has proved to be an excellent treatment for pigmentation, age spots and melasma.
This research found a significant decrease in hyperpigmentation after four weeks of treatment with as little as two percent niacinamide.
And this study found that four percent niacinamide gives comparable results to four percent hydroquinone in the treatment of melasma, with fewer side effects and a much better safety profile.
3. Reduces Wrinkles
Niacinamide significantly improves fine lines and wrinkles, according to this 12-week, double-blind study of females between 40 and 60 years old (using a four percent concentration).
Another study found a significant reduction in eye-area wrinkles after eight weeks with four percent niacinamide.
Some researchers have suggested that niacinamide does this by increasing collagen production in the dermis, but that's not the whole story—it also helps normalize collagen, keeping it supple and flexible! According to Dermatology Times:
"Niacinamide inhibits protein glycation, effectively reducing deposition of cross-linked collagen and elastin molecules in the skin. Cross-linked collagen and elastin molecules are stiff and rigid, resulting in altered viscoelastic properties of the skin."
4. Treats Acne
With its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide is a great treatment to try if you have acne.
This study found that four percent niacinamide gives comparable results to one percent clindamycin (an topical antibiotic treatment) for moderate acne—and without the risk of bacterial resistance.
Another study concluded that the same amount, four percent, "is effective and safe in alleviating symptoms of mild to moderate acne."
Bonus: It's also a lot gentler on your skin than acids, retinoids and benzoyl peroxide!
5. Regulates Oil Production
Maybe you don't have acne, but struggle with oily skin. Well, niacinamide can help with that, too.
This study fund that just two percent niacinamide can lower sebum levels and the rate of sebum excretion.
This is different from most topical treatments for oily skin, which just try to absorb the excess sebum. Niacinamide can actually slow down how much is released, with changes evident after two to four weeks.
6. Shrinks Pores and Smooths Texture
You've probably heard that you can't shrink your pores. Actually, you CAN—with niacinamide!
Don't believe me? Take it from Dermatology Times:
"Clinically it reduces pore size, and improves skin texture."
A study cited in Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Practice found that a combination of niacinamide and salicylic acid significantly reduces pore size and bumpy skin texture (after 12 weeks).
This happens because of niacinamide's ability to reduce sebum production. Pores always look larger when they are trapped with sebum and dead skin—so with less oil, they're not going to be as stretched out. And with smaller pores, the skin texture looks softer and smoother.
7. Reduces Redness
If you're prone to redness, niacinamide is one of the best ingredients you can apply.
The theory is that niacinamide improves the function of the skin barrier, which means less irritation and less reddening.
8. Strengthens the Skin Barrier
If your skin seems super-sensitized, dry and intolerant—even stinging when you apply your skincare—then it's possible your skin barrier has become compromised. I often hear from people who are experiencing this after using topicals that were too harsh, such as prescription retinoids.
To restore barrier function, I always suggest trying niacinamide. It reduces transepidermal water loss and increases the moisture content of the stratum corneum, resulting in a thicker and stronger barrier. According to the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology:
"Because of its verifiable beneficial effects, niacinamide would be a suitable component in cosmetic products for use in disorders of epidermal barrier function."
9. Reduces Dryness
Another way you can use niacinamide is to treat dry skin.
This study compared two percent niacinamide with white petrolatum (a.k.a. mineral oil), and found that niacinamide significantly decreases water loss—but petrolatum does not. Niacinamide was also proven more effective at increasing hydration in the skin's outermost layer.
Another study found that a twice-daily application of niacinamide lowered inflammation, decreased water loss and increased the thickness of the stratum corneum.
10. Reduces Sallowness
Ever noticed how some people's skin seems to take on a sallow, yellow cast as they get older?
It happens due to oxidative stress, which increases as we age—and which niacinamide, as an antioxidant, can inhibit.
11. Protects from UV Damage
Lastly, consider niacinamide as an adjunct to your sunscreen if you are spending a lot of time in the sun. Research has shown that it has some photoprotective properties.
This study showed that niacinamide aids in DNA repair after UV damage.
This study found that niacinamide protects against immunosuppression caused by UVA and UVB, making it "a promising agent for skin cancer prevention."
And this study discovered niacinamide helps prevent photocarcinogenesis.
Niacinamide Side Effects
As if niacinamide didn't have enough going for it, here's one more thing to know...
It has virtually no side effects! According to Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Practice:
"Niacinamide can be used at high doses topically (at least up to five percent, the dose used in several commercial cosmetic products) and is generally well tolerated."
So it's one of the safest active ingredients in skincare, and would be a great alternative to retinoids and acids if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
As for the concentration, five percent should be plenty—that's what was used in most of the clinical studies—but there are products now that go as high as 10 to 12 percent. (Just chat with your doctor about the latter if you have a condition like gout, diabetes or gallbladder disease, as that may be too big of a dose.)
If you do experience irritation from a niacinamide product, "it likely was one of the preservatives in the product causing the irritation, not the niacinamide itself," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner.
In rare cases, high doses might cause some stinging or redness in sensitive skin, in which case you could try a lower concentration instead.
The Best Niacinamides to Try
Ready to get started with niacinamide? These are the best serums I've found...
Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum
Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum is ideal if you're looking for a natural option. It's a lightweight gel chock-full of botanical ingredients and 10 percent niacinamide.
Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster
Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster was the OG high dose niacinamide. It offers a 10 percent concentration, in a light liquid formula free of silicones.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is the most affordable of the bunch. This is another high-dose, silicone-free formula, with the addition of zinc to control oil. It does have a tendency to ball up under other products, but you can try these tips to prevent pilling.
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense is a dark spot-correcting serum with five percent niacinamide, along with tranexamic acid, kojic acid and sulfonic acid (and no silicones).
Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Serum
Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Serum is a fast-absorbing, lightweight serum, also free of silicones. However, they don't disclose the percentage of niacinamide... hopefully it's at least four percent!
Iron Power NiaSerum Niacinamide Serum
Iron Power NiaSerum Niacinamide Serum is your Amazon option. Also your minimalist option, since it has only three ingredients! And with 12 percent, it's the highest concentration of niacinamide I've seen.
Glossier Super Pure
Glossier Super Pure is another niacinamide-zinc concoction, although we don't know how much they used of each. Still, the ingredients list is surprisingly short (for them); it's also low-silicone and has a light, watery texture.
Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide
Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide combines niacinamide with copper peptides, a fantastic skin-repairing ingredient (which is responsible for its blue tint). So this could be an option if you're looking for a powerful anti-aging combo.
Now you're up to speed on the magic of niacinamide. Honestly, is there anything it can't do?!
Personally, niacinamide has been part of my skincare routine for over a year now, and I can't imagine EVER being without it.
As per the study here, I use it along with salicylic acid, and have found the two to be super effective for acne, excess oil and pigmentation.
I've also found niacinamide serums keep my skin more hydrated than hyaluronic acid, and really calm down my redness. Plus, they agree with my skin more than vitamin C, which often breaks me out (not to mention goes rancid before I can finish a bottle!).
All in all, I can't recommend this ingredient enough, no matter what skin issue you're trying to target. It truly does it all!