What it can and can’t do for your skin.
Niacinamide may sound like a beauty company’s chemistry lab invention (just us?.) However, the skin-care ingredient that is becoming increasingly popular is actually a form of vitamin B3. What are the benefits of Niacinamide? These benefits are not common: They can improve all skin conditions, including acne and hyperpigmentation.
It’s possible to see niacinamide in topical products and supplements. We’ll discuss the differences and potential side effects and help you choose the right one. You might have already bought a product with niacinamide from Sephora, but you aren’t sure if it has any benefits. If you aren’t quite sure what niacinamide is or what it’s doing in your moisturizer, you’re not alone. Before you add niacinamide to your skin-care regimen, here are some facts about niacinamide.
What is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is also known as nicotinamide and is a form of vitamin B3. Niacin can be found in food, supplements, and skin-care products. “Vitamin B3 is an antioxidant which is important for cell repair,” says Snehal Amin, MD, board-certified dermatologist of MDCS Dermatology and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill-Cornell Medical College. Vitamin B3 can be found in many dietary sources including eggs, poultry, legumes and fish. According to Dr. Amin, deficiencies are not common in the United States.
The vitamin B3 compound niacinamide is another. It is often claimed to be able to reduce wrinkles, rosacea and pigmentation problems. Is there science behind these claims?
Scientists believe that niacinamide could be used in skin-care products due to its role as a precursor for two very important co-enzymes within your body: nicotinamide dinucleotide/NADH and nicotinamide dinucleotide-phosphate (NADP+). These molecules are essential to the chemical reactions your cells, including skin cells, need to repair damage, reproduce and function normally. NAD+ is essential for many of these vital reactions. Your cells cannot make it without it.
According to scientists, niacinamide can be given to your body in order for it to produce more NAD+. John G. Zampella is an assistant professor at the Ronald O. Perelman dermatology department at NYU Langone Health says that NAD+ allows cells to grow and can also help your body absorb and neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules which can cause damage to cells).
The potential to help your body produce more NAD+, and therefore repair damage, is what niacinamide is believed to be responsible for. This could also explain its potential skin-care benefits, both in topical and supplement form. There’s also evidence that topical niacinamide can increase the production of ceramides (lipids that help maintain the skin’s protective barrier), which may contribute to its topical effects on wrinkles, fine lines, and the skin’s moisture barrier. All of this is probably why you’re seeing niacinamide listed in a bunch of skin-care products.
What is niacinamide good for?
Niacinamide can be used to treat most cell functions. No, not at all. If every cell process could be improved with vitamin supplements, then we wouldn’t require antibiotics or radiation therapy. However, topical and oral niacinamide might have some real benefits for skin health.
Prevention of skin cancer:
Ask a dermatologist what niacinamide does best, and the very first niacinamide benefit they’ll list is probably “skin cancer prevention.” In a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers gave 386 patients 500 mg of oral niacinamide or a placebo twice daily for a whole year. The majority of participants had experienced at least one non-melanoma, skin cancer within the past five years. They were therefore at high risk of developing another form. The study results showed that there were 23% less cases of skin cancer in those who received niacinamide (336), compared to those who received the placebo (463).
Dr. Zampella, along with Laura Ferris, MD, PhD associate professor in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh, shared their opinions that they often recommend oral niacinamide for patients at high risk of non-melanoma, skin cancers. They cited this study as one reason.
However, this doesn’t mean that taking two niacinamide pills per day (which was what participants took in the research) will prevent skin cancer. This study was limited to people who have had skin cancer in the past. It did not include the general population. And it doesn’t tell us anything about using niacinamide to help prevent melanoma skin cancers (and the research we do have suggests it’s more helpful for preventing squamous cell carcinoma). But if you’ve had multiple non-melanoma skin cancers in your family, you should ask your dermatologist about oral niacinamide.
There is evidence to suggest that oral niacinamide may be beneficial for this particular situation. Is topical niacinamide also helpful?
Acne, rosacea and other inflammatory skin conditions
Niacinamide’s antiinflammatory properties make it a popular treatment for skin conditions that are prone to inflammation like acne. “Topical niacinamide may be used as a component of a multi-step acne regimen,” says Stephanie Trovato, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Of course, each person’s acne treatment plan is different so it’s best to consult a dermatologist to determine what works for you. In fact, a study published in 2013 in the International Journal of Dermatology found that a topical preparation of 4% niacinamide significantly improved moderate acne when applied twice daily for eight weeks.
Research from 2006 published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy suggests that topical 2% niacinamide may also inhibit the production of oil, which could be beneficial for some people dealing with acne (some study participants identified as Japanese and others as caucasian). Plus, both dermatologists we talked to say that niacinamide is relatively non-irritating compared to other acne treatments, such as a retinoid or salicylic acid, making it an especially attractive option for people with dry or sensitive skin.
Topical preparations and oral niacinamide supplementation have been shown to reduce inflammation in mild to moderate rosacea, and acne. Dr. Zampella and Dr. Ferris agree that severe cases may require stronger medication, such as retinoid treatments or systemic steroids for acne.
Evidence also shows that topical Niacinamide can be used to repair the function and outer skin layer, the stratum corneum. This adds to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Pigmentation, wrinkles, and fine lines:
There are few clinical studies that have examined the effects of Niacinamide on wrinkles and fine lines. The evidence for anti-aging benefits is also limited. There are however a few studies. For instance, in one study published in 2004 in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers had 50 women (who were all white and between the ages of 40 and 60) apply a moisturizer containing 5% niacinamide to one half of their face and a placebo moisturizer to the other half for 12 weeks. The results revealed that both halves of the subjects’ faces received niacinamide showed significant improvement in hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, compared with the control. Dr. Trovato believes that niacinamide may improve hyperpigmentation by reducing melanocyte transfer. Although there isn’t any research on niacinamide’s effectiveness on melanin-rich skin at the moment, Trovato believes it might be able to reduce hyperpigmentation by reducing melanin transfer. 44% of patients experienced good-to-excellent improvements with niacinamide, while 55% experienced the same results with 4% hydroquinone, which is usually considered the gold standard.
What ingredients can you mix with niacinamide:
Niacinamide has been studied more often in combination with other topical medications than it is on its own. This makes it harder to determine how effective it may be. Based on the available evidence, well-studied options like prescription retinoids (and sunscreen!) or other antioxidants, like vitamin C, will probably do more for you than niacinamide if hyperpigmentation, fine lines, or wrinkles are your primary concerns. If your skin is sensitive or you are looking for a gentler treatment, niacinamide may be an option.
Dr. Amin states that niacinamide’s skin barrier protection can help to offset irritation and dryness that can come with retinol products. Niacinamide is similar to salicylic acid which can be drying to your skin. He adds that while it is safe to mix niacinamide and vitamin C, some people may experience irritation.
What is the best way to use niacinamide for skincare?
It is easy to add topical niacinamide into your skin-care regimen. Simply buy a product that has it, such a hydrating face mask. Then, apply the product as directed. Mild irritation is possible, but this will likely disappear with repeated use. If it doesn’t or you have questions about side effects, you should consult your dermatologist to ensure you don’t get something worse.
Dr. Amin has given permission to use niacinamide every day for skincare, especially as a moisturizer. The majority of the studies we have cited used topical preparations with 2-10% niacinamide. We recommend that you consult Dr. Amin if you are unable to find a product within this range. The doctor recommends a concentration of 5% for any hyperpigmentation or anti-aging improvement. You might want to try the CeraVe PM Face moisturizer, which contains niacinamide. Dr. Zampella recommends the Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + zinc 1% serum.
Although there is no prescription for topical niacinamide (the generic version), your dermatologist might be able to compound it with other topical prescriptions. Dr. Ferris says that compounded medication can be more affordable if it is sold through a specialist pharmacy. Your insurance coverage and availability of compounding pharmacies in your region will determine the actual cost. Ask your dermatologist for details.
Dermatologists believe that topical Niacinamide is more effective than oral. Dr. Amin states that topical niacinamide has a greater effect on skin and is safer than oral. Dr. Amin recommends that you limit the amount of oral niacinamide you take daily if you have a high risk of developing certain types or deficiency in vitamin B3. Liver toxicities can occur if you exceed this amount. Symptoms include skin flushing, tingling, nausea and vomiting.
Dr. Amin says that topical niacinamide is safe for all skin types. However, people with allergies may experience a reaction to histamine release. He adds that skin reactions can include skin irritations, burning, itching, and skin irritations such as skin irritation, redness, swelling, and skin inflammation. You might experience this if you apply niacinamide to sensitive areas such as your eyes. However, your skin will eventually become more tolerant.
Dr. Amin states that you can use niacinamide long-term in your skin-care regimen, especially if it’s used for anti-aging purposes. He says that studies have shown that there are improvements in skin texture, skin elasticity, fine lines, and wrinkles after 12 weeks. Studies have shown that hyperpigmentation can be improved by a concentration of 5% of niacinamide after just four weeks.
Remember that topical and oral niacinamide below 35 mg are unlikely to cause any harm. However, it is not a miracle cure. Dr. Ferris reminds us that not all redness on the skin is due to acne or rosacea. A dermatologist can help determine if niacinamide is worth your time and if another treatment option is better for your skin.