For this post, I thought I’d do an ingredient deep-dive into niacinamide. Chances are you’ve already heard of it, but you may not have given it as much thought or consideration as other more “popular” actives. The reason I wanted to highlight niacinamide is that when it comes to skincare, it’s one of the most amazing multitaskers out there. A lot of people don’t realize just how much it can do! I also thought December would be an especially good time of year to talk about the benefits of niacinamide since it’s great for treating many skincare problems commonly associated with winter (although after reading this post, you’re sure to want to make it part of your routine year-round).
What is Niacinamide?
Let’s start with the basics. Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of niacin (vitamin B3). Our bodies don’t produce niacin on their own, but we get it from a well-rounded diet. In our bodies, niacin helps convert food into energy. It also plays a role in cell signaling and DNA repair.
Niacinamide is effective as a skincare ingredient thanks to its ability to successfully penetrate the outermost layer of our skin. It also has an almost neutral pH, which means it’s stable in most formulas and unlikely to cause irritation.
How Niacinamide Benefits the Skin
Trust me when I say that, regardless of your skincare concerns, niacinamide has something to offer you. Keep reading to learn which conditions it can improve and how it will benefit you!
Dry or Dehydrated Skin
As I mentioned, niacinamide can help alleviate many skincare issues commonly associated with winter. The number one issue I hear about this time of year is dry or tight skin, which more often than not can be chalked up to a damaged moisture barrier. Your moisture barrier is made up of lipids that help the skin retain moisture while keeping irritants and bacteria out. When this barrier is damaged, it creates tiny, invisible cracks in the skin. This allows moisture to escape more easily and makes it difficult for your skin to stay properly hydrated. A number of factors can contribute to a damaged barrier, including over-exfoliation, harsh products, topical prescriptions, indoor heating, and dry climates.
How Niacinamide Helps
Now for the good news: niacinamide has been shown to improve skin barrier function by stimulating the production of ceramides, another name for the lipids that make up a healthy barrier. This helps your skin retain water and prevents something called transepidermal water loss—the process by which water evaporates from the outermost layer of your skin.
Sensitive or Redness-Prone Skin
At its core, niacinamide is a deeply healing ingredient that repairs damage while boosting and supporting your skin’s natural defense mechanisms. By strengthening your skin, niacinamide makes it less vulnerable to external aggressors while helping prevent and heal sensitivity. It has also been proven to effectively reduce redness and even calm rosacea, both of which are often accompanied by heightened skin sensitivity. Another bonus? Niacinamide is so gentle that it can be used to soothe skin after professional treatments such as laser treatments or chemical peels, which are best done during winter months since we get less sun exposure.
How Niacinamide Helps
Remember those tiny cracks in your barrier? Aside from letting out moisture, they allow irritants to enter into your skin. By helping repair your barrier, niacinamide strengthens your skin so it’s less prone to sensitivity and irritation. Niacinamide has also been shown to have pretty impressive anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it ideal for fighting sensitivity, redness, and rosacea—conditions all rooted in inflammation.
Oily, Acne-Prone Skin
In addition to helping with dry skin, redness, and sensitivity, niacinamide has been proven an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne. Now, if you have significant breakouts, there are certainly more potent acne-fighting ingredients you can turn to such as salicylic acid, retinoids or benzoyl peroxide. But one of the advantages of niacinamide is that it can be safely combined with any of these ingredients to give added benefits, like hydrating and soothing the skin. This can be especially beneficial since many acne treatments (including those mentioned above) can be somewhat harsh or drying. In fact, niacinamide has been shown to increase tolerability of ingredients like retinol and retinoids, especially in sensitive skin types. So if you’ve been struggling to incorporate retinol into your routine, try buffering it with niacinamide!
How Niacinamide Helps
Niacinamide tackles acne in a few different ways: it decreases inflammation within the skin, provides a slight antimicrobial action and helps regulate sebum production. As I already mentioned, niacinamide has potent anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it especially good for treating inflammatory acne, like pustules and papules. Antimicrobial properties help minimize the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Niacinamide can also help prevent comedones (non-inflamed clogged pores) thanks to its ability to regulate sebum production. Studies have found that it can effectively reduce the amount of sebum (oil) your skin produces in concentrations as little as two percent. Since an excess of sebum is what ultimately causes the clogged pores that lead to acne, this is an effective way to minimize breakouts without irritating the skin.
If being an esthetician for thirty years has taught me anything, it’s that people are obsessed with the size of their pores. Everyone wants to know how they can shrink and tighten their pores to give their skin an overall smoother appearance. Well, as it turns out, niacinamide can do that, too. (Told you there wasn’t much this ingredient can’t do!)
How Niacinamide Helps
Niacinamide’s ability to regulate sebum production is part of what makes it great at shrinking pores. It’s actually been clinically proven to reduce pore size and improve overall skin texture. Oil flow expands the pore walls by putting pressure on them, causing them to stretch out. A decrease in oil flow equals less stretching of the pores. Niacinamide can also help prevent our pores from stretching out over time by building collagen. Our natural collagen production starts to drop off after the age of twenty-five, and as this process accelerates, the structure of our pore walls becomes weaker. This leads to more stretching, which is one of the key reasons our pores start to look bigger as we age. Niacinamide stimulates the production of collagen by boosting microcirculation, so it’s a great ingredient to use preventatively.
Of course, this isn’t the only way to shrink your pores. Learn which products I swear by for reducing pore size.
Pigmentation or Uneven Skin Tone
If you struggle with uneven skin tone or pigmentation, consider adding niacinamide to your routine. It has been well-established as a brightening agent and has even held its own against hydroquinone, a bleaching agent, in studies. Niacinamide can help fade dark or red acne marks as well as hormonally driven pigmentation, such as melasma. For pigmentation concerns, look for a product containing at least five percent.
How Niacinamide Helps
Niacinamide helps lighten pigmentation by inhibiting melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes. Translation? It tells your cells that everything is okay and that they can stop sending out SOS signals. Pigmentation is your body’s way of protecting the skin after it’s been wounded, usually by inflammation of some kind. That damaged skin is now vulnerable, so your body sends signals to pigment cells, telling them to come protect that vulnerable skin from environmental aggressors such as sun damage. Think of pigmentation like a protective umbrella! Niacinamide communicates to your cells that everything is a-okay, and they can stop sending pigment cells for defense. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help minimize pigmentation by addressing the root of the problem.
Aging Concerns: Fine Lines, Wrinkles, and Dull-Looking Skin
Niacinamide can improve the appearance of aging skin in a number of ways. Its abilities to brighten, even out skin tone and reduce pore size all help contribute to a younger-looking complexion. But it can even go a step further by actually boosting collagen production, which makes it a great addition to any routine targeting aging concerns.
How Niacinamide Helps
Niacinamide addresses aging concerns by boosting collagen production and protecting the skin against photoaging thanks to its antioxidant properties. For starters, niacinamide can stimulate microcirculation in the dermis in concentrations as low as 0.5%. As we age, our skin often starts to look a bit dull and may lack that “glow.” One way to improve this is by boosting circulation, which niacinamide does to give your skin an overall brighter, more youthful appearance. Most ingredients that boost circulation tend to have a high potential for irritation since they’re so stimulating, but niacinamide is unique in that the risk for irritation is very low. Its ability to boost circulation is also how niacinamide stimulates collagen production, helping to “plump out” fine lines and wrinkles. Finally, it has antioxidant properties that help protect against photoaging (aka the breakdown of collagen caused by damaging sun rays). For wrinkle reduction and prevention, I suggest looking for products containing niacinamide in concentrations closer to five percent.
If you’re looking to get a little more serious about reversing signs of aging, I recommend looking into more potent collagen-boosting ingredients such as exfoliating acids, retinol or vitamin c. That said, niacinamide can be safely combined with these ingredients and can even make it easier for sensitive skin types to tolerate them.
Where to Look for Niacinamide
Now that you know how many benefits niacinamide has to offer, let’s talk about how to incorporate it into your routine. Thanks to its almost neutral pH, niacinamide is a very stable ingredient and can be used in a variety of formulations. Since it’s water-soluble, the only thing niacinamide requires as a water-based formula (no oil). Other than that, it can be safely used in anything from cleanser and toners to serums, moisturizers, and sunscreens. If you’re looking to target more stubborn issues (hello wrinkles and pigmentation), I suggest looking for niacinamide in a serum. Serums are formulated using smaller molecules that are designed to penetrate deeper within the skin, so they’ll be able to work on a deeper level than something like a moisturizer.
Renée Rouleau Skincare Products
These are the products in my line that contain niacinamide:
In short, there really isn’t much this ingredient can’t help tackle. Niacinamide is an especially great option if you’re trying to address multiple skincare concerns at once. All in all, this is definitely an ingredient that should be on your radar (and in your medicine cabinet!). Of course, it’s always important to manage expectations when it comes to skincare, and no ingredient is magic—but niacinamide gets pretty close!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”