Updated 4/15/21. Chances are you’ve heard of niacinamide, but you may not have given it as much thought as you’ve given other, more popular active ingredients. The reason I want to highlight it in this blog post is that it’s one of the most amazing skincare multitaskers out there. In fact, a lot of people don’t realize just how much it can really do!
What is Niacinamide?
Let’s start with the basics. Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of niacin (vitamin B3). The body doesn’t produce niacin on its own; instead, it gets it from a well-rounded diet. The role of niacin in the body is to convert food into energy. It also plays a role in cell signaling and DNA repair.
When it comes to skincare, niacinamide is an effective ingredient, thanks to its ability to successfully penetrate the outermost layer of our skin. It also has a fairly neutral pH, which means it’s unlikely to cause irritation and remains stable in most formulas.
How Does Niacinamide Benefit the Skin?
Trust me when I say that niacinamide has something to offer you, regardless of your skin concerns. Keep reading to learn which conditions it can improve and how it can benefit your skincare routine!
Dry or Dehydrated Skin
One of the main skin issues I hear about 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 and makes it difficult for your skin to stay properly hydrated. A number of factors can contribute to a damaged moisture barrier, including over-exfoliation, harsh product usage, topical prescriptions, indoor heating, and dry climates.
Now for the good news: niacinamide has been shown to improve skin barrier function by stimulating the production of ceramides, which is another name for the lipids that make up a healthy barrier. This helps the skin retain water and prevents something called transepidermal water loss, which is the process by which water evaporates from the outermost layer of the skin.
Sensitive or Redness-Prone Skin
Niacinamide is a healing ingredient that repairs damage while supporting the skin’s natural defense mechanisms. By strengthening the skin, niacinamide makes it less vulnerable to external aggressors while simultaneously healing and preventing sensitivity. It’s even been proven to reduce redness and calm rosacea—both of which are often accompanied by heightened skin sensitivity. In fact, niacinamide is so gentle that it can be used to soothe skin after professional treatments such as laser treatments and chemical peels.
Remember when I mentioned those tiny cracks in the skin barrier? Aside from letting moisture out, those cracks allow irritants to enter into the skin. By helping to repair the skin barrier, niacinamide strengthens the skin, so it’s less prone to sensitivity and irritation. It’s also been shown to have pretty impressive anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it ideal for fighting sensitivity, redness, and rosacea—all of which are rooted in inflammation.
Oily, Acne-Prone Skin
In addition to helping with dryness, redness, and sensitivity, niacinamide is effective when it comes to addressing 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, and benzoyl peroxide. However, one of the advantages of niacinamide is that it’s safe to combine with any of these ingredients for added soothing benefits, which is helpful, considering they can be somewhat harsh and drying on their own. In fact, niacinamide has been shown to increase tolerability of ingredients like retinol and retinoids, so if you’ve been struggling to incorporate retinol into your routine, try buffering it with niacinamide!
Niacinamide tackles acne in a few different ways. First, it decreases inflammation within the skin, which makes it especially appropriate for addressing inflammatory acne, like pustules and papules. Secondly, it provides a slight antimicrobial action, which minimizes the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Thirdly, it regulates sebum (oil) production, which helps prevent comedones (non-inflamed clogged pores). Studies have found that it can effectively reduce the amount of sebum your skin produces in concentrations as little as two percent. Since an excess of sebum is ultimately what 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 a smoother appearance. Well, as it turns out, niacinamide can do that, too. (I told you there wasn’t much this ingredient can’t do!)
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’s well-established as a brightening agent—even holding its own against hydroquinone, which is a bleaching agent. Niacinamide can fade dark marks and red acne marks, as well as hormonally driven pigmentation, such as melasma.
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 some kind of inflammation. That damaged skin is now vulnerable, so your body sends signals to pigment cells, telling them to produce pigment in order to protect that vulnerable skin from environmental aggressors like sun damage (think of pigmentation like a protective umbrella!). Niacinamide tells your cells that everything is A-okay, and they can stop sending pigment cells for defense. If you’re using this ingredient to address pigmentation issues, I suggest looking for a product that contains at least five percent.
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 skin tone, and reduce pore size all contribute to a younger-looking complexion. It can even go a step further by boosting collagen production.
As we age, our skin can begin to look a bit dull, lacking the natural glow it once had. One way to improve this is by boosting circulation. Niacinamide can stimulate microcirculation in the dermis in concentrations as low as 0.5%. Most ingredients that boost circulation tend to have a high potential for irritation, 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, which helps plump up fine lines and wrinkles. Finally, it has antioxidant properties that help protect against photoaging (aka the breakdown of collagen caused by exposure to damaging UV rays). If you’re using this ingredient to address aging concerns, I suggest looking for products that contain niacinamide in concentrations closer to five percent.
I also suggest looking into other potent collagen-boosting ingredients, such as exfoliating acids, retinol and vitamin CKeep in mind that niacinamide can be safely combined with these ingredients and can even make it easier for sensitive skin types to tolerate them.
Where Should I Look for Niacinamide?
Now that you know just 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 is 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, which is why there are multiple products in my line that contain this powerful ingredient.
If you’re looking to target more stubborn issues like wrinkles and pigmentation, I suggest looking for niacinamide in a serum. This is because serums are formulated with smaller molecules that are designed to penetrate deep within the skin, so they’ll be able to work on a deeper level than something like a moisturizer.
To sum it up, there really isn’t much that this ingredient can’t tackle, which is why it’s great for addressing multiple skincare concerns at once. All things considered, 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. After all, no single ingredient is magic, but niacinamide comes 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.”