Unlike many other trendy skincare ingredients, "niacinamide" doesn't have a cute or flowery name. It doesn't need the embellishment, though, because this vitamin's many benefits speak for themselves, making it a popular addition to cleansers, serums, and lotions for a variety of skin types, from sensitive and dry to oily and acne-prone.
What Is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that also goes by the name nicotinamide. Usually, we derive it from various foods, including meat, nuts, yeast, beans, and grains, but because it's water soluble, we can't store it well. Strap in for a tiny chemistry lesson: we have to consume this nutrient daily so that our bodies can use it to make nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+/NADH) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+). Those molecules are essential to facilitating cell functions, such as repairing DNA damage.
Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface of the many ways oral niacinamide supplements might improve certain conditions, such as diabetes and osteoarthritis, with studies still looking into whether it can help ADHD and various forms of cancer, as well. And when it comes to topical applications, there's already plenty of evidence that this vitamin can help the skin.
- It Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Niacinamide can stop proteins called cytokines from sending signals to your body to start the often overactive immune response of inflammation. Inflammation in the skin is behind everything from acne to redness to dermatitis, so anything that can prevent or soothe this reaction is a good thing. Studies have shown that a 4% niacinamide cream is about as effective as the antibiotic clindamycin, a common acne treatment. Niacinamide's rosacea-calming properties are also beloved by dermatologists.
- It's A Potent Antioxidant
Niacinamide molecules can also act as antioxidants, binding to the oxygen molecules called free radicals caused by pollution, sun, and other factors. By doing so, it protects cells from damage, which in turn can also cause inflammation, wrinkles, and cancer. This means it can partner with sunscreen in protecting skin from the aging effects of UVA and UVB rays.
- It Reduces The Appearance of Fine Lines
Studies have shown that topically-applied niacinamide serums and lotions can signal the skin to produce more of its own lipids, specifically ceramides and fatty acids. Those lipids are the glue holding together the cells of the skin's outermost layer, keeping in moisture. The skin naturally produces less of those lipids as we age, so anything that increases their production has an anti-aging effect, making the skin appear plumper and more supple.
Because niacinamide boosts the metabolism of cells, researchers believe it helps increase collagen production in the skin—another process that helps skin appear smoother.
- It Balances Oily Skin
While it manages to help dry skin retain more moisture, niacinamide has also shown it can help the skin regulate the secretion of sebum, so the amount of oil we produce is just enough to moisturize and protect—but not too much as to cause blemishes. Reduced sebum means clearer pores that also won't appear larger.
- It Brightens Dark Spots
Hyperpigmentation has a lot of causes: hormones, genetics, aging, scarring, the sun… all of these can all cause dark spots to appear on the skin. Niacinimade has been shown to even out skin tone by actually preventing pigment, called melanosome, from being transferred into the skin cells at the surface of the skin. In some studies, it was almost as effective as the popular lightening ingredient hydroquinone, which has a higher likelihood of causing side effects such as allergic reactions, blistering, or blue-black darkening of the skin.
Niacinamide has also been shown to reduce the yellowing of skin that happens when collagen binds with sugars in aging skin (a process called glycation). The antioxidant properties of niacinamide end products NADP+ and NADH may be what helps prevent that binding from happening.
- It's Safe To Combine With Other Ingredients
Niacinimide and retinoids make a good pair, because while retinoids (such as retinol) can cause skin irritation as it promotes cell turnover, niacinimide calms the skin and reduces inflammation.
Niacinamide and vitamin C work fine together too—although there's a lot of misinformation out there about this combination. While niacinamide is a very stable compound with a neutral pH, and most topical forms of vitamin C are also stabilized, if both ingredients are combined under extreme heat, they could react to form nicotinic acid. That, in turn, can cause skin to flush. All you need to do to avoid this, however, is to store your skincare products according to their labels: usually in a cool, dark place, like a medicine cabinet.
- Side Effects Are Rare
Because niacinamide is inherently stable, it rarely converts to niacin or nicotinic acid, the forms of vitamin B3 associated with reddening skin and a burning sensation. Niacinamide has a neutral pH, so even at concentrations as high as 5%, it's usually very well-tolerated. People are seldom allergic to it, as they may be to ingredients that have similar benefits to the skin. With so many uses and so few drawbacks, niacinamide is an obvious choice for inclusion in moisturizers, serums, and eye creams.