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What is Niacinamide: Benefits, Uses, and Potential Side Effects

Medically reviewed by:
 Dr. Lucy Chen, MD – Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Lucy Chen, MD – Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Lucy Chen, MD, is a highly regarded board-certified dermatologist with a wealth of expertise in skin health, surgical dermatology, and cosmetic dermatology. She is known for her commitment to patient care and her dedication to advancing the field of dermatology. Her journey is marked by academic excellence, specialized training, and a genuine dedication to […]

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By: Christina Davies
Updated on: February 02, 2024

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of vitamin B3 popularly included in skincare products for its myriad benefits. It is praised for its versatile role in enhancing skin health, from reducing inflammation to improving the skin’s texture and tone.

Not limited to skin health, this compound is vital for overall body function, playing a critical role in cell development and serving as a coenzyme for various chemical reactions. With its many uses, niacinamide has gained immense recognition and is lauded by skincare enthusiasts and health practitioners.

However, like all compounds, it is not devoid of potential side effects. While generally considered safe, niacinamide can lead to certain adverse reactions, especially when used improperly or excessively. This article will delve into niacinamide’s benefits, uses, and potential side effects to help you understand it better and use it wisely.

What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the body. Niacinamide can be found naturally in various food sources, including meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and legumes. It is also available as a dietary supplement and is a common ingredient in skincare products due to its numerous benefits for the skin.

“Niacinamide is incorporated into many skin care products, due to its multiple benefits for anti-aging, acne, irritation and protecting the skin,” says Dr. Lucy Chen.

One of the primary functions of niacinamide is its involvement in energy metabolism. It is a key component of enzymes involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, allowing the body to convert these nutrients into usable energy. Additionally, niacinamide is essential for synthesizing DNA, the genetic material of cells, and repairing and maintaining DNA integrity.

Niacinamide has been extensively studied for its therapeutic properties. It has been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol levels, helping to increase the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol, while reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly known as “bad” cholesterol. By promoting a healthy cholesterol profile, niacinamide can contribute to cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

In the realm of skincare, niacinamide has gained popularity for its numerous benefits. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help calm redness and irritation in the skin. Niacinamide also regulates sebum production, making it an effective ingredient for those with oily or acne-prone skin. It can help reduce the appearance of pores, control excess oil, and improve overall skin texture.

The Benefits of Niacinamide for Skin:

1) Immunity and Protein Synthesis:

Niacinamide plays a vital role in supporting the immune function of the skin. It aids in synthesizing keratin, a protein essential for maintaining the integrity and health of the skin. Keratin is a structural protein that forms a protective barrier on the skin’s surface, helping to defend against external stressors and maintain skin firmness. By promoting keratin production, niacinamide strengthens the skin’s immune response and contributes to overall skin health.

2) Enhancing the Lipid & Skin Barrier:

Niacinamide helps enhance the lipid barrier of the skin. The lipid barrier comprises ceramides, natural lipids that form a protective layer on the skin’s surface. This barrier acts as a seal, preventing moisture loss and maintaining optimal hydration levels.

“Niacinamide stimulates the production of ceramides, thereby strengthening the lipid barrier and improving the skin’s ability to retain moisture,” says Dr. Chen. “Studies show niacinamide reduces transepidermal water loss meaning it helps restore and maintain proper hydration levels, keeps external irritants out, and resultsin a smoother, more supple complexion.”

3) Minimizing Redness and Blotchiness:

Niacinamide exhibits anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce inflammation, redness and blotchiness in the skin. Inflammation is common in various skin conditions, including eczema, acne, and rosacea. By calming the skin and reducing inflammation, niacinamide helps alleviate redness and discomfort associated with these conditions. It can also help soothe irritated skin and promote a more even tone.

4) Pore Minimization:

Consistent use of niacinamide can lead to a natural reduction in the appearance of pores. Niacinamide helps regulate sebum production, the skin’s natural oil, which can contribute to enlarged pores. Niacinamide helps prevent clogged pores and promotes a smoother skin texture by controlling sebum production and maintaining a balanced oil level of hydrated skin. Over time, this can reduce pore size, giving the skin a more refined and even appearance.

5) Regulating Sebum Production:

Niacinamide can regulate the production of sebum by the sebaceous glands. Sebum is an oily substance that moisturizes and protects the skin. However, overactive sebaceous glands can produce excessive sebum, producing oily and congested skin. Niacinamide helps balance sebum production, preventing the skin from becoming too oily or dry. By regulating sebum production, niacinamide can contribute to a more balanced complexion and reduce the occurrence of acne breakouts.

6) Protection Against Sun Damage:

Niacinamide protects against the harmful effects of sun ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays can cause damage to the skin, leading to premature aging, sunburns, and an increased risk of skin cancer. Niacinamide helps rebuild and repair skin cells damaged by UV radiation, promoting skin health and preventing further damage. It also has antioxidant properties that help neutralize free radicals generated by UV exposure, reducing oxidative stress on the skin. Niacinamide helps maintain a youthful and healthy complexion by protecting the skin from sun damage.

7) Treatment of Hyperpigmentation:

Hyperpigmentation refers to the darkening of certain areas of the skin caused by excess melanin production. Niacinamide effectively treats hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the transfer of melanin to the skin’s surface.

Studies have shown that a moisturizer with 5 percent concentration of niacinamide can help lighten dark spots and even skin tone by way of blocking melanosome transfer from the pigment-producing cells in the skin,” notes Dr. Chen.

Additionally, niacinamide promotes collagen production, improving the appearance of hyperpigmented areas, and resulting in a more balanced and radiant complexion.

8) Reduction of Fine Lines and Wrinkles:

Niacinamide has shown promising results in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It supports collagen production, a protein responsible for the skin’s elasticity and firmness. With age, collagen levels naturally decline, leading to the formation of wrinkles and fine lines. By stimulating collagen synthesis, niacinamide helps improve skin elasticity, reduce the depth of wrinkles, and smooth out the skin’s texture. Regular use of niacinamide can contribute to a more youthful and rejuvenated appearance.

9) Protection Against Oxidative Stress:

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to cells, including those in the skin. Niacinamide acts as an antioxidant, helping to neutralize free radicals and protect the skin from oxidative stress caused by environmental factors such as pollution, toxins, and UV radiation. By combating oxidative stress, niacinamide supports healthy cell function, reduces inflammation, and promotes overall skin health.

10) Treatment of Acne:

Niacinamide has effectively treated acne, particularly inflammatory forms such as papules and pustules. It helps regulate sebum production, which can contribute to the development of acne. By controlling excess oiliness, niacinamide helps prevent clogged pores and reduces the likelihood of acne breakouts. Additionally, niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory properties help calm irritated skin and reduce redness associated with acne. With regular use, niacinamide can lead to a reduction in the number of acne lesions and improve overall skin texture, promoting a clearer and healthier complexion.

11) Reduces Skin Aging

Niacinamide has shown promise in reducing the signs of aging. It helps minimize the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots by improving skin elasticity, stimulating collagen production, and enhancing overall skin texture.

How to Use Niacinamide in Your Skin Care Routine

If you want to incorporate niacinamide into your skincare routine, here’s a guide on using it effectively.

  1. Cleanse Your Face: Clean your face with a gentle cleanser before applying any skincare product. This step ensures that your skin is clean and ready to receive the skin benefits of niacinamide.
  2. Tone Your Skin (Optional): Toning is an optional step, but if you enjoy using a toner, apply it after cleansing. Toners help balance your skin’s pH and enhance subsequent skincare products’ absorption.
  3. Apply Niacinamide Serum: Niacinamide is commonly available in the form of serums. Some are even hyaluronic acid serums too, for deep hydration. After toning (or directly after cleansing if you’re skipping toner), apply a few drops of niacinamide serum evenly to your face and neck. Gently massage it into your skin using upward circular motions.
  4. Follow with Moisturizer: After the niacinamide serum has been absorbed, apply your regular moisturizer. Niacinamide is generally well-tolerated and can be combined with other skincare ingredients. Choose a moisturizer suitable for your skin type and apply it to lock in moisture and provide additional hydration.
  5. Use Sunscreen in the Morning: If you’re incorporating niacinamide into your morning routine, following it up with sunscreen is essential. Niacinamide can help protect the skin barrier and improve the skin’s natural defense mechanisms, but sunscreen is still necessary to shield your skin from harmful UV rays.
  6. Frequency of Use: Niacinamide is generally safe for daily use, both morning and night. However, if you’re introducing it, it’s recommended to start with a lower concentration (around 2-5%) and gradually increase the frequency and concentration as your skin adjusts.
  7. Patch Test: Before incorporating any new skincare product, performing a patch test’s always a good idea. Apply a small amount of niacinamide on a small area of your skin, such as the inner forearm, and observe for any adverse reactions or allergies for 24-48 hours.

Remember, skincare routines can vary based on individual preferences and skin types. Suppose you have any specific skin care concerns or are unsure how to incorporate niacinamide into your routine. In that case, it’s best to consult a dermatologist or skincare professional for personalized advice.

Potential Side Effects of Niacinamide

Niacinamide is generally safe for most people when taken within the recommended dosage.

“Higher concentrations of niacinamide may result in irritation, especially those with sensitive skin or there are preservatives blended with the product that you are sensitive to,” notes Dr. Chen.

Fast Facts

DefinitionNiacinamide, also known as Vitamin B3, is an active form of niacin. It’s a water-soluble vitamin with skin benefits.
Cosmetic UseWidely used in skincare products for its potential to improve skin texture, minimize pores, reduce redness, and address hyperpigmentation.
Impact on Skin TypesSuitable for most skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin. Generally well-tolerated and unlikely to cause irritation.
BenefitsHelps regulate oil production, Enhances skin barrier function, Reduces fine lines and wrinkles and Improves overall skin tone
 Minimizes the appearance of pores, Calms redness and inflammation and Manages hyperpigmentation
DrawbacksExcessive use can lead to temporary flushing or redness. Incompatibility with Vitamin C in high concentrations, which might affect effectiveness.
Recommended UsageGenerally safe for daily use twice a day. Start with 2-5% concentration in products and gradually increase frequency.
CompatibilityWorks well with most ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, peptides, and retinol.
Precautions/Recommend.Patch test before use, especially for sensitive skin. Avoid using with high-concentration Vitamin C.
Who Should UseSuitable for a wide range of individuals looking to address skin concerns like texture, pores, redness, and hyperpigmentation.
Usage FrequencyCan be used daily twice a day. Begin with once a day and gradually increase to twice daily if well-tolerated.
Works Well WithPowerful antioxidants, such as camellia sinensis (green tea) catechins, quercetin, and tocopherol.
Don’t Use WithGenerally, works well with many products.

FAQs

Q1: Is niacinamide suitable for all skin types?

Yes, topical niacinamide alone is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, because it is well-tolerated and rarely causes irritation. It works effectively without causing adverse reactions, making it a safe option for different skin types.

Q2: Can niacinamide help with acne scars?

Niacinamide can help fade or treat acne and scars by stimulating collagen production and improving skin texture. However, the results may vary from person to person. It is advisable to consult a dermatologist to assess your specific situation and receive personalized advice on treating acne scars.

Q3: Can niacinamide be used with other skincare ingredients?

Yes, niacinamide can be used with other skincare ingredients without any issues. It is a versatile ingredient that complements various actives like retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C. You can incorporate niacinamide into your skincare routine alongside other products to target different skin concerns effectively.

Q4: How long does it take to see results with niacinamide?

Visible results with niacinamide can vary depending on individual factors and the specific skin concern being addressed. Generally, consistently using niacinamide products over several weeks is recommended to see noticeable improvements.

Q5: Is niacinamide the same as niacin?

Niacinamide and niacin are two different forms of vitamin B3. While they have similarities, such as being involved in various metabolic processes, they have distinct bodily properties and functions. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that does not cause the flushing side effect associated with niacin, another form of vitamin B3.

Conclusion

Niacinamide, or vitamin B3, offers numerous overall and skin health benefits. It supports various bodily functions, including energy production, cognitive function, and digestive health. In skincare, niacinamide is known for its ability to improve skin texture, reduce signs of aging, and address common skin concerns. While generally safe, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating niacinamide into your skincare routine alone.

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