What Is Niacinamide: How It Works, How to Use It and All the Ways It Can Help Your Skin

The one vitamin you NEED in your skincare routine.
Niacinamide skin benefits

If you popped into my inbox, these are some of the skincare concerns you'd find people asking me about:

  • "I have some hyperpigmentation that I've been trying to get rid of for years." — Hana
  • "I'm looking to reduce forehead wrinkles and wrinkles around the eyes." — Ric
  • "I have acne, acne scarring and signs of aging at the same time." — Jeramia
  • "My face is like an oil slick." — Jake
  • "I get a lot of redness and it drives me crazy." — Allison

It's a pretty diverse range of issues, right? But there's something that ALL of these skin struggles have in common.

Every single one can be treated with topical niacinamide!

In this tutorial, I'll be explaining:

  • What niacinamide is and how it works 
  • The many ways it can benefit your skin
  • The best products to try
  • Why it's the skincare active I recommend for EVERYONE

If you're new to this wonder ingredient, I'm so excited for you to discover it!

What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide skin benefits

Niacinamide serums from Skin Inc Supplement Bar, Paula's Choice, Glossier, SkinCeuticals and The Ordinary.

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is the active form of niacin (also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid). 

As a water-soluble vitamin, it won't dissolve in oil, so you'll typically find it in water-based serums. Perfect for anyone whose skin hates oils and oily solvents!

It's also one of the more stable active ingredients in skincare, with a pH around neutral. So unlike alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and retinoids, it is non-acidic and non-irritating. 

Niacinamide Mechanism of Action

Niacinamide skin benefits

Niacinamide increases energy production within our skin cells.

In our bodies, niacinamide is formed when we eat foods high in niacin (like liver or mushrooms). We convert the niacin into active niacinamide, which in turn acts as a precursor to the coenzymes NADH and NADPH.

These coenzymes boost cellular metabolism, meaning they give our skin cells the energy to carry out their functions. In fact, they are involved in more than 40 biochemical processes, including such important jobs as DNA repair and cell turnover. 

Since niacinamide readily penetrates into the skin, we don't have to rely on our diets or a dietary supplement. We can also benefit from using it topically! 

As for its mechanism of action, it has the following properties:

  • Photoprotective
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • Sebostatic (sebum reducing)
  • Antipruritic (soothing)
  • Lightening

Niacinamide Skin Benefits

Niacinamide skin benefits

A niacinamide serum can help with everything from acne to wrinkles.

Ready to see what niacinamide can do? Here are all the ways it can help your skin (it's a long list!):

1. Fights Free Radicals

Niacinamide has been found to protect from free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. According to the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology, it "increases the antioxidant capacity of skin after topical application."

That means you can use it instead of a vitamin C-based antioxidant serum. I personally prefer it, as L-ascorbic acid is notoriously unstable, acidic and often oily on the skin. Definitely consider switching if you'd prefer something lightweight and longer-lasting.

2. Fades Pigmentation

Melasma before and after niacinamide

Melasma before and after eight weeks of treatment with four percent niacinamide. (Source: Navarrete-Solís et al., 2011)

Niacinamide has proved to be an excellent treatment for pigmentation, age spots and melasma.

This study found a significant decrease in hyperpigmentation after four weeks of treatment with as little as two percent niacinamide.

For melasma, this study found that four percent niacinamide is comparable to four percent hydroquinone. But it has fewer side effects and a much better safety profile. 

3. Reduces Wrinkles

Niacinamide significantly improves fine lines and wrinkles, according to this double-blind study (using a four percent concentration).

Another study found that four percent significantly reduced wrinkles in the eye area after eight weeks.

Some researchers have suggested that niacinamide does this by increasing collagen production in the dermis. But it also helps normalize collagen, keeping it supple and flexible! According to Dermatology Times, it "inhibits protein glycation, effectively reducing deposition of cross-linked collagen and elastin molecules in the skin. Cross-linked collagen and elastin molecules are stiff and rigid, resulting in altered viscoelastic properties of the skin."

[Read more about normalizing collagen production and how red light therapy can help, too!]

4. Treats Acne

With its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide is a great treatment to try if you have acne.

For moderate acne, this study found that four percent niacinamide gives comparable results to one percent clindamycin, a topical antibiotic. And it doesn't have the risk of bacterial resistance.

Another study concluded that the same amount, four percent, "is effective and safe in alleviating symptoms of mild to moderate acne." 

Bonus: It's also a lot gentler on your skin than acids, retinoids and benzoyl peroxide!

5. Regulates Oil Production 

Maybe you don't have acne, but struggle with oily skin. Well, niacinamide can help with that, too.

This study found that just two percent can lower sebum levels and the rate of sebum excretion.

This is different from most topical treatments for oily skin, which just try to absorb the excess sebum. Niacinamide can actually slow down how much is released, with changes evident after two to four weeks.

6. Shrinks Pores and Smooths Texture

Pores before and after niacinamide

Pores before and after 12 weeks of treatment with niacinamide and salicylic acid. (Source: Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Practice)

You've probably heard that you can't shrink your pores. Actually, you CAN—with niacinamide!

Don't believe me? Take it from Dermatology Times: "Clinically it reduces pore size, and improves skin texture."

A 12-week study cited in Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Practice found that niacinamide and salicylic acid significantly reduce pore size and bumpy skin texture.

This happens because of niacinamide's ability to reduce sebum production. Pores always look larger when they are trapped with sebum and dead skin. So with less oil, they're not going to be as stretched out. And with smaller pores, the skin texture looks softer and smoother.

7. Reduces Redness

If you're prone to redness, niacinamide is one of the best ingredients you can apply.

This study found that five percent significantly improved red, blotchy skin. And this one established that it is a beneficial treatment for rosacea.

The theory is that niacinamide improves the function of the skin barrier, which means less irritation and less reddening.

8. Strengthens the Skin Barrier

If your skin seems very intolerant—even stinging when you apply your skincare—then it's possible your skin barrier has become compromised. I often hear from people who are experiencing this after using topicals that were too harsh, such as prescription retinoids.

To restore barrier function, I always suggest trying niacinamide. It reduces transepidermal water loss and increases the moisture content of the stratum corneum, resulting in a thicker and stronger barrier. According to the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, it "would be a suitable component in cosmetic products for use in disorders of epidermal barrier function."

9. Reduces Dryness

Another way you can use niacinamide is to treat dry skin.

This study compared two percent niacinamide with white petrolatum (a.k.a. mineral oil), and found that niacinamide significantly decreases water loss—but petrolatum does not. Niacinamide was also proven more effective at increasing hydration in the skin's outermost layer.

Another study found that a twice-daily application of niacinamide lowered inflammation, decreased water loss and increased the thickness of the stratum corneum.

10. Reduces Sallowness

Ever noticed how some people's skin seems to take on a sallow, yellow cast as they get older?

It happens due to oxidative stress, which increases as we age—and which niacinamide, as an antioxidant, can inhibit.

This study found that five percent, applied twice daily, significantly reduced skin sallowness (yellowing). The same significant improvements were noted in this study.

11. Protects from UV Damage

Lastly, consider niacinamide as an adjunct to your sunscreen if you are spending a lot of time in the sun. Research has shown that it has some photoprotective properties.

This study showed that niacinamide aids in DNA repair after UV damage. This study found that niacinamide protects against immunosuppression caused by UVA and UVB, making it "a promising agent for skin cancer prevention." And this study discovered that it helps prevent photocarcinogenesis.

Niacinamide Side Effects

As if niacinamide didn't have enough going for it, here's one more thing to know...

It has virtually no side effects! According to Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Practice, it "can be used at high doses topically (at least up to five percent) and is generally well tolerated."

So it's one of the safest active ingredients, and would be a great alternative to retinoids or acids if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Most of the clinical studies got results using concentrations between two and five percent. However, there are products now that go as high as 10 to 12 percent. (Chat with your doctor about the latter if you have a medical condition, as that may be too big a dose.)

If you do experience irritation from a niacinamide product, it's probably another ingredient in the formula. According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, "it likely was one of the preservatives in the product causing the irritation, not the niacinamide itself."

In rare cases, high doses might cause some stinging or redness in sensitive skin. If this happens, try a lower concentration instead.

The Best Niacinamides to Try

Ready to see how a niacinamide serum benefits your skin? These are the best products I've found...

Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum

Kristina Holey Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum

Kristina Holey Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum

Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum is ideal if you're looking for a natural option. It's a lightweight gel chock-full of botanical ingredients and 10 percent niacinamide.

Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster

Paula's Choice 10 Percent Niacinamide Booster

Paula's Choice 10 Percent Niacinamide Booster

Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster was the OG high dose niacinamide. It offers a 10 percent concentration, in a light liquid formula free of silicones.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10 Percent Zinc 1 Percent

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is the most affordable of the bunch. This is another high-dose, silicone-free formula, with the addition of zinc to control oil. It does have a tendency to ball up under other products, but you can try these tips to prevent pilling.

Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum

Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum

Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum

Good Molecules Niacinamide Serum is a new 10 percent niacinamide treatment at a super affordable price. This is a water-based formula, so it's very lightweight. It's also fragrance-free and silicone-free.

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense is a serum for targeting dark spots. Besides five percent niacinamide, it has tranexamic acid, kojic acid and sulfonic acid (and no silicones).

Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Serum

Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3 Serum

Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Serum

Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Serum is a fast-absorbing, lightweight serum, also free of silicones. However, they don't disclose the percentage of niacinamide... hopefully it's at least four percent! 

Iron Power NiaSerum Niacinamide Serum

Iron Power NiaSerum Niacinamide Serum

Iron Power NiaSerum Niacinamide Serum

Iron Power NiaSerum Niacinamide Serum is your Amazon option. Also your minimalist option, since it has only three ingredients! And with 12 percent, it's the highest concentration of niacinamide I've seen.

Glossier Super Pure 

Glossier Super Pure

Glossier Super Pure

Glossier Super Pure is another niacinamide and zinc concoction, although we don't know how much they used of each. Still, the ingredients list is surprisingly short (for them); it's also low-silicone and has a light, watery texture.

Derma E Radiance Brightening Serum

Derma E Radiance Brightening Serum

Derma E Radiance Brightening Serum

Derma E Radiance Brightening Serum is an oil-free and silicone-free serum that targets pigmentation, uneven tone and sun damage. Although they don't disclose the percentage of niacinamide, it is high on the ingredients list (after water, glycerin and carrageenan).

The Inkey List Niacinamide 

The Inkey List Niacinamide

The Inkey List Niacinamide

The Inkey List Niacinamide boasts 10 percent niacinamide in a lightweight serum that's free of silicones and fragrance. The hydrating formula also includes glycerin, squalane and hyaluronic acid (and has an affordable price).

Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide

Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide

Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide

Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide combines niacinamide with copper peptides (hence the blue tint). The two together are a powerful but non-irritating anti-aging combo.


Niacinamide skin benefits

Niacinamide belongs in every skincare routine.

Now you're up to speed on the magic of niacinamide. Honestly, is there anything it can't do?!

Personally, it has been part of my skincare routine for over a year now, and I can't imagine EVER being without it. 

As per this study, I use it in a routine with salicylic acid. The two are super effective for acne, excess oil and pigmentation. (You can see my results in my winter routine, for example.) I used to get IPL treatments for the sun damage on my cheeks, but no more! 

I've also found niacinamide serums keep my skin more hydrated than hyaluronic acid, and really calm down my redness. Plus, I tolerate them better than vitamin C, which often breaks me out (not to mention goes rancid before I can finish a bottle!).

All in all, I can't recommend this ingredient enough, no matter what skin issue you're trying to target. It truly does it all! 

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