What is Niacinamide Used for in Skin Care? (Benefits, Side Effects, and Product Rec’s)

Niacinamide is one of my favorite skincare ingredients.

Why, you ask?

Because it can treat EVERYTHING. 

Okay, maybe not everything

But according to a bunch of research studies, it can treat a ton of skin conditions—like acne, rosacea, and wrinkles.  

Read on to learn more about what niacinamide can do for you.

What Is Niacinamide? 

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is an active form of Vitamin B3

As an essential nutrient, it plays a role in literally hundreds of reactions in our bodies. In fact, you can thank niacinamide for things like converting food into energy as well as enhancing DNA repair.  

On the other end of the spectrum, deficiencies can lead to serious health problems like pellagra, a disease characterized by diarrhea, dementia, and dermatitis (YIKES!). 

And another thing. 

Niacinamide’s role isn’t only internal.

Since it’s a precursor NADPH, it helps with the production of ceramides—the glue that holds skin together.  

Now let’s talk about some of its more tangible skin benefits.

Niacinamide Skin Benefits

1. Reduces Oiliness

Wanna know why I started using niacinamide in the first place?

Judging by the title of this section, I bet you already know.

Yep, I started using it because it controls shine. 

And it’s not just me who says so. 

A Japanese study found that applying a 2% niacinamide moisturizer significantly reduced sebum secretion rates after just 2 weeks of use (source). 

If you’re not of Japanese descent, will it still work for you?

The answer: maybe!

The study also included 30 Caucasian participants. This group saw a reduction in causal sebum levels (as opposed to sebum secretion rates like in the Japanese group).

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what casual sebum levels are. But I believe it’s a fancy way to refer to the oil that’s just hanging around on your face (please shoot me a message if I’m wrong).

All in all, niacinamide reduced oiliness in both groups, albeit in different ways.

Personal note: A lot of shine-control serums that I’ve used were excessively drying, but that’s not the case with niacinamide. It’s always left me supple, hydrated, and oil-controlled.

2. Lightens Hyperpigmentation

Dark marks are hard to get rid of. 

But luckily, niacinamide can speed up the removal process. 

How?

By inhibiting melanosome transfer to keratinocytes by 35-68% (source). 

Don’t know what melanosome transfer is? No worries! Let’s break it down:

Niacinamide prevents pigment-containing organelles (aka melanosomes) from reaching the cells in the upper levels of your skin (aka keratinocytes). 

Great news! Niacinamide can also lighten melasma.

According to one study, a 4% niacinamide cream performed just as well as a 4% hydroquinone cream in treating melasma (source). 

Side Note: This is especially cool because hydroquinone doesn’t have the best reputation out there. AKA, in very rare cases, it’s been known to cause ochronosis, a pigmentation disorder that almost looks like greyscale from Game of Thrones. But I think this is something that I’ll go more in-depth with in another post.

Last thing. 

How long does it take to work?

Based on the findings the studies referenced above, it’ll take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks to see results. 

3. Fights Fine Lines and Wrinkles 

According to a review, niacinamide decreases fine lines and wrinkles by (source):

  • Increasing collagen and protein production.
  • And inhibiting excess glycosaminoglycans (GAGS). 

What’s more interesting is that in vivo studies have shown that it actually works!

Bisset et al conducted two separate split-face studies that concluded that a 5% niacinamide solution can improve fine lines and wrinkles after just 12 weeks of consistent use (source 1, source 2

And yet another split face study—conducted by Kawada et al—concluded that a 4% niacinamide lotion significantly reduced eye wrinkles after only 8 weeks of consistent use (source).  

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

4. Hydrates Skin

By strengthening the epidermal barrier, niacinamide helps prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which in turn improves your skin’s moisture content (source). 

This is especially true when it comes to treating dry eczematic skin. When compared to petroleum jelly, niacinamide is actually more effective (source). To reiterate the point from above, it’s more effective because it significantly reduces TEWL.

5. Helps with Redness & Rosacea

Understatement of the year: rosacea-prone skin is sensitive AF. 

The good news is that niacinamide has got your back!

Various studies have shown that it can reduce redness (source 1, source 2). 

But wait…there’s more!

One study examined how a niacinamide-containing moisturizer (Olay Total Effects 7X Visible Anti-Aging Moisturizer) affects rosacea (source). 

After 4 weeks, over 95% of participants saw improvements in the following:

  • TEWL
  • Facial redness
  • Dryness
  • Scaling
  • Acne

It was concluded that the niacinamide-containing moisturizer strengthened the skin barrier. Which in turn, helped alleviate the signs and symptoms of rosacea.

Pro tip: Even though niacin and niacinamide are related, you shouldn’t substitute one for the other. Niacin has actually been reported to cause flushing—the dreaded symptom that most rosacea patients try to avoid (source). 

6. Treats Acne

A lot of acne treatments come with a never-ending list of side effects like dryness, increased sun sensitivity, and even antibiotic resistance. 

Well, guess what?

Niacinamide performs just as well as some other acne treatments without causing any side effects.

There were even a couple of studies that found that niacinamide performs just as well as clindamycin, a popular antibiotic gel (source 1, source 2). 

Why does it work so well on acne?

There are a couple of reasons that come to mind:

  • It helps bring down inflammation
  • It reduces oiliness (as stated in the section above)

Like all acne treatments, it won’t work on all types of acne and it won’t work on absolutely everybody.

7. Protects Skin from the Sun

UV damage can lead to skin cancer.

But you already knew that.

So here’s something new:

Studies have found that niacinamide, either applied topically or taken orally, can significantly decrease UV-induced immunosuppression, aka one of the major risk factors for skin cancer (source 1, source 2).

That being said, let’s get one thing straight:

Although niacinamide has photoprotective properties, it’s NOT a replacement for sunscreen! So please keep on keeping on with your current suncare routine.

Is It Safe?

For the record, niacinamide has an EWG score of 1. Which is to say, it’s not likely toxic or harmful to you or to the environment. 

I know that some people scoff at EWG ratings. Afterall, a single-digit rating doesn’t really show the whole picture. 

So let me add-in another safety source to sweeten the pot. 

The CIR (otherwise known as Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel) says that niacinamide is “considered safe to use in cosmetics” (source). Besides that, the CIR also agrees that niacinamide doesn’t sensitize or photosensitize skin. In other words, it’s unlikely to cause irritation or make you more sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays.

What are Niacinamide’s Side Effects?

Niacinamide is well-tolerated by virtually all skin types. 

But it’s not perfect.

Although the research is lacking, a couple of studies have confirmed that creams containing niacinamide can cause a temporary burning sensation (source 1, source 2).

Personal note: I use niacinamide serums on a semi-daily basis and can confirm that it does burn…SOMETIMES. When is it most likely to burn? Whenever I apply it on top of compromised skin—like after taking a super-duper-hot shower. 

Bottom Line

Although more research before I can put niacinamide in the skincare hall of fame, it’s still a wonderful ingredient with a ton of benefits. Specifically: It’s a non-toxic, non-irritating, non-photosensitizing way to treat and/or prevent greasiness, hyperpigmentation, fine lines & wrinkles, TEWL, rosacea, and acne. If that wasn’t enough, it has minimal (if any) side effects, so it’ll work on a lot of different skin types and conditions. 

Best Niacinamide Products

  1. The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc (10%) – This is my go-to serum. Why, you ask? Because it’s cheap, it’s easy-to-use, and it works great on my oily skin! I either use it on its own or add it to my moisturizer to give it some extra oomph.
  2. Paula’s Choice Niacinamide Booster (10%) – Paula’s Choice products are always well-formulated. This serum, in particular, contains a bunch of antioxidants, skin soothers, and hydrators. And since its texture is on the watery side, it won’t likely pill when you add makeup on top of it (which is a major complaint with the TO niacinamide serum). 
  3. Cerave PM – It’s unclear how much niacinamide is in this product. But the good thing about it is that you can actually find this one anytime/anywhere at the drugstore. Beyond that, a lot of people see Cerave PM as a holy grail product for their oily skin!

Read More