Niacinamide is one of my favorite skin care 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. You can thank niacinamide 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 the 3 D’s—diarrhea, dementia, and dermatitis.
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 tangible skin benefits—the ones that are backed by science!
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).
30 Caucasian participants were also inducted in this study. But the results were a little different for them.
Instead of seeing a difference in their sebum secretion rates, the Caucasian participants saw a difference in their casual sebum levels.
Personal note: A lot of shine-control serums dry skin out, but that’s not the case with niacinamide. The products I’ve used always left me supple, hydrated, and oil-controlled. Yay!
2. Lightens Hyperpigmentation
Dark marks are hard to get rid of.
But luckily, niacinamide can speed up the removal process.
How, you ask?
By inhibiting melanosome transfer to keratinocytes by 35-68% (source).
The previous sentence might be a little confusing, so let me try to explain it in another way:
Niacinamide prevents pigment-containing organelles (aka melanosomes) from reaching the cells in the upper levels of your skin (aka keratinocytes).
And that’s not all!
It also works great on melasma!
According to one study, a 4% niacinamide cream performed just as well as a 4% hydroquinone cream (source).
Although hydroquinone is regarded as the gold standard of skin lightening, it can cause rare but serious side effects (like ochronosis, a pigmentation disorder that almost looks like GOT’s greyscale).
So it’s great that niacinamide can do the same thing without the side effects. Woot!
How long does it take to work?
Based on the findings of the studies listed in this section, it’ll take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks to see results.
3. Fights Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Niacinamide is an anti-aging superstar!
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 with the similar results—that a 5% niacinamide solution can indeed improve fine lines and wrinkles after 12 weeks of use (source 1, source 2)
And yet another split face study—conducted by Kawada et al this time—concluded that a 4% niacinamide lotion significantly reduced eye wrinkles after only 8 weeks of use (source).
4. Hydrates Skin
There’s no doubt about it: Niacinamide is a pro when it comes to hydrating skin.
By strengthening the epidermal barrier, niacinamide helps prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which in turn improves your skin’s moisture content (source).
Now I know that dermatologists often recommend Vaseline (otherwise known as petroleum jelly) for various dry skin conditions.
But I bet you didn’t know that niacinamide is better at increasing skin hydration than vaseline (source). This is especially true when it comes to treating eczema.
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!
But wait…there’s more!
One study examined how a niacinamide-containing moisturizer (Olay Total Effects 7X Visible Anti-Aging Moisturizer) effects rosacea (source).
After 4 weeks over 95% of participants saw improvements in the following:
- Facial redness
It was concluded that the niacinamide-containing moisturizer strengthened the skin barrier. Which in turn, helped alleviate the signs and symptoms of rosacea. Cool!
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.
Why does it work so well on acne?
There are a few reasons:
- Helps bring down inflammation
- Reduces oiliness (as stated in the section above)
My guess is that this will work best on mild to moderate acne. If you have a more severe form of acne, you might want to check out my cystic acne guide here.
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 can’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.
That being said, some people experience a burning sensation right after applying it to their skin.
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.
Niacinamide is pretty much the superhero of skin care ingredients. … 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!