Niacinamide is a skincare ingredient that has been making big waves in the industry over the past few years.
Written about so much by skincare bloggers and hyped up by those who have tried it, it’s easy to see why people would want to give it a go!
But hyped-up ingredients have come and gone before. Does niacinamide have what it takes to become a staple in our beauty routines?
Let’s see if research and medicine supports the positive anecdotal evidence on this exciting ingredient.
What is niacinamide?
Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide or vitamin B3, may sound like a fancy new chemical, but it’s actually something we are all familiar with and have encountered--and eaten!--before.
This compound is the water-soluble version of Vitamin B3, which is found in the diet through yeast, meat, nuts, leafy vegetables, coffee, cereal, and tea.
If you eat the foods above and / or take supplements, you get a good amount of this everyday!
What does niacinamide do?
Niacinamide is essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. Each and every cell in our body needs the coenzymes NAD and NADPH--and the “N” in those terms stand for nicotinamide, a synonym of niacinamide.
These coenzymes catalyze a whole host of reactions: from driving energy metabolism to synthesising nucleic acids (like your DNA), from regulating biochemical signalling pathways to protecting the cells from oxidative damage.
Given these functions, it’s easy to see why the body would benefit from niacinamide.
In extreme cases, lack of niacinamide can cause a condition called pellagra. But we also know that low levels of Vitamin B3 can cause dry, scaly and inflamed skin.
Logically, that would mean that providing the appropriate levels of Vitamin B3 would result in well-moisturised, supply, and healthy skin, right? This is exactly why niacinamide has become a go-to ingredient for many cosmeceutical products.
But before you go shopping for new skincare, it’s important to know that there are many versions of Vitamin B3 derivatives.
Nicotinamide Vs Nicotinic acid
Aside from niacinamide aka nicotinamide, you may encounter the term niacin aka nicotinic acid. The two chemicals are very similar in their molecular structure but have very different effects on the skin and human body. For the nerds out there like us, nicotinic acid does not have the amide group in the molecular structure (or the name!).
Niacin or nicotinic acid causes dilation of blood vessels and skin irritation, which translates to red, flushed and itchy skin. Fine if you don’t put niacin on your face right?
Well yes, but you may also be interested to know that nicotinamide can convert to nicotinic acid under the right (or wrong) conditions. So if your skin is becoming flushed or irritated after application of your nicotinamide containing product there are some things to consider.
- Are you applying a cream that has its nicotinamide converted to nicotinic acid due to poor manufacturing and storage conditions?
- Are you layering your nicotinamide serum or cream with another cream that is causing the conversion of nicotinamide to nicotinic acid?
Got you thinking ha?
What is niacinamide good for?
Niacinamide improves skin texture and appearance
As we grow older, our skin is no longer as effective at retaining moisture and producing structural proteins that keep our skin supple and looking fresh.
One of the mechanisms behind these processes is the depletion of NAD and NADH in ageing skin cells.
Topical niacinamide has been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dry skin by directly providing the building blocks for NAD and NADH.
As evidenced by scientific research, niacinamide ups the production of collagen and ceramides and fuels the production of lipids of the cell membrane.
Our skin cells are re-energized to perform their functions more efficiently.
With that extra support from these structural proteins, our skin barrier is strengthened.
The synthesised lipids shore up the cell membrane and make it more resistant to damage.
These all result in decreased transepidermal water loss and increased skin elasticity, which manifests as healthy, hydrated skin.
Niacinamide helps control inflammation
Inflamed, angry skin does not only cause discomfort, pain, and itchiness, it also makes us feel conscious about our appearance.
There are some studies that have shown the effectiveness of niacinamide in improving inflammatory skin conditions. This includes acne, particularly when the patients’ skin cannot tolerate stronger active ingredients or when used as a serum in addition to prescribed treatments.
Moisturisers containing niacinamide have helped people who suffer from rosacea by reducing redness, dryness, and reducing the skin reactivity.
Niacinamide evens out the skin tone
An overproduction of melanin in small areas of the skin can be caused by sun damage or as a result of inflammation and skin damage.
Niacinamide inhibits the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes, the cells that create it, to keratinocytes, the cells that are found near the surface of the skin.
This results in noticeable reduction in hyperpigmentation over time, leaving you with a clearer complexion.
Niacinamide helps minimise UV damage
The ultraviolet rays of the sun cause an increase in reactive oxygen species that can harm our skin cells.
Sunscreen and other sun protection measures are key to protecting the skin against further UV damage. However, if you want something to help repair existing damage, then niacinamide is a good addition to your routine.
Studies show that it can minimise harmful changes to the immune system of the skin and cancer causing effects. Long-term use of nicotinamide tablets for example has been associated with a reduction in actinic keratoses, which are often precursors to skin cancer.
Is niacinamide good for dry skin?
Those that suffer from dry skin can benefit significantly from the benefits of niacinamide.
We know for fact that those who suffer from dry skin have problems in what we call ‘the barrier function’ of the skin. That is, that mechanism in the skin that stops the loss of water from deeper layers of the skin.
The stratum corneum - ie the very top layer of the skin is so important in the barrier function of the skin.
Niacinamide has been tested to see if it makes any difference to the barrier function of the skin. And yep, you guessed it, there is evidence to show that the barrier function of the skin is improved with niacinamide.
And guess what? Better barrier function means less dry skin.
For those that do suffer from dry skin, make sure your niacinamide is in a cream base rather than in a serum or lotion. The base or ‘vehicle’ that this beauty-of-an-ingredient comes in is just as important to help your skin retain moisture as is the ingredient.
Some practical aspects on the use of niacinamide
Choose your brand wisely when it comes to products that contain niacinamide. As mentioned before, products containing niacinamide have been known to cause reactions due to their conversion to nicotinamide under the right (or wrong) conditions. Our favourites are the niacinamide products from homegrown Australian brands' The Skincare Company and Propaira. In our opinion, products made in Australia are more likely to be more 'fresh' with less time between production and time to get on the shelf. They are also less likely to have been exposed to unpredictable environments during transit whch can potentially change what's in your product!
When to use niacinamide?
Niacinamide can be used morning or night. In fact, it can be used at any time of the day. It is recommended by most dermatologists to be applied on a daily basis as a minimum (ie not alternate daily or less frequently). It is important that the face is cleansed prior to applying niacinamide.
How to use niacinamide?
If you are suffering from a certain skin condition, niacinamide should be used in your skincare routine as an add-on to your prescribed treatment. On its own, it is unlikely to ‘fix’ your skin problem. Nevertheless, it can have an impact on the amount of time it takes for your skin to improve and just help you get over the edge to better skin. If the intention for the use of niacinamide is more maintenance or prevention, then niacinamide certainly has its place in your skincare routine as a staple ingredient.
How to apply niacinamide?
Apply a small amount of the product onto your fingertip rather than your palm. Then, dab the product on your forehead, cheeks, chin and a small amount on your nose. Using the flat surface of your fingertip, gently rub-in the product, spreading evenly across your face.
Niacinamide is a cosmeceutical ingredient that deserves the hype.
As always, when trying on a new product, make sure to do a spot test to test for reactivity.
If you have existing skin conditions, consult your GP or dermatologist first before making the leap.
Hopefully, the anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and skin repairing abilities of niacinamide will work on your skin, as it has done on so many others!