Let’s learn what skincare products with the active ingredient niacinamide can deliver on their promises, when, and why.
Last updated: September 7, 2022
Hi! I’ve decided to write about the vitamin B3 derivative niacinamide for my first Limitless Formulas post. Currently, many topical products include this active ingredient. Thus, most of us wonder about what are their real skincare benefits (the good science-based stuff). So let’s get to know them, and when & why they can occur!
First things first: how do we know that a product contains niacinamide?
If this is the case, it will appear within the INCI list: the compilation of all the ingredients which comprise the product’s formula, which must display on the product’s packaging. It features all the components of the formulation from more to less concentrated (meaning that the first ingredient on the list is present in the highest concentration and the last in the lowest).
Why is niacinamide good for the skin?
It is a form of vitamin B3, which, within our body, gives rise to the molecules NAD+ and NADP+.
Those are two essential metabolic co-factors that allow our cells to obtain the energy they need. That’s why niacinamide is especially relevant for organs that renew constantly and have high energy requirements, such as the skin.
Besides, NAD+ and NADP+ are essential for:
– the regulation of oxidative stress (caused by reactive oxygen species called free radicals);
– the repair of damages in the DNA of our cells;
– and the amelioration of harmful inflammatory processes (through reduction of the levels of pro-inflammatory molecules in the skin).
When can I expect real benefits derived from the application of niacinamide?
There is clinical evidence of the beneficial effects of topical niacinamide (upon consistent, at least once or twice daily application) in the following cases:
1· You have dry skin or eczema.
2· To improve hydration and the general appearance of any skin type.
Those two benefits (1· and 2·) derive mainly from increased levels of cutaneous fatty acids and ceramides.
The synthesis of these two types of lipids is dependent on NAD+ and NADP+ and thus favored by niacinamide. Those lipids are essential components of the cutaneous intercellular cement at the skin surface, and hence crucial to retain hydration within the skin. They also help to smooth the edges of cells in the uppermost layer of the skin, thus improving its appearance.
Moreover, NAD+ and NADP+ allow the adequate formation of the epidermis, that happens continuously. They thus foster an optimal barrier function of the skin.
Altogether, these actions assist in the improvement of rough skin patches, fine lines, and even atopic dermatitis (where the barrier function is compromised).
3· You have dark spots or melasma (melanin hyperpigmentation).
Niacinamide hinders the transfer of melanin from the cells which produce it (the melanocytes) to the keratinocytes – the cell type that makes most of the epidermis –.
Therefore, it is possible to obtain a gentle to your skin yet significant depigmenting effect only with niacinamide. However, it will probably disappear soon after you stop its application. That is because niacinamide does not inhibit the synthesis of melanin, but only its distribution.
For more dramatic results, it’s usually best to use niacinamide in combination with actual inhibitors of the synthesis of melanins (which in some cases might not be that gentle). However, if your skin is especially sensitive to depigmenting ingredients, niacinamide alone might be the mildest, safest yet effective option.
4· You expose yourself to ultraviolet radiation – aka, you live on the planet Earth 😉 –.
Why? Because niacinamide has a photo-protective effect. I mean, it does not replace the physical and chemical filters contained in sunscreens. Nonetheless, it counteracts the immediate effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin and, therefore, may prevent solar damage.
How? UV radiation induces DNA damage that the skin cells try to repair, which requires lots of energy (and thus a lot of NAD+). As a consequence, the skin’s NAD+ pool dramatically decreases upon intense or repetitive sun exposure, which in turn enhances the skin’s sensibility to the sun.
High levels of NAD+ are crucial for DNA repair as well as to neutralize the increase in oxidative stress (and potential damage) caused by UV radiation.
Besides, both UV-B and UV-A radiation diminish the skin’s immunity (its capability to fight external aggressors, such as sun radiation) and trigger the secretion of harmful pro-inflammatory molecules. Adequate NAD+ levels in the skin help prevent this overall immunosuppressive effect.
The good news is that the levels of NAD+ in the skin increase when we apply topical niacinamide on it. Therefore, if we rubbed niacinamide on the skin before (and during) sun exposure, the levels of NAD+ could remain pretty steady. This gesture would help avoid immediate photodamage and, as a consequence, would contribute to prevent photo-aging and skin cancers down the road.
5· You have rosacea or persistent redness.
The epidermis produces the signaling molecule nitric oxide (NO) upon inflammation that occurs in redness-prone skins. Because NO is gas, it can diffuse towards the dermis, where it induces blood vessel dilation, resulting in enhanced redness.
NAD+ anti-inflammatory effect encompasses its capacity to suppress the synthesis of NO. Therefore niacinamide can lessen the vasodilation that causes persistent redness.
6· You have moderate acne or prone-to-shine skin.
Niacinamide is helpful in cases of acne vulgaris or rosacea acne (not in harsher acne scenarios) and seborrhea, thanks to the anti-inflammatory and anti-seborrheic activities of NAD+ and NADP+.
Niacinamide’s anti-seborrheic activity is due to the involvement of NAD+/NADP+ in the biosynthesis and regulation of sebum in the skin.
Regarding its acne-solving activity, in some instances, niacinamide has proven to be as effective as clindamycin or erythromycin – that are antibiotics used to treat mild acne –.
7· It can be helpful if you have atopic dermatitis.
In general, niacinamide is a well-tolerated and potentially useful ingredient in moisturizers designed to alleviate this type of dermatitis due to its epidermal barrier-enhancing effects.
How do I know whether a specific product can provide the kind of benefit I am looking for?
Let’s dive into the most practical tips now! Bear in mind that the niacinamide included in most skincare products, due to its water-soluble nature, will only penetrate the epidermis – and the actual depth it will reach will depend on its percentage and formulation on each product –.
For example, we will only see dark spots or melasma fade when using products with 4-5% niacinamide. Niacinamide must hamper the distribution of melanin in the basal layer of the epidermis (where the melanin-producing cells are), so it must be able to penetrate down there too.
In contrast, to better the hydration and general appearance of the skin’s surface – such as in cases of moderate skin dryness, dehydration, or seborrhea – you could see an improvement starting at 2%. Also, the penetration into the basal layer may not be indispensable.
The effective dose of topical niacinamide for most applications is 4-5%. So look for products that display niacinamide among the first ingredients in the INCI list. Most brands don’t show the percentage of active ingredients in their formulas. If you need to find out that kind of information, it might be worth getting in touch with the manufacturing lab or brand.
Niacinamide in topical skincare products won’t reach the dermis significantly unless combined with a powerful dermal delivery system (which is rare). So I’d be suspicious of almost any product claiming niacinamide actions in the dermis (for instance, collagen synthesis or improvement of deep wrinkles), regardless of its percentage in the formulation.
Can niacinamide cause skin irritation?
Although niacinamide is generally well tolerated by the skin, it is possible to develop a certain degree of sensitivity to it (or its combination with other ingredients). The greater the concentration, the higher the chances of developing allergy (as happens with any other compound).
A good habit involves trying new products behind the ear for one or several days beforehand (since this might hint at potential sensitivity issues).
There are products on the market with a percentage of niacinamide higher than 4-5%. Brands usually advertise that percentage (you can find some with even 20%!) to claim greater effectiveness. However, at the moment there isn’t any scientific proof of higher efficacy and, the chances of allergy increase.
Affordable products with niacinamide
You can find niacinamide in plenty of moisturizing creams or lotions (particularly facial); in most of them, its percentage is below 4%. It’s common in serums and night-time fluids too, where the concentration tends to be higher (especially in serums to treat hyperpigmentation).
Niacinamide products specifically designed for sensitive skin might have just a reduced number of additional ingredients, something highly desirable from my point of view. They can be used by any skin type, though. And can be great for the eye contour area, given that the delicate skin here dehydrates more easily.
Want examples of (potentially) great niacinamide products? I leave some below. If you wish to know whether they work for you, you need to try them yourself.
You will be able to see the INCI list for each product when you click the corresponding (non-affiliate) link:
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Eyes
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Nuit
Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion
The future of niacinamide: photoprotection?
Currently, there are many sunscreen products on the market that include niacinamide. Remember that the physical and chemical filters in sunscreens do not entirely protect against ultraviolet radiation. And right there is where the role of niacinamide acquires its relevance.
However, what’s the effective dose of niacinamide in a sunscreen? As far as I am aware of, for the most part we don’t know. Most of those products include 1-5% of niacinamide, which may help counteract some of the sunlight-induced cellular damage that the sunscreen filters cannot avoid.
But, to which extent? That’s what we would need to find out. Only then we may be able to develop compelling, more effective Limitless Formulas featuring adequate doses of niacinamide and a great ultraviolet light-filtering system.
Do you use skincare products with niacinamide? What are your favorites? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
I hope this post is appealing and helpful for you guys.
Love and see you soon!
3 responses to “Topical niacinamide: What to expect, when, and why?”
Great post ..
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[…] This form of vitamin B3 fosters the synthesis of ceramides and fatty acids. It is also an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory molecule that helps keep the high levels of energy required by the epidermis to renew constantly and repair itself (from UV damage, for instance). You can discover the multiple benefits of topical niacinamide in the post I wrote about it (here). […]