There are a lot of heavy duty skin care ingredients that can seriously transform the skin, but stealthy improvement is easier to achieve, and usually comes with fewer risks. That’s why I want to shine a light on niacinamide, a fascinating skin care ingredient that can improve almost any skin concern, with virtually no potential side effects.
Unlike many other ingredients that cosmetics brands like to rave about in their marketing, there is actually a ton of research behind niacinamide that shows just how well it works. It is a magical ingredient that anyone will find useful. In this article, I’ll tell you all about it – how niacinamide works, what it treats, how to add it to your skin care routine, and which are the best niacinamide products you can try.
What Is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is also known as vitamin B3, or nicotinic acid. In the body, vitamin B3 is important for a variety of functions, including converting food into energy, maintaining blood circulation, keeping the liver, skin, hair and eyes healthy, and suppressing inflammation.
When applied topically to the skin, however, niacinamide acts as an antioxidant and improves a variety of cosmetic skin concerns. In skin care, the vitamin B3 usually comes from synthetic sources, although natural sources of it are primarily meat and fish.
What Skin Concerns Does Niacinamide Target?
• Restores compromised skin barrier functions, which look like flakey, dehydrated, or irritated skin.
• Reduces facial redness and flushing.
• Brightens dull skin tone.
• Fades surface hyperpigmentation, especially when caused by acne.
• Acts as an antioxidant to slow down the aging process and prevent free radical damage.
• Improves skin elasticity, and reduces fine lines and wrinkles.
• Minimizes the look of pores.
• Calms and reduces active acne.
• Keeps the skin looking matte.
What is interesting is that we do not fully understand exactly how niacinamide works – we just know that it does work, based on clinical trials. For example, niacinamide restores the skin’s barrier functions both by acting as an antioxidant, as well as by increasing cell turnover rate, and natural lipid production. It likely reduces wrinkles by increasing collagen production, and reduces pigmentation by controlling the amount of pigment that is transferred from melanocytes to the skin.
The one that really has me in a doozy is niacinamide’s mattifying ability. Hundreds of people report a decrease in oil production in their skin after using niacinamide, even though there is no mechanism that explains how this might occur.
How Quickly Does Niacinamide Work?
Research conducted by Proctor and Gamble showed that after 12 weeks a product with 5% niacinamide was able to improve the appearance of various signs of skin aging, including skin elasticity, pigmentation, lines and wrinkles, and redness.
Another study, on acne, showed an improvement in just over 80% of the participants, after 8 weeks. So don’t be impatient! Use your niacinamide regularly, and know that it might take 2 or 3 months to see noticeable improvement.
Side Effects, Risks, or Concerns of Niacinamide
• Those with very sensitive skin might find themselves reacting to niacinamide at high concentrations. Possible reactions include facial flushing, and mild irritation. Reducing the percentage at which you use niacinamide, or using it less often should help.
• Some people are allergic to niacinamide. This usually manifests as redness, flushing, itching, or small (non-acne) bumps. If this occurs, stop using niacinamide.
• While generally non-comedogenic, some people do find that niacinamide breaks them out.
How Should I Introduce Niacinamide Into My Skin Care Routine?
As always, begin by conducting a patch test. Apply the niacinamide product of your choice to a small area of skin every day, for a few days in a row. If no adverse reaction occurs, you can keep going.
Once you fully introduce niacinamide into your skincare routine, the time when you apply it depends on what else you are using, and what kind of texture it comes in. Since niacinamide is effective at a relatively higher pH, you definitely want to use it after your pH dependent actives, like AHA, BHA, or vitamin C.
In fact, your routine could be as simple as cleansing, and applying a moisturizer with niacinamide, or it could be as complex as cleansing, toning, applying chemical exfoliant, applying another active, applying a serum with niacinamide, and then a moisturizer or two. This is totally up to you.
While niacinamide does not make the skin photosensitive, I think it defeats the purpose to use it while simultaneously not taking protective measures against sun exposure.
Can I Pair Vitamin C with Niacinamide?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes, but with some care. Products that contain both vitamin C and niacinamide might cause the skin to flush on contact, but this reaction does not harm the skin and goes away after about 20 minutes.
This kind of reaction is much less likely to occur when the vitamin C and niacinamide are present in two different products. However, if you do notice a reaction, you may choose to use the products separately, using one during the day and another in the evening.
Finding The Best Niacinamide Skin Care Products
For skin care product with niacinamide to truly have an impact on the skin, it must be present in the formula at an effective concentration. Between 2% to 5% is enough to really make a difference, without irritating the skin.
Usually, this means that you want niacinamide to be the 4th or 5th ingredient on the ingredients list. I have selected the best niacinamide products on the market, at different price points, and I guarantee they all contain an adequate amount of this incredible ingredient.
1. CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM
CeraVe finds its way into almost any skin care compilation, because they make some of the best products in general, and some of the best niacinamide products, specifically. This nighttime moisturizer has 4% niacinamide, as well as a few other skin mimicking and hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid.
It is super easy to integrate into one’s routine, because it doesn’t add an extra skin care step to your routine. It has a light texture that penetrates quickly into the skin, and it works well for both oily and dry skin types (and anyone in between). You can purchase it from Ulta for $15.49.
2. Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum
In this serum Olay paired around 2% niacinamide with an anti-aging peptide complex. While the focus is on the anti-aging benefits, this serum can totally work as a light evening moisturizer for those with oily skin! The texture is light and silky, with a consistency somewhere between a serum and an emulsion. The skin absorbs it quickly, and it leaves behind a smooth silicone feel.
It also includes skin soothing ingredients like allantoin, green tea, and panthenol. If you are sensitive to scents, you can purchase the fragrance free version. Find it at Ulta for $22.99.
3. Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil
While this product might be a new addition at Ulta, it is actually already very well known and well loved in the Asian beauty world. This serum is a powerhouse that can do everything from preventing premature aging, to hydrating the skin, to seriously brightening it.
It is unsurprising that the ingredients list on this products is loooong, with a ton of fermented extracts, micronized oils, proven actives, and hydrating humectants. It is best paired with a final layer of moisturizer (or just sunscreen if you’re using it during the day), but it can actually function quite well on its own as well. The most surprising thing about this product is that it is a total steal, costing only $30.00 at Ulta.
4. NIA24 Skin Strengthening Complex
This moisturizer contains niacinamide in the form of myristyl nicotinate, at a percentage high enough to truly brighten your skin and improve its texture. This product is a little heavier on the emollients, including olive oil and wheat germ oil, so it is definitely best for those with dry skin that is not acne prone.
This is a medium moisturizer that penetrates into the skin quickly, and leaves the skin feel smooth, soft, and hydrated. Other ingredients that stand out here are barrier repairing ceramides, age defying peptides, and just a touch of a retinyl palmitate, a gentle form of vitamin A. You can give this moisturizer a try for $93.00; it is available for sale at Skin Care Rx.
5. Paula’s Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster
Are you looking for something seriously heavy duty? Maybe you are just really into customizable products? If so, then this serum might be your best bet. 10% niacinamide is no joke, so if you are looking for radical results (with a higher potential for irritation), give this a try. It is sure to work, regardless of whether you are looking for an anti-aging solution or an anti-acne one.
Personally, I dig this product because it comes with a dropper, in the form of a thin serum. No matter which moisturizer, oil, or serum you are using, you can simply create a half and half blend when you want that niacinamide boost. Purchase this serum from Nordstrom for $42.00.
6. Philosophy No Reason to Hide Imperfection Transforming Serum
This one is a niacinamide serum for those with skin on the oilier side. It combines that B3 acne defying goodness with pore clarifying and exfoliating salicylic acid, and skin brightening vitamin C and licorice root extract.
It’ll help brighten, smooth, and retexturize your skin – it’s a great anti-age solution that won’t leave you broken out or greasy. It has a thin texture, and might require an additional moisturizer on top. You can purchase it at Nordstrom for $68.00.
7. DDF Wrinkle Resist Plus Pore Minimizer Moisturizing Serum
This niacinamide rich anti-aging and pore minimizing serum is a fun one. It acts as a three in one serum, moisturizer, and primer that offers the skin a silky finish with a touch of luminescence. I’m also a sucker for cool delivery systems, and I think the peach helix certainly counts as that.
As far as skin benefits go, the amount of niacinamide in this serum is substantial, as are other lovely ingredients like amino acid peptides, panthenol, and vitamin E. Pretty much anyone, with any skin type, could find a place in their routine for this excellent skin firming product. You can buy it from Ulta for $59.00.
8. Strivectin-SD Intensive Concentrate for Stretch Marks and Wrinkles
You’ll see myristyl nicotinate in many of Strivectin’s formulas, but here it stands out as the second ingredient, just after water. It is another product with a long ingredients list, and lots to love: different kinds of hyaluronic acid to hydrate, lots of anti-aging peptides, antioxidant superstar resveratrol, apple stem cells, and creamy shea butter.
It is a wonderful and comprehensive anti-aging moisturizer that I think even combination skin types could get away with using. You can pick it up from Nordstrom for $139.00; but don’t let the price scare you, the container is very large.
9. Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Spot Serum
The focus with this niacinamide skin care product was on making a brightening spot treatment, and it certainly comes in the kind of tiny bottle you would want to savour. Sulwhasoo is known as a luxury brand, with their star ingredient being a rice ferment that supposedly softens and hydrates the skin.
However, I suspect that the reason why this spot serum is so successful is the abundance of niacinamide. Sure, other natural extracts from mulberry, ginseng, and more certainly do not hurt.
This serum has a light, almost lotion like texture, and it sinks into the skin quickly. It certainly works, but don’t feel guilty if you opt for one of the less expensive options on this list. Pick it up from Neiman Marcus for $125.00.
Do you think you’ll try adding niacinamide into your skin care routine? What other active ingredients do you look for in your skin care? Comment with your answers!
Photos courtesy of @thsgus, Ulta, Nordstrom