What Is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is one of those ingredients that stands out for the benefits it can provide to the skin. However, it is not an ingredient that is particularly well understood. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 or niacin that may help to improve the appearance of pigmentation and aging, can increase the antioxidant capacity of the skin, and may be involved in maintaining the skin barrier.
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the good:May increase the antioxidant capacity of the skin, be involved in maintaining the skin barrier and help reduce the appearance of signs of aging such as pigmentation, yellowing of the skin and fine lines.
the not so good:Nicotinic acid, a potentially more effective form of niacinamide can cause a flush in the skin after use, many people find this an uncomfortable sensation.
Who is it for?Most skin types, including sensitive and angry skin types.
Synergetic ingredients:Niacinamide works well with most ingredients. Depending on the desired outcome, it is often used with zinc for healing or hyaluronic acid for calming and hydration.
Keep an eye on:Be mindful of the type and concentration of vitamin B3 being used in the products. For sensitive skin types, it is best to avoid using high levels without testing it on your skin first.
Niacinamide vs Niacin
There is a slight difference between the different forms of niacinamide. The first is the difference between niacinamide and niacin. Niacin is the name of vitamin B3 while niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 often used in skincare formulations. There are two forms of niacin which are used as key ingredients. The two forms are niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, and the other is nicotinic acid. There is some debate around whether these two forms of vitamin B3 are interchangeable in skincare formulations. Some studies suggest that they easily convert into each other in the skin. Other studies indicate that they have slightly different functions in the skin despite them having very similar activities as dietary vitamins in the body.
Nicotinic acid has some added benefits over niacinamide when used topically in skincare products. Nicotinic acid may provide the skin with increased antioxidant benefits due to nicotinic acid’s interaction with nicotinic acid receptors in the skin. Nicotinic acid also seems to have the ability to affect the levels of niacinamide adenosine dinucleotide (NAD) in the body, potentially increasing its benefits. NAD is a cofactor, a helper molecule involved in many of the body’s natural processes.
However, there is a downside to using nicotinic acid over niacinamide. Nicotinic acid is associated with facial vasodilation or an increase in blood flow to the face, also known as the niacinamide flush. While this flush is not harmful, it can be quite an unpleasant sensation. For this reason, niacinamide is often preferred in skincare treatments and is the most well studied of the two vitamin B3 ingredients used in skincare.
The way niacinamide is theorized to improve the appearance of the skin is through the NAD pathway, similar to the way nicotinic acid works. Instead of interacting with the receptors and the levels of NAD, niacinamide may just be responsible for increasing the levels of NAD. Niacinamide is the precursor molecule for the cofactors NAD and its phosphate counterpart niacinamide adenosine dinucleotide phosphate NADP. NAD and NADP are coenzymes or helper molecules in a reaction pathway that is involved in up to 40 processes in the body. This means that niacinamide has the potential to be involved in a large number of reactions in the body and skin.
What Are The Six Benefits of Niacinamide For Your Skin?
Studies have suggested that niacinamide penetrates deeply into the skin. Research has indicated that NAD levels in the skin are increased after the topical use of niacinamide. Acting as an antioxidant, niacinamide has been studied for the potential benefits in reducing the appearance of aging processes and helping to balance oil production.
It is important to also keep in mind that while a healthy diet containing vitamin B3 through foods such as eggs, cereals, green vegetables and fish, to get the full benefits of niacinamide on the skin, it is best used topically.
Niacinamide has been found to increase the antioxidant capacity of the skin. Antioxidants work by rebalancing the levels of free radicals in the skin. Free radicals are the by-product of normal processes in the body, such as oxidative stress. However, when there is an imbalance in the levels of free radicals in the body, they can cause damage to the cells. This damage has been linked with signs of aging.
- Skin barrier function
Research into the effects of niacinamide has suggested that niacinamide may be involved in the function of the skin barrier. The skin barrier is the top layer of the skin that helps to prevent water loss and acts as a barrier to allergens and bacteria. In the review article published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, it was suggested that niacinamide increases the synthesis of ceramides as well as lipids that are involved in the structural and functional integrity of the skin barrier.
It was also suggested that niacinamide might be involved in the differentiation of keratinocyte cells. Keratinocyte cells are a type of skin cell that can have specialised functions; their function is determined by a process called differentiation. When treated with niacinamide there was an increase in the levels of ceramide and differentiation of keratinocytes. These results were also accompanied by reduced moisturize loss from the surface of the skin. Skin barrier integrity has been associated with reducing the appearance of redness and blotching. While this was only two studies, it is interesting to try and understand the mechanisms by which niacinamide may be working to improve the appearance of the skin.
- Yellowing of the skin
Yellowing of the skin can be a symptom of aging and is thought to result from the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is an oxidative reaction between proteins and sugars that results in cross-linked sugar. These cross-linked sugars are yellowish and brown in color, giving your skin that yellow hue as we age. In the review article published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, they looked at a study that used niacinamide to increase the levels of the antioxidants NAD and NADPH to help inhibit the Maillard reaction.
Research has suggested that niacinamide might be involved in the collagen synthesis pathways as well as required in the production of proteins such as keratin, filaggrin, and involucrin, which are found in the skin. Keratin is involved in the structure of the cell and water binding, Filllagrin is involved in skin hydration, and involucrin seems to be involved in the structure of the deeper layers of the skin. Evidence suggests that niacinamide may help to increase the output of these molecules. However, bear in mind that this was only the results of one study, and one study does not make results accurate, but it is interesting to see where the research may lead.
Niacinamide may be able to help reduce the appearance of pigmentation. The proposed way this may work is that niacinamide may lower the ability of melanosomes to transfer from one cell type to another.
- Congested skin
In the study published by The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, it was suggested that topical niacinamide might help reduce the appearance of inflammation and redness associated with breakouts and inflammatory skin conditions. As well as to potentially rebalance oil production.
What Are The Best Ingredients to Use With Niacinamide?
Niacinamide can be boosted to improve the appearance of your skin through including other ingredients in the formulations or in your skincare routine. Depending on the reason you are using niacinamide, different ingredients are going to suit your needs better than others.
If you are a congestive skin type that is prone to breakouts, ingredients such as zinc and folic acid may be something you want to seek out in your product’s formulation. Zinc is thought to help reduce the appearance of redness associated with breakouts and minimise the visibility of acne scars. Research suggests that including sources of vitamin B like niacinamide (B3) and folic acid (B9) may reduce oxidative stress and support healing.
Niacinamide and vitamin C
There is a myth in the skincare world that niacinamide and vitamin C cannot be used together. This misunderstanding stems from the claims that vitamin C and niacinamide neutralise each other when used together and potentially produce nicotinic acid when they do. If you remember, nicotinic acid is the form of vitamin B3 that causes the uncomfortable flush or redness. This is not necessarily the case. This misconception is based on research using non-stable versions of these ingredients, with two non-stable ingredients they can potentially inactivate each other. Nowadays, vitamin C and niacinamide products are stabilised, making it possible for this combination to be used in product formulations.
In terms of the potential for nicotinic acid to be produced, it takes a prolonged period of time at a high temperature to form nicotinic acid. The level of heat required is too high to reproduce at home.
Hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient to include in niacinamide formulations due to its hydrating properties. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant or water-binding molecule, it helps to pull moisturise into the skin, giving your skin that visibly plumped and hydrated look. Hyaluronic acid makes a great addition to a niacinamide formulation as it will provide water-based moisture to stressed or aging skin types.
Retinol and AHAs
Niacinamide may help to reduce some of the irritation associated with the use of Retinoids and AHAs. These ingredients tend to be harsh on the skin and potentially reduce the strength of the skin barrier. While these ingredients are great for improving the appearance of the skin, the addition of niacinamide may help to protect the skin’s natural barrier and potentially reduce irritation.
What Are The Side Effects of Niacinamide?
While niacinamide does not cause the flush associated with nicotinic acid. It can be irritating to some skin types. Mild irritation can occur in skin types that have a sensitivity to niacinamide. Irritation can also occur from other ingredients present in the product or if you are using too much niacinamide.
Is Niacinamide Safe?
Niacinamide products are approved for their indicated uses in most jurisdictions, with recommended concentrations ranging from 0.0001%-20%. Under clinical testing conditions, niacinamide with levels 5-10%, no significant irritation was reported, and no sensitization was identified. An evaluation conducted by Cosmetics Ingredient Review determined that niacinamide products are safe in their indicated uses.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review also considers niacin and niacinamide to be similar enough to share the same data and safety profile. There is a rare risk of the formation of carcinogens by the use of high concentrations of niacinamide. However, this is well outside the scope of the strengths in skincare products.
Niacinamide as a dietary supplement is also being studied for use in osteoarthritis, granuloma annulare, and acne. These studies are ongoing and only have preliminary evidence to suggest that they might be part of a treatment plan.
1. American College of Toxicology, 2005. ‘Final Report of the Safety Assessment of Niacinamide and Niacin’, International Journal of Toxicology, vol. 24, is. 5, pp. 1-31. 2. Bissett, D, Oblong, J & Berge, C, 2006. ‘Niacinamide: A B Vitamin that Improves Aging in Facial Skin Appearance’, International Academy of Cosmetic Dermatology, vol 31, is. 1 3. Draelos, Z, Matsubara, A & Smiles, K, 2006. ‘The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production’, pp. 96-101. 4. Gehring, W, 2004. ‘Nicotinic Acid/ niacinamide and the Skin’, Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, vol 3, is. 2, pp. 88-93. 5. Levin, J & Momin, S, 2010. ‘How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical Ingredients?’, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 3, is. 2, pp. 22-41. 6. Wohlrab, J & Kreft, D, 2014. ‘Niacinamide- Mechanisms of Action and its Topical Use in Dermatology’, Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, vol. 27, pp. 311-315.