Touted as the ‘must-have’ ingredient for uneven skin tone, wrinkles and fine lines, niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, has been popping up in serums and moisturisers as a fix-all solution to common skincare complaints.
We asked dermatologists and doctors to explain the benefits of applying niacinamide topically, advise how to include it in your skincare routine and reveal potential interactions and side effects:
What is niacinamide?
Niacinamide (also called nicotinamide) is a form of vitamin B3 that is found in small concentrations in food and can be taken as a dietary supplement or applied topically. It plays an important role in keeping your skin healthy.
Dermatologists have used niacinamide in their clinics for years, but it’s becoming increasingly common to find this ingredient in high street skincare products. It’s also frequently used as an ingredient in prescription acne medication.
The other form of vitamin B3 is niacin (also called nicotinic acid). When you ingest excess dietary niacin in your body, your body can make niacinamide out of it. Since vitamin B3 is water-soluble, your body doesn’t store it, so you need to eat niacin or niacinamide daily.
Niacinamide skin benefits
Niacinamide benefits include:
- ease redness and inflammation
- reduce pimples and spots
- reduce hyperpigmentation and melasma
- treat photoageing
When applied directly to the skin, niacinamide has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help ease redness from eczema, acne, and other inflammatory skin conditions. It also regulates the amount of oil the sebaceous glands produce. ‘An overall reduction in inflammatory response results in fewer pimples and spots,’ explains Dr Sujata Jolly, dermatologist and founder of Clinogen Laboratories.
Niacinamide has also been found to have a beneficial effect on reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation (a general term used to describe darker patches of skin) and melasma (a type of hyperpigmentation caused by hormones and sun exposure), as well as treating photoageing (premature ageing of the skin caused by ultra-violet rays), Dr Jolly continues.
What does niacinamide do to your skin?
Niacinamide helps to repair cellular damage in the skin, while at the same time protecting it from oxidative stressors such as sunlight and pollution. Not only does it rebuild healthy skin cells, but it also increases the production of ceramides – lipids that maintain your skin’s protective barrier, so it retains moisture better.
‘Niacinamide helps to increase the skin’s elasticity by preventing water loss,’ explains Dr Lucy Glancey of the Dr Glancey Clinics. ‘This increases skin moisture, which helps the hyaluronic acid in the skin to expand – just like a sponge – plumping up the skin and [filling in] fine lines. That helps to even out skin tone and texture.’
How to apply niacinamide
Niacinamide is found in many foods, including meat, fish, eggs, green vegetables, beans and cereal grains, so getting enough dietary niacinamide should be easy if you follow a well-balanced diet. It’s also found in B complex supplements along with other vitamins.
However, if you have specific skincare concerns that you’re looking to target, it’s worth applying niacinamide topically using a cleanser, serum or moisturiser, since it is easily absorbed by the skin.
Dietary niacinamide and topical niacinamide products ‘work in synergy’, Dr Glancey explains, ‘but skin products are usually more effective at penetrating directly into the skin and reaching the target area.’
Ideally you should use it twice a day, morning and evening. Choose formulas – like serums and moisturisers – over cleansers, as they are left on the skin to be absorbed rather than quickly washed away.
For optimum results, consider pairing niacinamide with another skincare product. ‘Niacinamide and retinol work well in combination with each other as it helps reduce the irritation experienced with retinol use,’ says Dr Jolly.
Hyaluronic acid is said to boost the absorption of other products, so it may be worth pairing with niacinamide. Always read the product label carefully and follow all instructions for use.
What to look for when selecting a product
While the concentration of niacinamide varies from product to products, most formulations have a strength of five percent or less. If you have sensitive skin, look for lower concentrations of around two per cent and build up to a higher concentration over time if you wish.
Niacinamide side effects
Niacinamide is generally safe for consumption and for topical use, says Dr Jolly. However, minor side effects are associated with taking niacinamide in supplement form, including diarrhoea, dizziness, itchiness, flatulence, heartburn and mild headaches.
‘Side effects of topical use of niacinamide creams include redness, burning, and mild itching,’ she continues. ‘It is always advisable to consult your doctor before taking niacinamide orally if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have diabetes, liver disease, gout or gallbladder issues.’
When to avoid niacinamide
Niacinamide adversely affects blood clotting, so you should consult a doctor before taking niacinamide supplements prior to undergoing any surgery, warns Dr J0lly.
‘Similarly, when considering facial treatments such as injectables, skin needling, plasma, cryotherapy and laser, I would recommend you stop using products containing niacinamide for at least one month prior to and one month after the procedures,’ she adds.
Most medical professionals would not recommend taking niacinamide supplements unless you are found to be clinically deficient. They can cause your clotting to slow and bruising and bleeding may occur as a consequence of taking too much. It is always better to get your nutrition from your diet.
Last updated: 17-06-2020
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