Meet the quiet ingredient that’s part of many skincare serums, creams and sunscreens in stores now. It’s not much of a celebrity, definitely without the glorified haloes that surround the original legends – A-listers retinol and vitamin C, there in the corner.
But it seems, niacinamide is a star performer like no other.
We’re talking hydration, strengthening and growing your skin barrier and anti-acne, antioxidant, anti-ageing and anti-hyperpigmentation action for smoother, radiant skin. But how exactly does it work, and should you add it to your routine? We speak to UAE-based dermatologists to find out.
I’ll B3 for you (when the rain starts to pour…)
“Niacinamide, also called nicotinamide, is the physiologically active form of vitamin B3 (niacin), an essential nutrient that supports many cellular processes,” explains Dr Shaymaa Metwaly Refaey Metwaly Ibrahim, specialist dermatologist at Saudi German hospital, Dubai.
The water-soluble vitamin has a host of important functions – including keeping skin healthy. It can be taken as a supplement but you can meet your body’s needs for it through diet in sources like green leafy vegetables, wheat, oat, meat, liver, palm kernel oil, mushrooms, yeast, legumes, nuts, milk, fish, tea and coffee, adds Dr Ibrahim.
Dermatologists can recommend topical niacinamide for many dermatological skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, skin pigmentation, skin aging and damage related to sun exposure.
So, where does topical application of the vitamin come in? “Clinical trials show that topical treatments of niacinamide, alone or in combination with active medications, can reduce skin ageing and hyperpigmentation,” says Dr Jamil Gulaliev, PhD, dermatologist at Medcare Medical Centre, Marina, Dubai.
“Good news for those who want to stay young for a long time”
“Dermatologists can recommend topical niacinamide for many dermatological skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, skin pigmentation, skin aging and damage related to sun exposure,” says Dr Ibrahim.
From stimulating the production of ceramides, keratin and other essentials for a healthy skin barrier to inhibiting hyperpigmentation-causing enzymes, little B3 is up to a lot when applied onto your skin:
1. Improved skin barrier, anti-inflammatory effect and better moisturised skin: Suffer from dry skin or damage from an overenthusiastic exfoliation session? Niacinamide could be the way back to healthy skin.
Dr Gulialiev says, “We know that dry skin condition mainly happens due to skin barrier dysfunction that leads to water loss. Niacinamide increases production of skin barrier factors such as ceramides, keratin, filaggrin, leading to the increased barrier function by reduced trans epidermal water loss.”
The result? Better hydration and thicker, healthier skin. “This means that our skin becomes more resistant to damage from causes like harsh soaps, leading to less inflammation and irritation that frequently happens to people with eczema.”
Niacinamide increases production of skin barrier factors such as ceramides, keratin, filaggrin, leading to the increased barrier function by reduced trans epidermal water loss. This means that our skin becomes more resistant to damage from causes like harsh soaps, leading to less inflammation and irritation that frequently happens to people with eczema.
2. Reduced sebum production: If you’re like me and the day’s passing can mean blotting away at a forehead and nose glittering with generous oil, niacinamide could be helpful. “Niacinamide decreases sebum production. This may contribute to the improved skin and anti-acne effect,” says Dr Gulaliev. A 2006 study by US and Japan-based researchers published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy found that applying a 2 per cent niacinamide moisturiser showed significantly reduced sebum production rates.
3. Increased collagen production and improved skin elasticity: We love our collagen-boosters, whether in supplements or thick, dewy creams – and it turns out that niacinamide also stimulates its production! “Another good news for those who want to stay young for a long time. Niacinamide increases production of collagen and improves dermal skin elasticity,” says Dr Gulaliev.
4. Reduced dark spots from skin-brightening effect: Niacinamide has a lightening effect that can even out your skin tone and reduce hyperpigmentation as it ‘reversibly blocks’ a process that carries melanin pigments to the surface of your skin, Dr Ibrahim explains.
5. UV photoprotection: Dr Gulaliev adds that it provides an ultraviolet radiation (UV) protective effect, which along with improves skin elasticity could contribute to a significant reduction in the appearance of skin ageing, including fine lines and wrinkles.
In fact, a 2019 study by South Korea based researchers published in the international peer-reviewed journal Biomolecules and Therapeutics showed that niacinamide even improved DNA repair following damage by UV radiation, and protected skin from oxidative stress.
6. Anti-microbial, anti-acne effect: “It has anti-microbial effect against viruses and bacteria as Propionibacterium-caused acne,” says Dr Ibrahim.
7. Anti-ageing from antioxidant effect: Dr Gulaliev explains that niacinamide helps protect cells from oxidative damage. This is similar to Vitamin C’s antioxidant effect on skin as well.
Do’s and Don’ts: How to add it to your routine
According to Dr Ibrahim, niacinamide works for every skin type and can be used for all age groups. However, she recommends caution – if you have sensitive skin, start with lower concentration formulas. You can also use it on alternate days if any irritation occurs, until your skin becomes used to it.
She says, “Topical two to five per cent formulas of niacinamide can be applied up to two times daily. Oral niacinamide can be given at doses of 1 gram a day to 3 grams a day, your dermatologist will give the dose according to the recommended daily allowance for your age.” However, oral supplements may have side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headache and fatigue.
Topical two to five per cent formulas of niacinamide can be applied up to two times daily.
Beginning with a high percentage of niacinamide may irritate your skin, so you can start off small and build tolerance. Dr Gulaliev says, “Usually, it takes several days or weeks before it becomes well-tolerated.”
1. If you have acne, a good option is to combine with AHA/BHA acids for more efficacy: The Alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxyl acids exfoliate away dead skin cells make it easier for the niacinamide to penetrate effectively and work its magic, explains Dr Ibrahim. She adds, “Also, Niacinamide counteracts the possible irritation from the AHA/BHA acids."
2. For dry skin, try a niacinamide and hyaluronic acid product: Dr Ibrahim says, “If you have dry, sensitive skin, niacinamide is often paired with hyaluronic acid, given that both can help alleviate dryness.”
3. Don’t use Vitamin C and niacinamide together: “Although they’re both antioxidants, but they should not be used one right after the other, the application should be spaced by at least 10 minutes between each,” say Dr Ibrahim.
3. Yes, you can use niacinamide if you already using retinol: In fact, using them together or in a single product containing both ingredients can actually be beneficial. A 2008 study by China-based researchers published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine found that the niacinamide’s hydrating effect actually reduced the typical dryness and irritation after using retinol and more studies have shown benefits when used together.
So far, there are also no reports of niacinamide causing teratogenesis or deformations in embryos, adds Dr Ibrahim, but consult your doctor regarding oral supplements during pregnancy.
Niacinamide is also part of a range of products – from serums and essences, to creams, face mists and more, so you can incorporate it into your routine in many ways depending on your skin type.
“The existing clinical data and literature on niacinamide suggests that it is an inexpensive, safe drug with beneficial effects as an adjunct in many dermatological diseases when given within the recommended daily allowance and suitable concentration topical formulas,” says Dr Ibrahim.