What Is Niacinamide and What Does It Do for The Skin?
What is it?
Niacinamide, also called nicotinamide, is a water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant. It is a widely used ingredient in skincare and is usually added to products to help combat blemishes and visible pores. Niacinamide is one of the two common chemical forms of vitamin B3 – nicotinic acid (niacin) and niacinamide (nicotinamide). The main difference between the two lies in their chemical structures - niacin contains an acid group and is therefore more acidic (lower pH), whereas niacinamide contains an ‘amide’ group and has a higher pH.
The science of how niacinamide works is still being researched, however we do know it’s an intrinsic component of the body's metabolic processes. When applied topically, niacinamide has been shown to have many skin benefits, which we will go into later.
Niacinamide is commonly used in skincare because it is compatible with pretty much any other ingredient, including your exfoliating acids (think AHAs, BHAs and PHAs), retinoids and vitamin C. It is also very versatile when it comes to formulation, being suitable in a variety of applications and textures.
Niacinamide is a true multitasker and in a nutshell, is excellent for evening skin tone and texture. Here are its main benefits:
Strengthens the skin barrier by boosting the production of ceramides which help the skin to lock in hydration by preventing water loss.
Helps to protect against skin damage thanks to its antioxidant abilities. Antioxidants protect the skin from free radicals, which can result from exposure to environmental aggressors (g., UV rays, pollution and cigarette smoke). Free radicals are unpaired electrons that could otherwise damage the skin and accelerate skin ageing.
Reduces the appearance of enlarged pores and breakouts, and improves skin texture by regulating the production of sebum (oil) and reducing inflammation. Excess sebum can lead to congestion, which stretches the pores and makes them appear larger. This can also lead to breakouts and uneven skin texture. Therefore, by controlling this sebum production, it is possible to make enlarged pores less noticeable*, improve uneven skin texture and reduce breakouts.
Improves the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Niacinamide works to achieve this differently from ingredients such as vitamin C that act as tyrosinase inhibitors. Niacinamide targets a later step in the pathway, preventing melanin from being transferred to the skin thus helping to even skin tone.
Reduces the appearance of redness by acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Who is it for?
Niacinamide is pretty much suitable for all skin types, but it can be particularly beneficial if you have:
When should you use it?
You can use niacinamide in the morning or in the evening, or both. Niacinamide is completely safe to use with other ingredients. Here are some tips for using niacinamide with other popular actives:
If you are using niacinamide with vitamin C, I would recommend using your vitamin C in the morning and niacinamide at night. This isn’t because they won’t work or are unsafe together, but rather because you probably don’t need to use both at the same time. By all means, if you wish to use both, go ahead. Equally, if a product is formulated with both ingredients, this is completely fine.
If you are using a retinoid, I would recommend using niacinamide in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. This is because your retinoid will be the star of the show in the evening and there is no need to overload the skin with lots of ingredients unnecessarily. However, the same applies here – both are safe to use together.
Please note, niacinamide can trigger breakouts in some individuals. Please patch test, start with a low percentage and add to your routine slowly.
* Pores do not get bigger/smaller. Regulating sebum production can make your pores appear smaller, but they will not actually change size.
Qualifications – MSci Chemistry
Discovering Cosmetic Science, The Royal Society of Chemistry