Niacinamide: what is it and how does it treat skin concerns?

Niacinamide: what is it and how does it treat skin concerns?

If you’re into beauty, chances are that you’ve heard about the powerful ingredient that is niacinamide.

With an excellent reputation within skincare, niacinamide can do almost anything, from combating ageing signs to minimising acne, fading dark spots, and the list goes on.

First, here’s a brief introduction to what niacinamide actually is.

What is niacinamide and how does it work?

Scientists are still not 100 per cent sure how niacinamide works its magic, but there are some theories out there.

A big one is that niacinamide can stop free radical damage caused by outside aggressors like cigarette smoke, chemicals, pollution and UV rays.

Your body, including your skin, is made up of billions of oxygen atoms, which in turn are made up of electrons. Electrons like to exist in pairs, but when a free radicals emerge, it will seek out atoms to steal an electron from. This is because free radicals are unpaired electrons, so they need a second one in order to restore their balance. Of course, in the process of stealing electrons from healthy, happy atoms, they end up creating other free radicals.

This is where niacinamide steps in, like a superhero. It is thought that as an antioxidant, niacinamide can donate an extra electron to free radicals without turning into a free radical itself.

Niacinamide, nicotinamide, niacin: what’s the difference?

“Niacinamide is the most common name for this skincare active, which can be found in creams, gels or serums. It also can go by the name nicotinamide, which is more commonly used for the tablet version. You may have noticed this listed on your multivitamin. However, the names are interchangeable. Nicotinamide/niacinamide is a water-soluble form of vitamin B3,” said Dr Lauren Thomas, a GP at Software.

“It’s not to be confused with niacin/nicotinic acid, which is sort of like niacinamide’s cousin. It is also a water-soluble form of vitamin B3, commonly found in foods such as cereals, leafy greens, fish and meat.

“Niacin is not readily used anymore as a supplement, as it has an annoying side effect of facial flushing (think red cheeks after a long run), which luckily does not occur with its cousin nicotinamide.”

The different strengths of niacinamide

Niacinamide comes in a variety of forms. It can be found on its own in serums or creams, or in combination with other products. It can be used safely with most other skincare products.

“Niacinamide can be found in varying strengths in skincare products, ranging from 2 per cent to 20 per cent. At higher strengths, it may be more effective for pigmentation, but there is also more risk of irritation,” Dr Thomas said.

For sensitive skin types, it’s best to choose a lower-concentration product and see how your skin reacts. Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, it can be a good idea to take a ‘low and slow’ approach, understand what your skin can handle, and make adjustments accordingly.

If you’re unsure which strength of niacinamide is right for you, be sure to speak to a dermatologist.

Dr Lauren Thomas

Dr Lauren Thomas.

What are the skin benefits of using niacinamide?

“Regarding the benefits of niacinamide, it is more of a question of what can’t it do. Some of its more well-known benefits are that it can help with acne, fade pigmentation and has an anti-aging effect,” Dr Thomas said.

As mentioned before, niacinamide acts as an antioxidant which helps to neutralise free radicals from the environment. Without the help of niacinamide these free radicals can wreak havoc on the skin can cause a faster breakdown of collagen, leading to fine lines and eventually sagging skin. 

“It can also improve the skin barrier function and reduce inflammation. One way it achieves this is by stimulating the skin to produce ceramides and lipids, which is great for individuals with dry skin. But this powerhouse ingredient also benefits those with oily skin, by reducing oil and sebum production. It is suitable for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin,” Dr Thomas said. 

Adding niacinamide to your skincare routine

If you’re interested in adding niacinamide to your skincare routine, here are some helpful tips: 

  • Cleanse your skin before applying niacinamide, so it can penetrate deeper into your skin and work its magic from within.
  • You don’t need to use a lot of niacinamide – a dollop about the size of a 5-cent piece should be plenty.
  • Avoid applying it to sensitive areas like your eyelids and lips.
  • Top it off with moisturiser and SPF for extra hydration and protection.
  • Remember that niacinamide isn’t a ‘set and forget’ type of ingredient – you need to use it regularly in order to get the results you’re hoping for.