What is niacinamide? How to use this superstar ingredient

Niacinamide is steadily becoming an increasingly common ingredient used in all kinds of skincare products.

Written by
Gemma Kaczerepa
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Big-name ingredients like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid tend to get all the glory, but there’s an unsung hero that deserves a little more credit.

Niacinamide might not be as well-known — but it certainly should be. Despite its relative anonymity, niacinamide is steadily becoming an increasingly common ingredient used in all kinds of skincare products.

One of the key reasons why it’s so popular is because it works for lots of different skin types — oily, acne-prone, mature, dry and even sensitive — and delivers a host of skin benefits.

If you’re keen to learn more about niacinamide and how it can help your skin, here’s everything you need to know.

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide is effectively vitamin B3 (niacin or nicotinic acid). More specifically, it’s a particular form of vitamin B3 also known as nicotinamide.

Vitamin B3 plays a pretty crucial role in your overall health. Found in foods like poultry, salmon, tuna, nuts and brown rice, it supports your immunity and nervous system, repairs and creates DNA, gives you energy, and has antioxidant benefits.

But what about when it comes to your skin? Where does niacinamide play a role?

It’s believed that topical niacinamide has the ability to improve skin damage, enhance skin barrier function and boost moisture levels — but more on that shortly.

Thanks to its protective properties, this superstar ingredient is added to numerous skincare products, including creams, moisturisers and acne treatments, although it’s most often found in serums.

What are the benefits of niacinamide?

There’s a good reason we love niacinamide so much — it has a great deal to offer your skin. Whether you’re experiencing acne, signs of ageing, dry skin, hyperpigmentation or sensitivity, niacinamide may just be the ingredient your skin needs.

Here’s what you can expect.

Niacinamide delivers moisture

If you have mature or dry skin, niacinamide can provide a decent moisture boost. It does this by helping your skin produce ceramides, which are lipids that provide a barrier of protection over your skin.

This helps retain moisture because the ceramides are able to lock water in.

Niacinamide can also help stabilise your skin barrier, which means less water loss and better moisture retention.

Niacinamide calms irritation

Niacinamide boasts some pretty stellar anti-inflammatory properties.

That means it’s great for soothing the irritation and redness associated with inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, acne and eczema.

We often include niacinamide in our personalised prescription treatments here at Software, as it helps reduce irritation when using potent ingredients like retinoids to treat skin concerns like ageing, acne and pigmentation.

Niacinamide can tackle hyperpigmentation

Be it sunspots, age spots, acne scarring or even melasma, topical niacinamide is a powerful tool when it comes to fading hyperpigmentation.

It works by reducing the amount of melanin (the pigment responsible for skin colour) transferred to skin cells, with some research demonstrating that results can be visible in as little as four weeks.

Software's prescription pigmentation treatment harnesses the power of niacinamide to help brighten the skin while also injecting glow into your complexion.

Niacinamide can combat the signs of ageing

Using a product with niacinamide may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and improve the overall structure of your skin. Keratin and collagen are two proteins found in your skin that keep your skin firm.

On top of its ability to lock in moisture, niacinamide can help increase protein (keratin) synthesis and collagen production in the skin, which is great if you're wanting to treat signs of ageing. 

Niacinamide can target acne

Combined, the moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties of niacinamide make it a fantastic addition to your skincare routine if you want to treat acne.

Its capacity for locking in moisture can help regulate oil (sebum) production, while its anti-inflammatory qualities calm acne flare-ups.

Niacinamide is great for sensitive skin

Compared to more powerful topical ingredients like vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, niacinamide is quite gentle. This does mean other ingredients may be slightly more effective at combatting certain skin concerns.

However, niacinamide could be a better pick if you have sensitive skin but still want to beat things like hyperpigmentation, acne, dry skin or the signs of ageing.

Is topical niacinamide effective?

Absolutely! Sometimes, results may be visible straight away or after just a few weeks. Although you’re more likely to see an improvement in your skin after eight to 12 weeks of regular use.

This is where a product’s concentration of niacinamide becomes important. There are lots of topical niacinamide products to choose from, with various treatments containing different amounts of niacinamide.

You want to go for a product with between two and 10 per cent niacinamide, but ideally, at least five per cent is needed to produce significant results.

You might also be wondering whether you can reap the skin benefits of niacinamide by incorporating more vitamin B3 into your diet.

Sure, chowing down on chicken, eggs or peanuts might help a little, but the only way to guarantee niacinamide is getting to your skin is to apply it topically.

What are the side effects of niacinamide?

Niacinamide tends to work well for all skin types — including sensitive skin. That being said, like any skincare ingredient, it’s not impossible for side effects to occur.

At first, using topical niacinamide can result in mild skin irritation. This is likely to go away once your skin adjusts to the product. You may also experience irritation or skin redness if you use a niacinamide product that’s highly concentrated.

This is why it’s best to cap concentration at 10 per cent, especially if your skin is sensitive. If you find the irritation doesn’t disappear after a couple of weeks, or it gets worse, you may want to discontinue using the product.

You can always chat to a medical professional, such as a dermatologist, for advice on a particular ingredient or product.

What is the best way to use niacinamide?

To ensure the niacinamide can absorb right into your skin, it’s best to go for products that stay on your skin like creams, moisturisers and serums. Niacinamide cleansers, on the other hand, may not have long enough contact with your skin to make any noticeable difference.

Niacinamide is most often found in serums at varying concentrations. If you’ve got more sensitive skin, one to two per cent concentrations may just be enough to combat your skin concerns.

You could always start out with a lower concentration before building up to a more concentrated product once your skin has adjusted.

How do you add niacinamide to your skincare routine?

It’s easy to add topical niacinamide to your existing skincare regimen. Whether you opt for a niacinamide moisturiser or serum, it’ll slot right into your regular routine just like any other product.

The general rule for layering skincare is to go from the lightest product to the heaviest: cleanser, toner, serum, face oil, moisturiser, and SPF if it’s your morning routine.

You can use niacinamide every day or even twice per day (morning and night), as long as your skin can tolerate it. Just make sure to apply it to your whole face, not only areas of concern, and avoid sensitive areas such as your eyes.

If you have other active ingredients in your skincare routine such as AHAs, BHAs or retinol, you’ll be glad to know that niacinamide will work perfectly well with them.

In fact, it’s often used in salicylic acid acne treatments to boost their acne-fighting power, and with other actives to improve your skin’s ability to tolerate them.

The only ingredient it may not work with is vitamin C. The jury’s still out on whether or not niacinamide is suitable to use with topical vitamin C, with some experts arguing that niacinamide can lessen vitamin C’s effectiveness or cause irritation.

Others believe the two work well together and can actually combine their superpowers to target things like dullness, hyperpigmentation and the signs of ageing.

If you’re concerned, you can always use one ingredient in the morning and the other at night, or alternate between the two each day.

Niacinamide and retinol or retinoids

Retinol is an over-the-counter form of vitamin A that’s incredibly popular for its anti-ageing properties, plus its ability to minimise the appearance of pores and improve the overall texture of your skin.

Not only does topical niacinamide work just fine alongside retinol, but it can actually be quite beneficial for your skin if retinol is part of your regimen. Retinol can sometimes cause skin irritation, itchiness and peeling. It can also negatively affect your body’s ceramide production, which may lead to dry skin.

Remember the benefits of using niacinamide we mentioned earlier?

The potential side effects of retinol can be mitigated by pairing it with niacinamide, which works to soothe irritation, boost skin barrier function and contribute to the production of ceramides to improve skin hydration.

This is why we combine retinoids and niacinamide in our prescription formulas.

Depending on your personal skin needs, our anti-ageing, acne and pigmentation prescription formula treatments will usually contain both retinoids and niacinamide so these ingredients can work together to increase skin firmness, reduce wrinkles and strengthen the skin barrier.

This is definitely a case of one ingredient being made even stronger and more effective when combined with the other and niacinamide and retinoids are a match made in heaven.

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