Before I purchase any skincare product, I read the ingredients list, looking for familiar names that I know will pack a serious punch. In the second installment of my “Ingredients to Love” series, I decided to highlight one of my favorites: niacinamide.
Niacinamide sounds like a poison someone would get murdered with in an Agatha Christie novel. (“The dear old chap was done in by…NIACINAMIDE!” dun Dun DUN!!) It’s more innocuous-sounding name is vitamin B3.
But what makes this an ingredient to love is the laundry list of amazing benefits is has for the skin. Niacinamide helps to brighten dull skin, improve the appearance of large pores, even out skin tone (and reduce hyperpigmentation), lessen fine lines, and finally, if all that weren’t enough, it helps to strengthen your moisture barrier! It really is a powerhouse ingredient.
Just a heads up, this is going to be a pretty text-heavy post.
Research! Or, The Important Details
It’s not just as simple as having niacinamide in a product: the amount that is in the product is very important. The percentage of niacinamide affects how effective it is and the type of work it can do for your skin. The following information is a summary of what I found at Wisderm.com, which synthesizes scientific research on cosmetic and skincare ingredients.
The ideal percentage of niacinamide, to get the greatest benefits, is 5%. (Although 3-5% will all be quite effective.) The amount of niacinamide in a product is not often advertised on the product, so it can be hard to tell what you’re getting. I’ll go into some products that contain 5% or more niacinamide at the end of post.
Strengthening of moisture barrier: At around 2%, applied daily for almost a month, researchers found that TEWL (transepidermal water loss) was reduced. Niacinamide helped to build the components of people’s moisture barriers and helped their skin be more resistant to damage. One result of a stronger moisture barrier is that skin will become less prone to acne.
Reduction in wrinkles and fine lines:Niacinamide increases collagen production and keratin in cells.At around 4%, women in the studies found a reduction in wrinkles and fine lines. The results were improved significantly when the percentage was increased to 5%.
Lightening of hyperpigmentation: On it’s own, niacinamide has proven to lighten skin (such as dark spots, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) from acne, or other scars) at 4% in a cream. It is often rendered more potent when combined at smaller percentages (2-3%) with other ingredients. Still, on its own, 5% niacinamide was the most successful in reducing hyperpigmentation.
I want to stop for a moment to explain how niacinamide works for lightening skin.
“It has been shown that, surprisingly, the decrease in cutaneous pigmentation is not due to the direct influence of niacinamide on melanin synthesis by melanocytes. Rather, niacinamide reversibly inhibits the transfer of melanized melanosomes from melanocytes to neighboring keratinocytes.” (Wisderm)
Melanocytes are located in deeper skin layers and they produce melanosomes that contain the melanin, the pigment in skin. Melanosomes are then given to keratinocytes, which then move upwards to outer layers layers of skin. So, to be clear, niacinamide does not inhibit the production of melanin, but it inhibits the transfer of the melanosomes to the surrounding keratinocyte.
Smoothing of skin and redness reduction: Furthermore, at levels of 4-5%, niacinamide in lotion helped to smooth skin and reduce redness.
I know, this sounds like it’s too good to be true–and just remember, I’m just picking the results from Wisderm that I want to highlight. There has a been a lot of research done on niacinamide’s impact on the skin, and the implications are pretty remarkable. For example, one study concluded that people with rosacea can benefit from products containing niacinamide, improving their moisture barriers and decreasing dryness.
This is definitely a product to love, although, as with all skincare, YMMV. There are people who are sensitive to niacinamide and cannot use products that contain it.
Using Vitamin C and Niacinamide Together: You might have read or heard that you can’t use vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and niacinamide at the same time in separate products because the combination will cancel out the benefits each one has. (Vitamin C also works to reduce hyperpigmentation and fine lines.)
Stephen over at the blog Kind of Stephen has an excellent post about this very topic. The answer is that you can use them together with no issues! I’m not going to go any further into the chemistry; I’ll leave that to Stephen, who is an expert.
Favorite products with high percentages of Niacinamide
All the products I want to highlight are ones made by small business owners: women who love skincare and use science to formulate amazing skincare products. I’ve used all of these products and have found them to live up to their claims.
Shark Sauce–As I’m always quick to point out, there is no shark in Shark Sauce. It is named after Jude Chao’s (aka Fiddy Snails) Reddit handle. Chel, the owner of Holy Snails shop, formulated Shark Sauce with 5% niacinamide.
I have gone through one bottle and am currently on my second. It has helped to fade even very old hyperpigmentation from acne scars that I got in high school! It is a gel-like serum and perfect for my morning routine. It absorbs very quickly. It is on the pricer side at $29, but you can always use it as a spot treatment if you want it for lightening dark spots.
I’m still working my way through my first bottle, and am finding it works well on new acne scars, but not as good on old ones as Shark Sauce. I add a few drops to my snail essence to help spread it easier on my face and to help it absorb quicker. It is quite liquid-y, but doesn’t have enough slip to spread around my skin easily. This niacinamide serum is much more cost effective at $16.
Liquid Gold–I love it and love Alli for making it. I try to support small businesses as much as I can, and it is so easy to do so when women keep making crazy good products! This is a great all-in-one product if you’re looking for moisture and niacinamide.
Liquid Gold has a very specific formulation to fit the ideal proportion for ceramides, cholesterol, linoleic acid, and palmitic acid, which is 3:1:1:1. This specific proportion of ingredients will help to rebuild and strengthen your moisture barrier–just having the ingredients in a product won’t do the job. (According to Alli, it doesn’t matter which of those ingredients is the 3 parts as long as one of them is.) Liquid Gold is “1 part ceramides to 1 part cholesterol to 1 part palmitic acid to 3 parts linoleic acid” (via Alli’s blog)! She also added in 4% niacinamide, which basically makes Liquid Gold, well, gold! At $24, it’s well worth it. (Don’t let the color freak you out–it doesn’t stay that color on your face.)
So, that in a nutshell, is why you should love niacinamide. What are your favorite niacinamide-laden products? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments!