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Niacinamide 101: What it is and What it's Used For

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/04/2020

Fad skincare ingredients come and go, with new ones popping up every year as last season’s batch of “essentials” fall off the radar.

Within these fads, however, you’ll occasionally discover ingredients that are genuinely useful, from recent favorites like hyaluronic acid to lasting skincare essentials like tretinoin, kojic acid and clindamycin.

Niacinamide is an ingredient that falls into the “genuinely useful” category. It’s a water-soluble form of vitamin B that’s used in everything from skincare creams to serums thanks to its ability to protect the skin from environmental damage.

It’s also a multitasker, helping to stop your skin from losing moisture and becoming dehydrated over the course of the day. You can find niacinamide in many day and night creams, as well as on its own in niacinamide-based creams and lotions.

Like other skincare ingredients, niacinamide works best when you incorporate it into an existing skincare routine. It works effectively alongside a range of other products, from medications like tretinoin to over-the-counter skincare products and cosmetics.

Below, we’ve covered everything you need to know about niacinamide, from its effects on your skin to its potential side effects. We’ve also covered how it works as an ingredient, as well as the best ways to use niacinamide on your skin for optimal results.

What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3. It’s found naturally inside a variety of foods, from meat and fish to milk, eggs, nuts and vegetables.

Internally, your body uses niacinamide for a variety of important tasks. It helps your body to use fats, carbohydrates and other nutrients efficiently for cellular maintenance. It also plays a role in helping your body maintain healthy skin and other tissue.

Medically, niacinamide is used to treat a condition known as pellagra, or niacin deficiency. While most people consume enough niacinamide through their diet for normal health, deficient levels of niacinamide can result in damage to your skin, mouth, brain and digestive system.

In simple terms, niacinamide is an important vitamin for your overall health, both internally and externally.

While most people know of niacinamide as an ingredient in topical acne products, it’s also sold as a health supplement. The oral form of niacinamide sold in health stores has several benefits, the biggest of which is preventing vitamin B3 deficiency.

From a skincare perspective, niacinamide is used in a variety of products. Check the labels of popular skincare products and you’ll find niacinamide in everything from anti-aging creams to over-the-counter acne treatments.

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What Does Niacinamide Do?

As a skincare ingredient, niacinamide has a variety of benefits. It’s linked to improvements in the appearance of wrinkles, as well as a reduction in skin yellowing. Some studies even show a link between niacinamide and improved skin elasticity. Used effectively, niacinamide may:

  • Help to prevent wrinkles. Studies show that niacinamide works fairly effectively as an anti-aging ingredient, helping to improve the appearance of facial skin by reducing the visibility of lines and wrinkles.

  • Reduce skin yellowing. Studies also show that niacinamide reduces skin yellowing, helping you avoid discoloration and a blotchy skin tone.

  • Improve skin elasticity. As well as reducing wrinkles and yellowing, niacinamide is linked to increased skin elasticity—a key aspect of reversing aging—in some studies.

  • Reduce inflammation. In a 2004 study, niacinamide showed anti-inflammatory effects in acne, rosacea and nitrogen mustard-induced irritation. The researchers found that topical niacinamide has a “stabilizing effect” on the outermost layer of the skin.

  • Strengthen your skin barrier. Niacinamide can also repair and strengthen the skin barrier, helping your skin to retain moisture more effectively while keeping out harmful bacteria.

  • Improve your skin’s UV protection. Studies in mice show that niacinamide has “photoprotective effects against carcinogenesis” and can protect your skin from UV radiation, helping it to stop the effects of sun damage.

  • Treat and prevent acne. Studies show that niacinamide lowers sebum production, making your skin less oily and preventing the clogged pores that often lead to acne breakouts.

    Other studies of niacinamide as an acne treatment show a more direct improvement in acne, with a 1995 study finding that 4% niacinamide gel produces similar improvements in acne to clindamycin, a popular topical antibiotic.

As well these main benefits, niacinamide also has a variety of other effects, from evening out patches of skin discoloration to potentially smoothing out uneven areas of skin.

Does Niacinamide Have Side Effects?

Used topically, niacinamide is extremely safe. The only noted side effects of topical niacinamide are mild itching, redness and burning. These are rare and often go away over time as your skin becomes more accustomed to the substance.

Some niacinamide users experience persistent redness. If your skin becomes red and irritated while using niacinamide and doesn’t resolve on its own, it’s best to stop using niacinamide and switch to another skincare treatment or contact your healthcare provider.

How to Use Niacinamide

The easiest way to use niacinamide is to look for acne prevention and anti-aging products that contain it as an active ingredient.

Designed for easy use once or twice daily, both products let you enjoy the benefits of niacinamide combined with other proven ingredients like tretinoin.

You can also find niacinamide in a variety of facial creams. As a health supplement, niacinamide is widely available from health and nutrition stores. If you have acne or rosacea, it’s also good to look for sunscreens that contain niacinamide as an active ingredient.

To apply niacinamide, follow the dosage and application instructions provided with your acne or anti-aging cream. Like most topical acne and anti-aging products, niacinamide is most effective when it’s applied to clean, dry skin.

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Learn More About Science-Backed Skincare Ingredients

Niacinamide is one of several science-backed ingredients used in skincare products. While it’s highly effective at treating everything from skin discoloration and wrinkles to acne, it’s far from the only ingredient worth looking for.

Our guides to tretinoin, hyaluronic acid and caffeine cover three other ingredients that are worth looking for in skincare, acne prevention and anti-aging products.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.