I absolutely love my job here at FutureDerm. One of the biggest perks? Getting to talk to brilliant people all the time, whether businesspeople or web developers or chemists. With regards to the latter, I recently spoke to one of our chemists in a rather long discussion about whether or not niacinamide should only be used in conjunction with resveratrol or other sirtuin promoters. The lesson? Niacinamide should never be used alone, because it can inhibit sirtuins.
Breaking Down The Scientific Logic Behind This Idea
You may remember that there are anti-aging creams like Estee Lauder Time Zone Line & Wrinkle Reducing Lotion SPF 15 that contain sirtuins or sirtuin promoters.
To understand sirtuins, let’s talk it through in a few steps. Your cells are like workaholics: once they get going, it’s hard for them to stop. As you might imagine, this is hard on the cell — it’s like they’re in the midst of a work project or college finals week perpetually. Because it’s a bit of a science-heavy concept, I decided to work with our designer, Meredith, on a cartoon strip that would illustrate these points more simply.
One way to get your cells to stop is to introduce sirtuins to the mix. Just like when you finish a project and call a friend to de-stress, when your cells are done working, they naturally signal sirtuins to come in and rescue them. In short, sirtuins stop your cells from working too hard.
The scientific terminology for this is sirtuins stop unnecessary gene expression. You may remember the whole “gene to protein” idea from biology class. I know I’m making some of you dive really deeply into the brain archives, but bear with me. Once you have enough of a specific type of protein, there’s theoretically no point in having your cells keep expressing genes that encode more of that specific type of protein. It’s “unnecessary gene expression.”
The good news is that resveratrol and sirtuin promoters have been shown in a number of studies to increase sirtuin production, so your cells stop working too hard. This is useful because sirtuin levels decrease with advancing age. So if you are 20 years old, your cells might turn on sirtuins immediately after a certain threshold level of protein production has been reached. But if you are 60 years old, your cells might take 30, 60, 90 minutes or more to turn on sirtuins after the threshold level has been attained. So, without sirtuins, your older skin cells are overworking! Resveratrol and sirtuin promoters have been shown in independent studies to help.
The bad news is that niacinamide has been shown to work against sirtuins. So if you introduce niacinamide to the mix, your cells could keep working too hard (i.e., unnecessary gene expression). In this 2005 study conducted at Johns Hopkins University, it was found that niacinamide inhibits sirtuin activity in a very specific reaction that is well-known to be a part of cellular energy promotion. Boo. In plain English, this means that your attempts to prolong the life of your cells by turning off unnecessary gene expression with sirtuins will most likely be negated somewhat by niacinamide.
So Why Keep Using Niacinamide?
Niacinamide is the basic (high pH) version of vitamin B3. It has been shown in numerous dermatological studies to:
- improve skin’s barrier (protective) function
- treat mild to moderate acne
- prevent glycation, where collagen becomes all hardened and tough, rather than soft and supple
- aid fine lines and wrinkles
- treat age spots and other signs of hyperpigmentation
Of all the ingredients I have seen used in skin care, niacinamide is one of my all-time favorites. However, given the research demonstrating niacinamide’s effects on sirtuins, I personally won’t use a cream with niacinamide any longer without using one with resveratrol (or taking a resveratrol supplement).
The degree to which sirtuin promoters or inhibitors in skin care products impact the skin is largely unknown, at least relative to well-established ingredients like retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, and antioxidants. However, in theory, it is known that niacinamide turns off sirtuins and resveratrol turns on sirtuins. Well-educated skin scientists like Dr. Konstantinos Lahanas, Ph.D., a former chemist for Estee Lauder, maintain that there is no point in taking the risk in using niacinamide without resveratrol. Therefore, it’s a good idea to use resveratrol-based creams OR to take a resveratrol supplement when using niacinamide-based creams.