Niacinamide is an amazing ingredient. As I’ll review below, niacinamide has been shown in studies to be a superior hydrator (with results similar to hyaluronic acid) and hyperpigmentation treatment (with results similar to 2% hydroquinone). It is also a fair treatment for acne and fine lines and wrinkles, although I say “fair” because the results are not, say, 10% salicylic acid + 2% benzoyl peroxide, or 0.1% retinol, respectively. With that said, I’m happy to talk at length about the research behind niacinamide I’ve uncovered to date, plus my favorite products for the ingredient!
Niacinamide is a Superior Hydrator for the Skin
A published study in the International Journal of Dermatology found that 2% niacinamide was more effective than petrolatum (Vaseline, or a purified mixture of hydrocarbons from petroleum/crude oil) in reducing water loss from skin and increasing its moisture levels. This is extremely telling, as Dr. Leslie Baumann, director of Cosmetic Dermatology at the University of Miami, states in her textbook Cosmetic Dermatology that “petrolatum is one of the most occlusive moisturizing ingredients known…it is often the gold standard to which other occlusive ingredients are compared.” Due to the non-comedogenic nature of petrolatum, it has been popular in skincare formulations since 1872. Yet niacinamide is also non-comedogenic, and it does not have the greasy texture of petrolatum.
Dryness is also sometimes associated with rosacea, and niacinamide holds promise there as well: According to a 2005 study by Draelos et. al., niacinamide may help alleviate some of the symptoms of rosacea by increasing hydration and barrier function of the stratum corneum (uppermost layer of the skin).
Niacinamide is also a Superior Hyperpigmentation Treatment
According to a 2002 study by Hakozaki et. al., a topically applied 2% niacinamide and sunscreen lotion significantly decreased hyperpigmentation and increased skin lightness after 4 weeks of use more significantly than a control lotion.
The efficacy of 4-5% niacinamide — the highest available over-the-counter — has often been compared to a 2% (half-strength) hydroquinone. However, unlike hydroquinone, niacinamide does not run the same risks. Hydroquinone decreases hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase catalyzation of melanin production (Hakozaki et. al.). However, niacinamide reduces hyperpigmentation by inhibiting 35–68% of melanosome [pigment] transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes (skin cells). These results were affirmed by a study, using a niacinamide concentration of 4%. As such, in concentrations of at least 2% and up to 5%, niacinamide seems to provide a rather unique, effective method in decreasing hyperpigmentation.
Niacinamide is a Fair Anti-Aging Ingredient
Niacinamide appears to be a promising anti-aging ingredient, but more research needs to be done before I’ll recommend it for skin sagging, fine lines, or wrinkles more than, say, retinol or glycolic acid. A study by Bissett et. al. demonstrated that 2% niacinamide may stimulate collagen production.
However, as Bissett is quick to point out, niacinamide may enhance the replicative potential of skin’s fibroblast cells, but seems to have little effect on their growth rate and life span, unlike sirtuins, which have been found to completely turn off gene expression and may actually extend fibroblasts’ life span.
Niacinamide is also a Fair Acne Treatment
Studies have not been conducted comparing the efficacy of niacinamide to salicyclic acid or benzoyl peroxide, two commonly prescribed acne treatments.
However, in comparison to 1% clindamycin gel, Shalita et. al. has shown that niacinamide yields similar results. In addition, use of niacinamide may be preferable over clindamycin and other antibacterial agents in the long term because the bacteria tends to re-emerge after a period of antibacterial agent use (Shalita et. al.).
What are the Best Niacinamide Skin Care Products?
Despite the high concentration, it is not irritating at all, owing to the hydrating and skin-calming nature of niacinamide, as well as its calming ingredients. This is a superb treatment for hyperpigmentation for all skin tones due to niacinamide’s unique mechanism of arresting hyperpigmentation.
And if you are looking for a one-two-three punch, the fact that niacinamide does not inhibit tyrosinase means you can still use this product with other skin lighteners that do, like alpha hydroxy acids, hydroquinone, kojic acid, azelaic acid, and/or retinoids.
This product is the best for age spots and hyperpigmentation of those listed.
What’s better than 4% niacinamide? Add in 0.15% retinol, which is 50% higher than the 0.10% retinol in Skinceuticals 1.0, or three times higher than the 0.05% retinol in my own FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5. And then add in the skin-lightening power of 2% kojic acid, and you have some fantastic skin lightening and age-fighting action.
I recommend this serum for anyone who is suffering from age spots, skin sallowness (yellowing) or uneven pigmentation, and fine lines, wrinkles, and skin sagging that retinol may help to alleviate.
This product uses a different form of vitamin B3. Instead of using niacinamide, the basic form of vitamin B3, this formula uses nicotinic acid, the acidic form of vitamin B3, which is also known as Pro-NiacinTM. When paired with a fatty acid, it is called myristyl nicotinate.
Why NIA24 Skin Strengthening Complex beats its competitors is simply because it goes above and beyond, with additional antioxidant rosemary extract, hydrating sodium hyaluronate, skin barrier-reinforcing ceramide2 and ceramide 3. NIA24 Skin Strengthening Complex also contains the mild skin-lightener soy extract.
Put it all together, and this is a potent product that works. I recommend it for anyone with normal to oily skin that is not sensitive. This formulation is potent and may cause your skin to become irritated or reddened otherwise. That said, it does work magic on sunspots.
Olay Regenerist Serum contains what I estimate to be about 4% niacinamide. It also includes a few excellent ingredients, like green tea extract and a couple of amino acids.
I also like this product simply because of the price point. With 4% niacinamide, it’s the second-highest concentration I’ve found over the counter, and at a fraction of the cost of the department store and Sephora brands. It’s not fancy, but with regular daily use (and at this price point, maybe twice-daily use), it really works. Not kidding.
At first glance, yes, 10% niacinamide in Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster is higher than the 5% in Skinceuticals Metacell Renewal B3. And yes, 10% niacinamide should produce some amazing results for your skin.
But my issue here is two-fold: First, I don’t like the delivery system on this product nearly as much as the Skinceuticals product. A great delivery system typically has components like cetearyl or cetyl alcohols, glycols, or other alcohols to help the ingredients penetrate the skin. Second, as a “booster,” this product is designed more to mix with your existing moisturizers or serums, hence lessening its potency.
Still, despite the issues, it is a solid product, and I do recommend it for those with drier skin.
Niacinamide is a superb ingredient for skin yellowing and age spots, as well as for treating skin dryness. It is an OK ingredient for fine lines, wrinkles, and mild acne. I recommend the following formulas:
- Skinceuticals Metacell Renewal B3 is best for those with hyperpigmentation, with 5% niacinamide.
- biopelle KNR Serum is best for those with hyperpigmentation AND other signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles, and skin sagging.
- NIA24 Skin Strengthening Complex is best for those with hyperpigmentation and normal to oily skin.
- Olay Regenerist Serum is best for those with hyperpigmentation and normal to dry skin and for those on a budget.
- Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster is best for those with hyperpigmentation and normal to dry skin.
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