A recent reader email:
Must niacinamide be used with resveratrol? Can niacinamide without resveratrol be harmful to the skin because it inhibits sirtuins? Are there products that contain both niacinamide and resveratrol? – R
Once, a few years ago, I thought I would try to explain scientific principles with cartoons here on FutureDerm. That became this post. A lot of people were confused by the cartoon, but got the takeaway point, which was: Don’t use niacinamide alone. Use niacinamide with resveratrol, or another skincare ingredient that turns on sirtuins.
The reason was because niacinamide turns off sirtuins, and sirtuins keep your skin from working too hard. It was first addressed in this 2005 study conducted at Johns Hopkins University, where 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. Theoretically, then, if you use niacinamide with an ingredient that turns on sirtuins, like resveratrol or the yeast Kluoveromyces (Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery), you might be able to negate this effect. (And hopefully stay looking young forever. That was the idea, anyway).
Since that time, it’s been found that exercise and the anti-diabetes drug metformin can turn on the gene SIRT1 which can in turn “turn on” sirtuins (Nature). Hence, exercise and metformin can enable your skin cells to “relax”, or at least not overwork themselves, by activating sirtuins. It is my suspicion that other metabolism-altering activities, like eating more protein, getting enough sleep, and moderate UV exposure, probably have a similar effect. (Note that I said “probably.”)
So I’ve changed my tune on this a bit. I mean, yes, it is true that, for a while, sirtuins were all the rage in skin care. But the issue is, a lot of things can turn on sirtuins and thereby negate the effect of niacinamide on sirtuins. Some of them are even proven to do so, from taking a walk to going for a run to taking an anti-diabetes drug (Nature). If you stimulate your metabolism, it seems you stimulate sirtuins — which makes sense, as sirtuins are designed to protect your cells (skin cells and otherwise) from overworking.
So, in short, I think niacinamide exacerbates the lifestyle you’re already living. In that I mean, I no longer think you necessarily need to use niacinamide in conjunction with sirtuin-enhancers like resveratrol, so long as you’re eating right, exercising, and living an overall healthy lifestyle. If, however, you’re rather sedentary, drinking lots of alcohol, and eating fast food everyday, pushing your skin cells into further stress by turning off sirtuins by slapping niacinamide on your skin is not a good idea, in my opinion.
Personally, I’m living very healthfully nowadays (better than ever, actually, woohoo!), and I have no problem using 5% niacinamide without resveratrol or the yeast Kluoveromyces. That said, when I was in my late 20’s, starting up the business, was quite sedentary during the day, and taking clients out for dinner and drinks a few times a week, I wouldn’t have used niacinamide without resveratrol or the yeast Kluoveromyces. Why exacerbate the stress chemical pathways in my skin any further?
Hope this answers your question. Let me know if you have more questions!
All the best,