Spotlight On: Niacinamide

Ingredients, Skin Care


Niacinamide is an amazing ingredient. According to Bissett et. al., niacinamide does it all: reduces fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (yellowing), and increases elasticity. Further, 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), and may have some anti-tumor characteristics as well. And finally, in a 1995 study by Takozaki et. al., it was reported that a 4% topical niacinamide treatment applied twice daily may help to treat acne by reducing inflammation with similar efficacy to 1% clindamycin gel. What’s not to love?

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a water-soluble component of the vitamin B complex group. In vivo, nicotinamide is incorporated into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP), coenzymes participating in a variety of enzymatic oxidation-reduction reactions essential for processes such as tissue respiration, lipid metabolism, and glycogenolysis (Wikipedia). However, topical application of niacinamide proves effective in treating the skin via reduced transepidermal water loss (TEWL), increased replicative potential and histone acetyltransferase activity, increased melanosome transfer from melanocytes to keratinocytes, and decreased inflammation (see below).

Is niacinamide extremely hydrating?

Yes! According to Paula Begoun, 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.

Is niacinamide an effective skin lightening agent?

Yes. According to a 2002 study by Hakozaki et. al., in comparison with a control, a topically applied 2% niacinamide+sunscreen lotion significantly decreased hyperpigmentation and increased skin lightness after 4 weeks of use. However, unlike the popular lightening agent hydroquinone, niacinamide does not decrease hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase catalyzation of melanin production (Hakozaki et. al.). Instead, in the study, niacinamide was found to reduce hyperpigmentation in a pigmented reconstructed epidermal (PREP) model by inhibiting 35–68% of melanosome 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%, niacinamide seems to provide a rather unique, effective method in decreasing hyperpigmentation.

Is niacinamide a superior anti-aging ingredient?

Maybe — niacinamide appears to be a promising anti-aging ingredient, but more research needs to be done. As mentioned previously, the study by Bissett et. al. demonstrated that 2% niacinamide may stimulate collagen production. A study further demonstrated that aging fibroblast (collagen-producing) cells exposed to 3 mM niacinamide increased replicative potential and histone acetyltransferase activity, which suggests that altered gene expression in skin cells may be restored by niacinamide. 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.

Is niacinamide a good acne treatment?

Perhaps. Studies have not been conducted comparing the efficacy of niacinamide to salicyclic acid or benzoic acid, two commonly prescribed acne treatments. However, in comparison to 1% clindamycin gel, Shalita et. al. have shown that niacinamide yields similar results. In addition, use of niacinamide may be preferrable 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.).

Added November 28, 2007:  Are there any potential drawbacks to niacinamide?

It is not advisable to use your niacinamide products with any products containing sirtuins, such as Avon Anew Ultimate Age Repair Elixir Serum and Night Cream.  This is because, unfortunately, sirtuins are inhibited by niacinamide.  Therefore, your attempts to increase levels of sirtuins in your skin with a CR diet or a cream containing sirtuins may be mostly futile if you use a moisturizer with niacinamide.  On the other hand, topically niacinamide has many documented effects for the skin, so until further research is done, it seems to be a question of whether you want the effects of sirtuins or niacinamide more!

In what products is niacin or niacinamide available?

A form of niacin known as nicotinic acid (related to niacinamide) was first found in the NIA24 skin care line. Unlike niacinamide and nicotinamide, nicotinic acid stimulates the release of the hormone leptin, a natural repair hormone, that aids healing within the skin cells and aids in the reduction of hyperpigmentation (NIA).

Niacinamide is available in Olay’s Total Effects, Definity, and Regenerist (my personal favorite of the three) lines. For the body, niacinamide is available in one of my favorite hydrating lotions, Olay Quench Body Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin ($18.64 for two, While Olay tends to imply that it does too much with its advertising campaigns (no cream can make you look like you just had a professional cosmetic procedure), their products with relatively high concentrations of niacinamide will help improve your skin’s moisture levels, texture, and pigmentation, and may improve your skin’s aging as well.

Altogether, niacinamide has strong scientific research backing the cosmeceutical claims, putting it in a class with antioxidants, retinoids (or kinetin if you have sensitive skin), hydroquinone and amino acid peptides. An excellent ingredient — try to fit it into your skin care régimé!

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