Beauty

Niacinamide: everything you need to know about the new super ingredient

Posted by
Amber Ascroft
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The super ingredient is proven to treat everything from acne and dehydration to excessive oiliness and pigmentation.

Think of a turbo-powered superstar skin product and Vitamin Chyaluronic acid and retinol probably spring to mind. They’re the hero ingredients frequently lauded as complexion game-changers. But there’s another gentle giant quietly working away in some of our most-loved cleansers, serums and creams. Forget a jack-of-all-trades, niacinamide is a master-of-everything, tackling fine lines, hyperpigmentation, acne, oily skin, dehydration and uneven skin tone.

To grasp niacinamide’s powers, it helps to understand our skin’s barrier. This is our skin’s gatekeeper and the outermost layer.

When it’s doing its job properly, baddies such as irritants and pollution are kept away while goodies like oil and water stay locked in. Skin with a healthy barrier tends to be less sensitive and look radiant, calm, balanced and clear. But this weakens with age, excessive use of acids and actives, over-exfoliation and too much sun. 

By the time we’re in our 20s, 30s and beyond, it’s likely to need a helping hand. This is where niacinamide comes in – strengthening that wall by boosting the production of ceramides (the bricks that make it up).

It’s is also capable of blitzing pigmentation and is one of the few ingredients that can reduce sebum (oil) production which in turn can help minimise acne.

“It’s straightforward to use and there’s a niacinamide product for everyone and at any price point,” says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting.

Sold? Here’s our guide to your skin’s secret weapon including the best niacinamide products from Paula’s Choice, The Ordinary, Olay and Garden of Wisdom – loved by dermatologists and beauty editors alike.  

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What is niacinamide and what is it used for?

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that can come from foods such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables and grains. But it is easily absorbed by the skin so works brilliantly when applied topically in skincare, too. 

If you’re a fan of featherweight textures, you’re in luck - it doesn’t dissolve in oil so you’re more likely to find it in water-based serums. It features in lots of skincare products, but it’s not always hailed as a star ingredient probably because it does all kinds of jobs rather than one easily-marketed targeted effect. 

What are the benefits of using niacinamide on skin?

“There is plenty of research to back up the benefits of using niacinamide in skincare. Primarily, it helps to strengthen our skin’s important barrier. In turn, less vital water is able to escape. This results in a reduction of dehydration and fine lines leaving skin looking plumper, dewier and more youthful,” explains Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of victoriahealth.com.

“A stronger barrier also prevents fewer irritants getting in so it’ll work wonders if your skin’s prone to sensitivity, blotchiness and redness. Excessively oily? Niacinamide regulates oil production so your skin will feel more balanced and under control,” Daya adds.

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“Niacinamide is also an anti-inflammatory so it’s useful in unclogging pores and reducing blemishes,” explains Dr Bunting.

In fact, in an eight-week study, in which acne patients were treated with a 4% niacinamide gel, 82% were considered improved and there were no side effects. In a similar rosacea study, 24 out of 36 patients showed an improvement. And when all the above are eased? You’ll notice smaller pores, too. 

Can niacinamide be used on all skin types? 

Absolutely. “Niacinamide is a brilliant all-rounder that the vast majority of people - of all ages and skin types - have no problem tolerating. I rarely see someone who doesn’t get on with it,” comments Dr Bunting.

Different skin types will benefit from different aspects of niacinamide’s skill set. If you’re oily, you’ll love its oil reduction powers. For the acne-prone, it will help calm those angry red blemishes. If you’re sensitive, it’ll help soothe inflammation and reduce the risk of irritation going forward. 

Dry skins will benefit from its help with ceramide production and if you’re dehydrated, it’ll strengthen your barrier which in turn will minimise that all important water loss. It’s safe to use when pregnant and breastfeeding, too. 

How do I apply niacinamide?

The beauty of niacinamide is that it’ll slot extremely easily into your existing routines. It’s found in everything from cleansers and moisturisers to serums, toners and sunscreens.

Dr Bunting suggests using a niacinamide serum or moisturiser at night and a sunscreen spiked with it in the morning. It’s safe to use all over (including in the under-eye area) and there are no rules about how to apply it although the same ethos stands as with all skincare. Use your thinnest, most fluid products first and your thicker creams or oils after. Dr Bunting advises applying seven drops of most serums. 

When and how often should niacinamide be applied?

As it’s well tolerated by most people, niacinamide can be used twice a day everyday. It works at any time of the year although it comes in particularly handy in winter during cold, dry weather and frequent use of central heating.

“It’s also a very useful tool if you’re about to start using skincare containing any new powerful active ingredients as it’ll make you less prone to irritation.

This is particularly helpful with retinol products that have a tendency to be irritating. Retinol also impacts your production of ceramides so niacinamide will help build those up again. You’ll notice your skin’s less dry from the retinol as a result,” explains Dr Bunting.

Use it in the run-up before starting your retinol treatment and alongside it, too. Try using it directly before the retinol or use your retinol product at night and niacinamide during the day. 

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How long does it take for niacinamide to work?

You’ll notice some effects immediately although most of the studies on niacinamide showed results after 8-12 weeks. Look for products containing 5% niacinamide. That’s the percentage that’s been proven to visibly make a difference without causing any irritation. Products with higher concentrations do exist, although you might find they’re best targeted onto individual areas, instead, as they can be slightly more irritating.

Can niacinamide be used in combination with other ingredients?

Yes. There’s a misconception that niacinamide can’t be mixed with vitamin C but it’s not true - they won’t render each other less effective and actually form a powerhouse combo. “Together, they’ll leave skin looking more radiant, smoother, more even and noticeably younger-looking,” says Paula.

It’s also compatible with peptides, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid and antioxidants. 

Does niacinamide lighten skin?

Niacinamide won’t bleach skin however it is able to fade dark spots caused by age, spots or the sun resulting in a more luminous, even skin tone.

“Niacinamide has a powerful hyperpigmentation-blitzing effect. It reduces the transfer of pigment called melanin from the pigment cells (melanocytes) to the skin cells. For that reason, it’s also really helpful if you’re prone to post-inflammatory marks left behind after blemishes,” comments Dr Bunting.

“It’s so effective it’s even used to reduce melasma - a condition with marked facial hyperpigmentation that’s notoriously difficult to treat,” adds Daya.

10 of the best niacinamide products to add to your skincare routine

  • Best niacinamide day cream

    Olay Total Effects Whip Moisturiser Cream SPF 30

    Olay Total Effects Whip SPF 30 Cream

    Olay’s products are often regarded as niacinamide ‘originals.’ It was one of the first mainstream high street beauty range’s to hero the ingredient. Procter & Gamble (which owns Olay) has also carried out various studies into niacinamide’s benefits proving it improves the look of skin texture, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles and red blotchiness.

    The range boasts everything from serums (Dr Bunting’s pick) to eye creams and night creams although we’re won over by this latest mousse-texture day cream, with SPF 30, that makes getting your niacinamide fix seriously easy.

    While the exact percentage isn’t specified, the results suggest it boasts close to that gold-standard 5% and it’s excellent quality for the price.

    £34.99, superdrug.com

  • Best niacinamide moisturiser

    Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser

    When Dr Bunting recommends a product, you know it’s set to be fabulous. When she masterminds a product herself? You stash it in your online basket, pronto. This is the second product in the dermatologist’s own range. The first (Dr Sam’s Flawless Cleanser, a gentle but hard-working cleanser that suits all complexions) was hugely popular amongst skincare devotees and this genius moisturiser is sure to score just as many fans.

    It focuses on simple yet proven ingredients to give skin the support it needs without pore-clogging greasiness or unnecessary add-ons. By day, use it before sunscreen. At night, it works as a lightweight gel-cream to seal all your other potent treatments in and deliver lasting hydration.

    Boasting that all important 5% niacinamide level, it’s brilliantly calming and is particularly effective at combatting any tightness or dryness during acne treatment or retinol use. 

  • Best all-round niacinamide serum

    Garden of Wisdom GOW Niacinamide Serum

    Garden of Wisdom Niacinamide Serum

    If you like Deciem’s The Ordinary, you’ll love Garden of Wisdom (GOW) which has been an industry secret for years. Founded in Arizona over a decade ago, it’s silently been gathering devotees although it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves.

    The products are all results-driven yet seriously affordable with nothing over the £10 mark. This serum is a real best-seller and was awarded runner-up in Victoria Health’s Product of the Year Award 2018 that featured some of the most outstanding skincare formulas in the business.

    Its comforting gel texture has an immediate soothing effect while the 5% niacinamide works a treat at refining skin tone, reducing oiliness and minimising pore size.

  • Cheapest niacinamide for reducing oiliness

    The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

    You can always rely on The Ordinary to offer a stellar serum that’s fit for any budget. Don’t be fooled by the price tag, though. This is loaded with a whopping 10% niacinamide making it a powerful targeted treatment.

    Its paired with zinc - known for its oil-balancing effects - making it a brilliant option for blemish-prone, congested complexions. The high concentration makes it most suited to applying on specific areas, rather than all over. Focus on your greasiest areas like the T-zone at first. 

  • Best niacinamide cleanser

    Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser

    CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

    CeraVe is another go-to brand for affordable niacinamide-based gems. While you’ll reap the best benefits from leave-in products like creams, lotions or serums, this cleanser is a clever way to up your niacinamide usage. While most foaming washes are stripping, this fragrance-free, non-irritating gel uses a bevy of hydration-boosting ingredients.

    Along with niacinamide, there’s hyaluronic acid - a whizz at tackling dehydrated skin. Like the rest of the CeraVe range, it’s also formulated with ceramides - another tool for reinforcing that all-important skin barrier. Switch your usual cleanser for it if you’re feeling sensitive or have overdone the actives and you’ll soon noticed a calmer, hydrated and repaired complexion. 

  • Best high-strength niacinamide serum

    Paula's Choice Niacinamide Booster

    Paula’s Choice Niacinamide Booster

    Skincare expert Paula Begoun is the brains behind Paula’s Choice - an award-winning skincare brand that uses only the best, results-driven ingredients to target your every bugbear. The Niacinamide Booster is a product Begoun herself uses every single day alongside Vitamin C.

    It’s another concentrated weapon starring 10% niacinamide for dramatic results - fast. We’re talking an impressive reduction in enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, wrinkles and dry skin.

    You can apply two or three drops directly onto the face but the feather-weight water texture lends itself to being mixed with your favourite serum, cream or lotion. As speedy as it is mighty. 

  • Best niacinamide sunscreen

    Elta MD UV Clear Sunscreen

    EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

    Another Dr Sam Bunting-approved product, this is a clever niacinamide-laden form of UV protection - delivering a double whammy of skin benefits in one. Since sun exposure can cause our skin’s barrier to take a beating it makes sense to strengthen up that wall while shielding.

    Apply it as your final morning skincare step daily. It’s oil-free so suits complexions prone to spots and glides under make-up perfectly. Well worth a try if most suncream formulas break you out or cause irritation. 

  • Best niacinamide serum with retinol

    QRx Niacinamide and Retinol Serum

    QRx Niacinamide + Retinol Serum

    Any product stocked on Victoria Health is sure to have undergone some serious testing. The team cherry-picks the very best skincare brands so you can rest assured everything’s at the top of its game. This is another of the site’s wonder buys from a brand that, like Garden of Wisdom (GOW), brings you mega formulations at purse-friendly prices.

    Remember we told you niacinamide and retinol go hand in hand? This lends skin both in one swoop along with cosseting aloe vera, Vitamin E and jojoba oil. The niacinamide stands at 5% and the retinol 1% meaning you’ll get the anti-ageing, acne-busting, elasticity-boosting benefits but without the risk of irritation that usually comes with such turbo-action products. Victoria Health’s co-founder and resident skin expert Shabir Daya tips it as one worth exploring if you’re yet to find your perfect retinol formula. 

  • Best niacinamide product for acne

    La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Plus

    La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo + Plus

    This is - you guessed it - another product that gets the thumbs up from Dr Bunting who regularly treats acne sufferers in her clinic.

    Utilising niacinamide’s spot-zapping prowess, it works as a two-in-one treatment and hydrator. Apply it all over morning and night to quickly soothe inflammation and prevent new zits from cropping up.

    While some popular anti-acne ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, can react with fussy complexions, niacinamide gets the job done without any hassle while helping to fade the marks left behind post-spots, too. It’s a great choice for tempering skin’s that blotchy and angry. 

  • Best high-end anti-ageing niacinamide serum

    Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide Serum

    Alpha-H Vitamin B with Copper Tripeptide

    This is a little more pricey but if you’re after a cocktail of serious, anti-ageing ingredients that’ll instantly boost radiance, it’s where it’s at. It doesn’t just use niacinamide but there’s copper peptides in there, too. These help brighten and revitalise lacklustre skin making it appear more youthful and rested in a flash.

    You’ll also find nourishing chia seed and ferulic acid - another master at evening out skin tone. It feels ultra-fluid and light so will slot alongside your existing products with ease. 

  • Best niacinamide night serum

    the-hero-project-niacinamide-drops

    The Hero Project Night Drops Stress Less Elixir

    With 10% naturally-derived niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and glycerin, this blend serves a shot of moisture to skin while doing the rest of the magic. Jasmine and cedarwood essential oils help to de-stress both skin and mind.

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