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Thinking of skincare superstars, hyaluronic acid, retinol, and vitamin C are probably the first ones that come to mind. However, there's another real beauty gem that does everything from anti-aging to treating hyperpigmentation – niacinamide. With all its skin-loving benefits, it certainly deserves a place in your skincare routine.
In this article, we'll dive deeper into this fantastic skincare ingredient, find out what it exactly is, its benefits, and how to use it.
What Is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide, also referred to as nicotinamide, is the active form of vitamin B3 or niacin. It's an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in the healthy functioning of the skin, brain, and kidneys. In fact, niacinamide is also known by the name Vitamin PP, where PP stands for Pellagra-Preventive.
A bit of history: Pellagra is a vitamin B deficiency disease that causes various debilitating symptoms, including severe skin lesions. Due to the manifestation of the disease, many considered it infections, leading to the social exclusion of its sufferers.
In the U.S., the first case of pellagra was reported in 1902. The almost four-decade-long pellagra epidemic followed, resulting in 3 million cases and about 100,000 deaths. The patients were mainly from the poor, working-class families from the South whose diet primarily focused on cornmeal and fatback.
Luckily, about 25 years into the pandemic, Hungarian epidemiologist Joseph Goldberger found that pellagra wasn't infectious but could be cured with simple dietary supplementation. However, it wasn't until 1937 that vitamin B3 derivatives, like nicotinic acid and niacinamide, were recognized as the PP cure, ending the devastating epidemic.
How it works: In our bodies, niacin (which is usually found in yeast, cereal, beans, eggs, milk, meat, fish, and green vegetables) is converted into niacinamide. Niacinamide is a precursor to the coenzymes NADH and NADPH, essential for cellular metabolism and various biochemical processes.
Niacinamide is a water-soluble and well-absorbed vitamin when applied topically with many skin benefits, including decreased redness and hyperpigmentation, synthesis of fatty acids and ceramides, reduction of sebum production and pore size, and increased collagen production [source].
What Does Niacinamide Do for Your Skin?
In general, topical application of niacinamide will strengthen the skin's barrier, prevent damage caused by free radicals, and help lock in moisture inside the skin. Here are the 7 top skin-loving benefits of niacinamide:
#1: Strengthens Epidermal Barrier Function
Niacinamide regulates ceramide synthesis (lipids in stratum corneum) as well as the function of keratinocytes, the most prominent cells in the epidermis [source]. Ceramides are lipids that play a vital role in maintaining the functional and structural integrity of epidermal barrier function, and the decrease of ceramides level in the skin results in skin aging and eczema.
Studies show that topical application of niacinamide increased the ceramide level in the skin up to 5-fold. Furthermore, it up-regulated the synthesis of other sphingolipids, fatty acids, and cholesterol inside the skin.
#2: Stimulates Collagen Synthesis
Reduction in collagen synthesis, as well as the synthesis of other proteins such as keratin, filaggrin, and involucrin, results in aged skin. These proteins regulate skin's structure and elasticity, hydration of the stratum corneum, and epidermal barrier function.
Niacinamide has the ability to stimulate collagen synthesis and increase collagen production as well as the production of other epidermal proteins [source]. Therefore, it has significant anti-aging effects, improving and strengthening skin structure and decreasing fine lines and wrinkles.
In one study, cultured human dermal fibroblasts from an aged donor (72-year old) and a young donor (7-year old) were monitored. It was found that the fibroblasts from the older donor secreted significantly less collagen and that after the niacinamide supplementation, the total collagen secretion increased by 54%.
#3: Acts as an Antioxidant
The most well-studied effect of niacinamide on anti-aging is its ability to increase the skin's antioxidant capacity. Topical application of niacinamide has shown to increase the reduced NADPH (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate) inside the skin that has potent antioxidant properties, boosting anabolic reactions and inhibiting free radicals activity [source].
#4: Reduces Redness and Skin Yellowing
Niacinamide exerts antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it plays a pivotal role in improving the skin's barrier function, decreasing skin sensitivity and redness [source]. Furthermore, research suggests that topical application of niacinamide inhibits oxidative processes inside the skin, such as glycation and oxidation of proteins. These processes are known to cause the yellowing of the skin as we age, also known as the Maillard reaction.
#5: Reduces Hyperpigmentation
Studies show that topical application of niacinamide can significantly reduce hyperpigmentation in human skin. However, niacinamide doesn't directly influence melanin synthesis but reduces skin pigmentation by inhibiting the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes to keratinocytes. Melanosomes are organelles found inside the skin cells and are responsible for synthesizing, transporting, and storing melanin pigments.
#6: Protects From UV Damage
According to research, niacinamide has the ability to rebuild healthy skin cells and reduce free radical damage induced by UV radiation. As a result, it leads to improved overall skin texture and appearance.
#7: Regulates Oil Production and Acne
The overproduction of sebum on the face results in both excessive shine and greasy appearance, as well as the formation of inflammatory and comedonal acne. In a 2006 study, the effect of 2% topical niacinamide preparation on sebum production and acne was examined in two different ethnic groups, Caucasian and Oriental.
Four weeks into the trial, the results revealed that the niacinamide-treated group had lower sebum levels than the placebo-treated group. However, the overall sebum excretion rate was much lower in Japanese individuals compared to Caucasians. This is due to niacinamide's ability to regulate the total sebaceous lipogenesis, including both fatty acids and triglycerides synthesis inside the skin [source].
How to Use It
The best thing about niacinamide is that it easily fits into any skincare routine, since it comes in various skin care products, including toners, serums, creams, masks, and sunscreens. Plus, it's well-tolerated by any skin type.
It would be ideal to use a serum or cream with niacinamide in the evening and a niacinamide-infused sunscreen during the day. It can be used on the whole face, including the area around the eyes.
Since most people tolerate it very well, niacinamide can be used twice a day, every day, throughout the year. It's especially useful during winter, as it reduces the adverse effects on your skin caused by cold weather, wind, and dry air. It can also help a lot if you use it in combination with other more irritating ingredients, such as retinol, as it can soothe any irritation and make the skin stronger and less sensitive. In addition, it fares well with other antioxidants as well as AHAs and BHAs.
How Long Does Niacinamide Take to Work?
Depending on the concentration of niacinamide in the product you're using as well as your skin type and concerns, you should start noticing results anywhere between two to eight weeks after continued twice daily usage. You can expect improved overall skin texture and tone, fewer fine lines and wrinkles, and smaller pores.
As you can see, with all the amazing effects of niacinamide on the skin, we could say with confidence that it's a true anti-aging superstar. Just make sure to use it consistently and be persistent – to see the real magic, you need to give it some time.
Niacinamide is well-tolerated by most people and can often be used in higher concentrations without any adverse effects. However, as with any new product, if you're just starting to use niacinamide, you should first test it on a smaller portion of your skin before applying it to your whole face.